Friday, November 20, 2009

The changing views of feminine beauty

I'm using supermemo.net to memorize some famous paintings and their authors. I'm struck by master Peter Paul Rubens, and his painting of Andromeda:
http://www.artchive.com/artchive/r/rubens/rubens_andromeda.jpg

It's interesting to me how some aspects of our ideals of feminine beauty have changed. I assume that Rubens was trying to make an image of an exquisitely beautiful woman in this painting (and indeed, many women in his paintings look like this). I can just imagine a woman in today's age, looking at herself in a mirror and seeing herself looking like the Andromeda in this picture. My bet is that she'd say to herself that she had a pudgy face, that her breasts were too small, her skin was pasty, her hair mousy, and her body too heavy.

Searching on google image search for "beautiful woman" actually reveals a great deal of headshots (body not visible), which is interesting. I then searched for "attractive woman" and the second image was this:
http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a59/onoitsa143/pinder2.jpg
(both searches done with moderate filtering.)

The differences with these older paintings is great. The face is thinner, the skin darker, the breasts much, much bigger.I think most would agree that the photo depicts what most people would consider an attractive contemporary woman.

I have heard that in older Europe lighter skin was favored because it meant they were richer-- the poor had to work outside and they tanned. Now that plenty of rich people work inside, I guess that allowed people to like darker skin. I have also read (can't find the reference) that men in poorer countries prefer women who are heavier, presumably because it means they are not starving, and relatively healthy. In rich countries, men prefer thinner women. My cynical view of this is that men everywhere want whatever is difficult for women to achieve.

Of course there are aspects of feminine beauty that do not change, such as a general preference for symmetry, and a certain waist-to-hip ratio.







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1 comment:

Tember . said...

I don't think you're being cynical when you observe that we consider sexy that which is difficult to achieve. In humans, as in many species, demonstrating that you have such great resources you can invest in unnecessary activities or even unhealthy features positions yourself as a good mate. Isn't that one of the pillars of "peacocking", Shiny Jacket Guy?