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Only skin-deep?

04 November 2016


BEAUTY is not so much in the eye of the beholder as in the lips of the speaker. For all the passionate and sincere and rhetoric invested through­­out Radio 2’s Faith in the World Week, in the notion that outer beauty is entirely contingent on inner beauty, few saw fit to un­pick what we mean by the dis­tinction between these two forms.

It was left to Bradley Simmonds to synthesise the wisdom of two millennia of Western philosophical thought on the subject. Mr Sim­monds is a personal trainer to footballing celebrities; he helps his clients to achieve perfect, sext-ready bodies. An ugly person, he opined, cannot be beautiful; and, if you are talking about inner beauty, well, isn’t that what we call “per­sonality”?

Bradley’s intervention in the debate came as part of Believing in Beauty (Radio 2, Tuesday), the centrepiece of a Radio 2 season that sought to deal with all facets of our apparently modern obses­sion with looks. In recent years, Faith in the World Week has veered away from directly religious topics and tried to engage instead with more general moral issues.

In the case of Believing in Beauty, presented by the Revd Kate Bottley, this resulted in a pro­gramme that took some time before faith was mentioned at all; and it was a rare consideration in a programme that talked a great deal about plastic surgery, life drawing, and octogenarian shot-putters.

Much of the faith-based mater­ial came courtesy of the Revd Joanna Jepson, who, after an operation on her jaw, made the kind of transition from ugly duck­ling to swan which you can normally read about only in fiction aimed at teenage girls. Ms Jepson reminded us that we are all “fearfully and won­derfully made”, although many of us are aware that we fall more into the former than the latter category.

To provide some editorial bal­ance, we might perhaps have heard from some morally bankrupt ice-queen. Nobody seemed to want to admit that there were some simply beauti­ful people; that a face could launch a thousand ships piloted by worshippers who had never met their idol — still less established whether she or he was kind to animals. There is nothing wrong in acknowledging skin-deep beauty when you see it.

But, of course, this is not an issue where semantics helps us much. The question is a moral one, because it has a significant impact on people’s lives; and that is why a phone-in/discussion show such as that hosted by Vanessa Feltz (standing in for Jeremy Vine, Radio 2, Thursday) is ultimately the best place for it.

Feltz is good at this sort of thing. She challenged the comedian An­­gela Barnes — who devotes a whole section of her act to being “ugly, and proud of it” — to tell us what, in fact, was ugly about her; her publicity photos look pretty good. One might also have asked what the effect on her career as a comedian might have been if she had been a complete stunner.

She struck just the right note of sympathy as the inevitable stories of parental bully­ing came in from callers. You can blame the cos­metics industries all you like, but it is all for naught with parents who tell you, as a teenager, that you are too ugly to find a partner.

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