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The Female Form: 1900-2000 One Hundred Years of Dips and Curves

Face of the Year International Beauty Contest

The Stirring of Sleeping Beauty

Modern Standards of Beauty: Nature or Nurture

Pheromones: The Smell of Beauty

Different Place Different Beauty

Evolutionary Psychology

Beauty and the Menstrual Cycle

The Question of Beauty

Babyness and Sexual Attraction

Female Pheromones and Male Physiology

Face Values

Revolting Bodies: The Monster Beauty of Tattooed Women

Piercing and the Modern Primitive

We must stop glorifying physical beauty

Click Here to Get Gorgeous

BeautynBrains

When Was the Last Time You Looked Glamorous?

Facial Beauty and Fractal Geometry

The Impact of Family Structure and Social Change

The Reality of Appearance

Sexual Selection and the Biology of Beauty

Venus, From Fertility Goddess to Sales Promoter

Why We Fall in Love

The Science of Attraction

The Biology in the Beholder's Eye

The Science of Attraction by Rob Elder

Your Cave or Mine

All Ah We is One Family

Skin Texture and Female Facial Beauty

 

 
Cutting Two ways with Beauty

                                   ELEANOR HEARTNEY      

        Recently, the New York Times ran an article reporting that supermodels are falling out of favor as magazine cover girls, and that their coveted slots are being filled instead by celebrities. This prompted one modeling agent to bemoan despairingly, "Where is the next generation of Linda Evange-listas going to come from?"

        For the mere mortals who must view these unearthly creatures from the wrong side of the magazine racks, the news was unexpectedly cheering. Was it not a signal that our culture's relentless quest for physical perfection is faltering a bit? However, realism quickly set in. After all, celebrities, for the most part, are also impossibly beautiful. Still, the change did seem slightly positive - indicating a general desire to leaven beauty with a bit of  "  content. "

 beauty and flower

        Will we ever be at peace with beauty? Or must we always maintain an actively contradictory relationship to it, like my friend who proudly refuses to have the breast she lost in a mastectomy reconstructed, but who recently had a face lift?

       Our present ambivalence about beauty has a variety of sources - social, psychological, political, even biological. From a philosophical point of view, it might be traced to contemporary society's discomfort with the utopian blandishments of the Platonic triad. The frightening consequences of the Aryan ideal, the obvious ethnocentrism of"universal" standards of beauty, and the absurdity of the notion of a beautocracy make it clear that the good, the true, and the beautiful are anything but kindred souls. In a pinch, we are more likely to agree with AdolfLoos's dictum, "Ornament is crime," than with Keats's ecstatic proclamation that the union of Beauty and Truth are "all ye know on earth and all ye need to know."

 

         But in another sense, we have simply inverted the relationship between the beautiful and the good-substituting beauty's opposite to create a new triad consisting of the good, the true, and the ugly. Hence our fondness for the ideas that truth must be unvarnished and that the good must be without illusions. In discussions of art, "too beautiful" has become a pejorative, while within the intellectual community at least, too much attention to personal appearance is considered a character flaw.  

        Thus, while the terms may have flipped, discussions of beauty remain deeply  enmeshed in questions of morality. We are forever interrogating the guilty pleasures we derive from beauty with such questions as, Is beauty a form of tyranny? Is it exploitative? Is our response to beauty a moral choice, or is it externally determined-a matter of social conditioning, or a function of inalterable biological, physiological, or evolutionary factors? Is the embrace of beauty politically incorrect?

         When the focus is turned specifically to physical beauty, the level of discomfort intensifies. Does our enjoyment of beauty reveal biases of class and race? What are implications of studies that find that attractive people are more trusted and successful than unattractive ones? In an era of wide-spread plastic surgery, what has become of Orwell's dictum: "After fifty, everyone has the face he deserves?" Does beauty undermine the egalitarian ideal?  

        But maybe its time to cut beauty some slack. Perhaps it's not necessary to turn all questions of pleasure into questions of morality. Perhaps its possible to be feminist and fashionable, for instance. Perhaps its possible to loosen beauty's-or anti-beauty's-attachment to the good and the true. Perhaps the political 

lip stick

 

  danger inherent in the identification of beauty and morality is matched by the aesthetic danger of their opposition. (I'm think-ing here of the flood of politically correct, aesthetically bereft artworks which washed through the art worlds of the 1980s and 1990s.)

        Beauty seems in need of rehabilitation today as an impulse that can be as liberating as it has been deemed enslaving. Confident young women today pack their closets with miniskirts and sensible suits. Young female artists toy with feminine stereotypes in ways that make their feminist elders uncomfortable. They recognize that, like pornography, beauty can be a double-edged sword-as capable of destabilizing rigid conventions and restrictive behavioral models as it is of reinforcing them.

        Why does beauty matter? Beauty flies in the face of a puritanical utilitarianism. It defies the reductiveness of both the political left and the political right in their efforts to bend it to a mission. Beauty subverts dogma by activating the realm of fantasy and imagination. It reminds us that the enjoyment of "mere" pleasure is an important element of our humanity. And it knits the mind and body together at a time when they seem all too easily divided.

        Beauty is a contested category today because we both long for and fear its seductions. The essays in this volume interrogate beauty in all its complexity. But whether they construe it as friend or foe, they make it clear that beauty, and our preoccupation with it, cannot be wished away. Deeply embedded in that inchoate matter from which our judgments ofvalue are formed, beauty is inseparable from all that is best and worst in human experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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