In the Dumas classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the hunchback (chosen the ugliest man in Paris) does not get the girl. The pair do not live happily ever after, though they are eventually united in death. This is no real surprise. In fact, it is the tragedy on which the story hinges.
Kindness and Beauty
Both mistreated and physically deformed, Quasimodo is drawn to kindness and beauty as a moth is drawn to flame.
We sympathize with, even admire him. Our hearts are stirred. But we do not root for the hunchback, not in the same way we root for the prince to rescue Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. Quasimodo is never seriously considered a romantic partner for Esmeralda. His love is doomed from the outset.
That fact tells us more about ourselves than it does about Quasimodo.
In the same way that Quasimodo was excluded from normal human society, abuse victims often feel themselves ostracized, outside the very definition of “human”. How does this happen and, equally important, how we can counteract it?
There seems a tendency by infants to favor symmetrical faces – possibly an inborn preference for the genetic “norm”. For the most part, however, we are taught the meaning of ugliness and beauty by the comments and actions of others.
First as infants then children, we see ourselves reflected in a parent or caregiver’s eyes, and are defined by that reflection. Ugliness on our part (assuming it has any basis at all) is likely to come as a surprise. It does not occur to us that we may be ugly, until others point that out.
Not infrequently, those who believe themselves ugly and worthy only of rejection are not ugly at all. Would not be considered ugly by strangers – only by the so called “loved ones” who should have been able to see past any obvious flaws.
But believing ourselves ugly or unclean, we tend to treat ourselves as if we were. We may dress in dark colors and drab clothing; may develop problems with hygiene; may avoid social events, becoming ever more isolated. And one negative life experience builds upon another.
There is a further twist on ugliness, as it relates to abuse. Sexual predators will often manipulate a child victim into believing the lie that the victim’s seductive manner and/or appearance prompted the abuse.
As a result, the victims of sexual abuse may feel beauty is too dangerous for them, and disguise or actively seek to destroy their good looks. These efforts can give rise to an eating disorder which may assume a life of its own.
The cruelty by adults in taking pains to point out real or imagined flaws in a child is at least as ugly as any physical imperfection. In a certain sense, we were their psychological reflection. They saw their own ugliness projected onto us.
Of course, little can compete with child abuse for sheer ugliness.
A Man of Sorrows
Surprisingly enough, the Bible describes the Savior as ugly. The Prophet Isaiah called Him a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. It was foretold told that the Savior would be despised by men. And yet the promise was made that this Savior would take upon Himself the sins of the world.
That is exactly what Jesus Christ did. We can lay our sorrows at His feet, certain that He understands our pain.
Christ restores our humanity. Christ frees us from the ugliness of sin, by and against us. In Christ, we are once again made whole.
“…And when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him… But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53: 2-3, 5).
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