The OF Blog: Differing images of beauty

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Differing images of beauty

While I'll write an essay later this weekend on the issue, I thought I'd devote this post to contain 14 images, from photographs to illustrations and paintings, of women of various ethnic groups and over a span of 500 years, to emphasize just how cultural the concept of beauty might be. I know I've left out quite a bit and while there might be a bit of nudity in a few of these, the intent is not to titillate here. Just pay attention to how the women are posed, to the similarities and differences in facial structure, and then feel free to comment on these images.


Djibril said...

This is an interesting comparison, but there's much more variety between the times and cultures than this sample reflects. The Marilyn image (which was pretty much pornography, even if it's not by today's standards) should perhaps be compared with Greek vase paintings of nymphs and hetairai, Pompeiian bordello wall-paintings, mediaeval Japanese geisha images, the Kama Sutra, etc. (I guess this is my way of saying that I don't have much to say about pose in these images.)

I guess one of the most striking differences in appearance of beauty is the difference in perception of age and size: modern Western beauties tend to be young and nubile, athletic rather than the voluptuous and/or maternal images in the renaissance paintings. How do different cultures differ from this pattern? Traditional Japanese images are certainly slight rather than voluptuous, but they're not entirely teenages either, are they?

There's so much more to be said about all of this. I look forward to your essay, and will comment more then.

Lsrry said...

You're right; there is indeed much more variety than what this little sample contains. However, I chose it noticing one thing that seemed to be common across cultures and time - the expression on their faces. That's what struck me about the depictions of beauty that I discovered after not just a cursory web search, but also through my thumbing through of Umberto Eco's History of Beauty. The faces, they are so melancholic for the most part. Perhaps that pouting look common in cheesecake spreads has its roots in something deeper than what most of its purveyors care to admit?

Elena said...

i wonder if it has anything to do with the same thinking that makes it illegal for germans (i think it's germans) to smile in offical document photographs? smiling distorts the features so if the point is to represent an inherently beautiful woman, you can't portray her smiling or it both distorts her inherently beautiful features AND gives the viewer a cue about her as a person that defeats the point of representing her in a strictly physical light.

or nobody asked their models to hold a smile for as long as it would take them to paint it in. :)

Lsrry said...

It is possible that it might be like that, Elena, as I would have to ask artists for their input (I know of one, but I don't know when I'll see her on IM to ask), but that certainly is the sort of question that I'd love to ask photographers and cover art designers someday. Then again, the Mona Lisa did smile...a bit ;)

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