The place of physical attraction in Song of Songs

The place of physical attraction in Song of Songs

When people make a list of what they want in a romantic partner, often the physical aspects of their ideal person make it high on the list. They should be a certain height, have a certain body type, perhaps have a certain colour hair. Our culture holds up ideal body types to us through the modelling and entertainment industries, raising our expectations that people should look a certain way to be attractive to others.

This, of course, leads to a range of implications. These expectations lead to so many people suffering from body image problems when they do not match with the ideal body they think is attractive. It leads to many people using filters on social media to present themselves as being as close to the ideal physical specimen as possible, or perhaps to use makeup or plastic surgery to accomplish this in real life. A focus only on the physical can lead to disaster in many ways.

If we have this idea in our minds already, it seems like the book of Song of Songs just reinforces this idea. After all, when the man describes the woman in chapter 4, he doesn’t speak much of her personality. He does go into detail about her hair, teeth and breasts. Likewise, when she describes her man in chapter 5, all of her description is taken up with his eyes and strong body. Doesn’t this mean that the attractive people are the ones who get the guy or the girl? That we should focus on the physical like the world does?

It is true that the physical aspects of the other person do catch the attention of the one who loves them. Yet there are important things we should note:

  • The descriptions in Song of Songs do not mean that both people are models and conventionally attractive. The passages in chapters 4 and 5 are said by those deeply in love. When she describes him in words that would be appropriate for the Statue of David, that doesn’t mean he really looks like that to everyone. He looks like that to her. People in love overlook flaws in the other one and everything about the other person seems wonderful.
  • While the physical is a significant part of their relationship, it is not the whole thing. She doesn’t only dream of physical intimacy, she dreams of a life together with her man (2:4, 5:16). There is certainly more to their relationship than physical desire and sex. However, Song of Songs is special in that it highlights that physical intimacy is important as part of a wider marriage relationship.
  • The chorus of the Song calls for careful consideration and delay in chasing romantic love (2:7, 3:5, 8:4). If all that mattered was the physical, why wait? Relationships take time to grow and develop well. If you head into the physical emphasis too soon you will find that the other deeper aspects of your relationship will not develop as they should.

So how then should we think about the place of the physical in romantic relationships? There is so much, but let me limit it to a few ideas here:

  • If you consider yourself as not conventionally attractive or matching the standard set by people on TV and movies, welcome to the club. Very few meet these standards. Don’t spend all of your effort on the outside, the physical, and think that this makes you attractive to other people. Deeper things matter more than this. If you are a godly person, beautiful on the inside, loving God and his people, enjoying the life God gives to you, that is worth so much more than looking a certain way in the mirror.
  • If you wish to pursue a romantic relationship in the future, don’t limit yourself to a certain body type that society says is ideal. The other person doesn’t need to be the same racial background as you, the same height, or the same age. If you end up being married, that person will be beautiful to you even if they don’t ever find themselves on the cover of a magazine.
  • None of this means that physical attraction is irrelevant! Song of Songs does remind us that physical attraction is a great thing and sex within marriage is to be celebrated. While not the whole story, it is part of the story.

Few people really look like models, and that is the way it has always been. Let’s not focus only on the shallow outside of others; look to what matters more.