This is an excerpt from an essay titled, “What is Sexy?” written by Mark Liederbach, where he examines the concept, “sexy.” Liederbach explores how the culture has come to define and use the concept of sexiness, and then he argues how it should rather be viewed (and redeemed) in light of Scripture. This is the first part of the series on “What is Sexy?”
“What is Sexy?”
Perhaps the question that is implicitly asked more than any other in our culture is “What is sexy?” I say implicitly because it was not until recently that the lingerie company Victoria’s Secret explicitly made the question the central element of their ad campaign. And, of course, that same company capitalized on the overly physicalistic definition of sexy which is the default answer of our culture with video images of silicon and Botox enhanced, semi-anorexic women parading around in the company wares. Prior to this, however, the question has lingered behind, and driven forward, advertisements for everything from toothpaste to shampoo, and from cars to hamburgers. It dominates the front covers of myriads of tabloids and magazines and recently even a major network television company ran an ad campaign describing NASCAR as the “most sexy” sport.
So, what is sexy? Testing to see whether my graduate students, future ministers, pastors and missionaries might have some insight into this question I tasked the students who take my Ethics and Human Sexuality course to write a paper giving a biblical answer to the question. Fascinatingly enough, the vast majority of the papers I received betrayed heavily Gnostic understandings of human anthropology and which neglected any substantive discussions of external/bodily elements.
To further complicate the matter, there is a popular notion in our society that what is “sexy” is actually something of a relative concept. Like the old saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” many adopt the idea that trying to come to some hard and fast definition of what is “sexy” is a hopeless endeavor. After all, particular tastes and ideas about what is sexy vary from age to age and culture to culture. For a simple example, Marylyn Monroe was considered to be a “sex symbol” in her era whereas by today’s modeling standards she would be considered very overweight and in need of an extreme makeover.
I am reminded here of the story of a man who was undergoing a Rorschach ink blot test given by his psychiatrist. Each time the psychiatrist held up an ink blot card the man was instructed to say the first thing that came into his mind. In a short time a very interesting pattern began to emerge. Every time a card was held up the patient answered “sex.” Finally, the psychiatrist stopped the analysis and asked him why this was the case. Without a moment of hesitation the man answered “because you keep holding up dirty pictures.”
Now of course these ink blots are not pictures of sex. But because the man perceives them as such – they are “sexy” to him. But are they “sexy” actually? In other words, is beauty (or in this case – “sexy”) in the eye of the beholder or is there a standard of that which is actually sexy to which we ought to conform our ideas?
Confusion seems to reign. And sadly because we evangelicals seem to give such inadequate biblical, theological and philosophical attention to this issue it comes as no surprise that the Victoria’s Secret answer is the default perspective for non-Christians and Christians alike.
It is my fundamental contention here that God is the fixed point about which the entirety of the universe revolves both ontologically and epistemologically. As such he is the norm, the standard, the canon of that which is ultimately true, good and beautiful. And because God is the embodiment of that which is truly beautiful then the statement “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is actually not only biblically, theologically and philosophically inaccurate, it is borderline heretical. What is a more accurate statement (and what I believe is usually intended) is the idea that “perception of beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That is, each person may have a different idea of what is attractive or beautiful but ultimately “beauty” is not a social construct. Beauty in its purest form is found in the nature and function of God himself. Practically speaking, then, if there is one standard or norm, then all our judgments about beauty must be altered so as to be in conformity to that standard. That is, what God finds beautiful, we ought to also find beautiful.
Likewise, and more directly to our topic, if the Creator of the universe who is the ground, embodiment, and source of all that is true, good, and beautiful created sex and sexuality, then because the word “sexy” is an adjective or descriptive word about that part of God’s creation, then that which is most “sexy” is in reality that which is in highest conformity to the nature, function, end, and purpose for which God created sex and sexuality. Like beauty, then, “sexy” is also not a social construct. Rather, what God finds sexy, we ought to also find sexy.