In The Wedding of Sir Gawain we learn that what women want is sovereynté (control). If a husband loves his wife, he will grant her the sovereynté that she covets. As a result of her loving husband granting her sovereynté, the wife will become extremely beautiful.
This of course isn’t just a moral message from the 15th century. Modern Christian leaders teach variations on the same theme. Dr Richard Strauss taught in the early 1970s that wives are “responders”. If her husband treats her right, she will blossom and become beautiful. If he doesn’t, she will become (or remain) ugly (emphasis mine):
The woman is a responder. This is the obvious role of someone who depends on another person. Flowers depend on sunshine and rain; when they get it, they respond by blossoming into gorgeous beauty. This is how God made a woman too. She responds to what she receives. If she receives irritability, criticism, disapproval, unkindness, indifference, lack of appreciation, or lack of affection, she will respond with a defense mechanism, such as bitterness, coolness, defiance, or nagging. Some women turn to drinking or submerge themselves in social activities.
But if the woman receives love she will respond with love, and will blossom into the most beautiful creature under God’s heaven.
Pastor Doug Wilson teaches something similar in his book Reforming Marriage. Wilson opens Chapter 4 with a feminist critique of the pressure women feel to “keep themselves up”:
Love Bestows Loveliness
A common assumption in the world is that women must “keep themselves up” in order to keep a man. In the world of attracting and being attracted, women are taught to view themselves as being primarily responsible for their own attractiveness or loveliness. This viewpoint is inculcated early. Once young girls used to play with baby dolls, seeing themselves in the role of the nurturing mother; now they can be seen playing with Barbie dolls, seeing themselves in the place of the doll. And of course, the doll is both pretty and stacked. The pressure is on and stays on.
The problem, according to Wilson, is the evil patriarchy. Women should not feel pressure to conform to conventional standards of beauty. Their fathers and husbands have the obligation to make them beautiful by loving them properly. Wilson continues (all further emphasis mine):
The perversion in this is not that women desire to be attractive or lovely. The perversion is the modern divorce of a woman’s loveliness from the behavior of her father and husband. There is nothing wrong with wanting a lovely garden; there is a great deal of folly in wanting a lovely garden which will tend and keep itself. The Bible teaches that a Christian husband is responsible for the loveliness of his wife. Before she is married, her father is responsible for that loveliness. When she marries, her husband assumes this responsibility. The husband’s example in this kind of loving is Jesus Christ.
…when a man takes a woman into his home, all who know them should expect to see her flourish and grow in loveliness in the years to come. If their wedding ceremony referred at all to the fifth chapter of Ephesians, was this not what he vowed he would do? As a husband treats his wife in the scriptural fashion, he should expect her to grow increasingly lovely. This is not because the husband has earned it, but rather because through the grace of God, he has been blessed
Note that Pastor Wilson isn’t writing about the kind of internal beauty the Apostle Peter writes about in 1 Pet 3:1-6. If he were writing about that, he would need to acknowledge that it is the wife herself who is responsible for cultivating this through her submission to her husband. Wilson devotes several pages to explaining that he is writing about physical beauty, and eventually explains:
This may all seem like a belaboring of the obvious—“everyone knows there are pretty women”—but it is an important point for husbands to understand. When husbands undertake the assigned responsibility of loving their wives in such a way that they grow in loveliness, they need to understand that the results will be visible. This does not mean that, with the right husband, all women could be equally beautiful. Some women have the advantage of a greater natural beauty, and others had exceptional fathers—men who treated their daughters right. But it does mean that a man who marries biblically should expect his wife to be visibly lovelier on their tenth anniversary—and if she is not, he knows that he is the one responsible. But as the one responsible, he has to know where true beauty begins. Every husband should learn how to ask, “What will living with a man like me do to this woman’s appearance?”
Eventually Wilson does get around to to quoting 1 Pet 3:1-6, but he only does this after creating a fictitious biblical requirement for husbands to make their wives physically beautiful. Wilson explains that 1 Pet 3:1-6 must be read as an injunction to husbands to make their wives physically beautiful by loving her as Christ loves the Church:
Peter urges this internal gentleness upon the wives. But taking the teaching of all of Scripture into account, we can see that a woman concentrates on this under the loving oversight of her husband. As he loves her, she bears fruit. As she bears this fruit, it delights him. In this delight he loves her more, and she bears more fruit. The wife is to cooperate fully, receiving his love, but he is the one responsible to give it.