Monday, August 23, 2004

Pretty fly (for Ancient Greece)

The most obvious objection to Amber Taylor's post on how looking at fine art will make women feel OK about those extra 5-500 pounds--that even back in the good old days, people did weird, unnatural things (corsets, toxic makeup, etc) to make themselves look prettier--has already been made. But the real problem with her argument isn't that she doesn't acknowledge that beautification procedures have been around since long before the current surgeries were invented. Instead, what she seems to miss is that, even if "natural beauty" had ever been in fashion, what good does it do the crowds waiting for buttery popcorn on Michigan Ave. to know that, living in an earlier age, they might have been heartthrobs?

Taylor concludes her post: "Here is an alternative to television and magazine imagery of bony actresses with pneumatic bosoms. Here you can find yourself, and be reassured."

How is it reassuring to know that, had you lived in a different time and place, you might have been considered attractive? Those dreaded media images are, as it so happens, what's considered ideal in this society, and you can choose how much to care about how well you fit that ideal. Or, you could build a time machine and summon a man from the era when your build was in fashion, but that would be a bit too "Weird Science," wouldn't it?

Also, in response to Heidi Bond, who says: "If the ads were believed, no woman would attract a man without smearing goop over her face, liberally. But I've met plenty of men who find that stuff completely baffling and unattractive. If the ads were believed, the girl in the $800 outfit would out-class the girl in the $10 outfit. But some men are oblivious enough that they'd never know the difference between the $10 outfit and the $800 one."

True, most of the time, (straight) men don't see the makeup or clothes, they see the woman. And careless slopping on of makeup, or just spending a lot on ugly clothing, isn't going to help anyone's appearance. But makeup and clothing can change a woman's appearance in ways that subtly bring her a notch up or down in attractiveness, and what a man may perceive as pure beauty is often in a large part a reaction to the way the woman has presented herself. As a straight woman, I'll see a another woman walk down the street and notice the makeup, clothing, hair styling, surgery, a lifelong avoidance of Pringles, etc., and then see a man checking her out. The man isn't aware of falling for makeup and expensive clothing. He is simply making that classic assessment of "hot or not" and moving on.


Maureen said...

Much as the fact that non-anorexic women were in fashion in the late nineteenth century makes me feel better, the fact that in the early twenty-first century I'm regarded as a person, and not as an "angel of the household" makes me feel better still.

That being said, the fact that the ideal body is governed by fashion's whims, and these whims can change rather dramatically in a short period of time (think of 1914 versus 1924 versus 1934) could make one feel better about alleged imperfections. But they don't compare to the sheer schadenfreude of realizing that the average American is getting bigger and you've actually lost five pounds.

Andrew Moroz said...

You may be interested in this article on the biology of beauty.

Phoebe said...

High foreheads. That's why Elizabeth the First tweezed her hairline, right?

Yup, the media's to blame for any and all weirdo beauty procedures.