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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


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


Whose Beauty?

       What I am going to try and talk about today, often in the form of questions, stands at the meeting point of the properties of physical matter and an elaboration of sexualized subjective identity that has still to be thought through and put into practice.       


         This statement by Luce Irigaray could indicate a discussion in a woman artist's studio. We could be contemplating her practice. We could be at the site - the meeting point of the properties of physical matter and an elaboration of sexualized subjective identity-of her enunciation through that practice. This essay explores the implications oflrigaray's discussion of the concept "beauty" for that site. Her writings indicate moments ofstrategic or structural possibility from which women can create beauties appropriate to their subjectivities, and outline how becoming subjects, women, and mediating the resultant subjectivity is in itself to create beauty. Although in Western culture the Symbolic has a phallocentric syntax and what is read as beauty of body and beauty in art are products of phallo-centric structures,2 nonetheless moments of resistance and 


disruption can be discerned in contemporary artworks by women. It is against the back-drop of Irigaray's reconfiguring of "beauty" that I discuss some of these works.

        Whose "Beauty"?

        Luce Irigaray's essay "How Can We Create Our Beauty?" is published in le, Tu, Nous: Toward a Culture of Difference, a book of short polemic essays, each focused on a particular aspect of Irigaray's thinking in order to introduce it to a wider audience and demonstrate its politics. This essay can work as an indicative reading, pointing to areas in Irigaray's broader work that are important for developing radical discourses and practices of art. Irigaray begins by positing her argument in words which are a challenge to many of us who are involved with contemporary art practices. This terminology can even appear naive for a number of reasons. Most of us making or working with art will have assimilated, for instance, Adorno's discussion about the impossibility of lyricism after Auschwitz, or the way an avant-garde-ist principle of epater les bourgeois has disintegrated into postmodernist horror-chic, or a feminist-realist impulse to tell it like, it is," or possibly even the desire for catharsis which can only be achieved at the resolution of a certain order of narrative. At first, Irigaray appears either to ignore or be unaware of the impact ofeach of these issues for contemporary art practice. She writes:


           Very often, when looking at women's works of art, I have been saddened by the sense of anguish they express, an anguish so strong it approaches horror. Having wanted to contemplate beauty created by women, I would find myself faced instead with distress, suffering, irritation, sometimes ugliness. The experience of art, which I expected to offer a moment of happiness and repose, of compensation for the fragmentary nature of daily life, of unity and communication or communion, would become yet another source of pain, a burden.Irigaray uses the rest of the essay to outline in four main points why she thinks women make images ofpain and how women could create beauty. First, she puts herself into the 



 discussion by pointing out that she too deals with pain in her work, but states that she attempts to do so in what she calls "a literary style" to cushion any potential sense of dereliction in the reader. At the same time she will look for something positive something for which, she says, women, "who have a tendency to identify only with what they lack, their shortcomings," sometimes criticize her. She says that showing the negative is positive and necessary given that it was meant to stay hidden. The portrayal of suffering is, then, for women an act of truthfulness. It's also akin to an individual and collective catharsis. . . . Daring to manifest publicly individual and collective pain has a therapeutic effect, bringing relief to the body and enabling them to accede to another time. This doesn't come as a matter of course, but it may be the case for some women.



             She likes the anguish represented to that of ( unspecified) masked figures in Greek tragedy who were subjected to fate.Irigaray's second point is that having children is a most wonderful creativity.

             However, within the "male social order" there is a particular obligation to do it; and further, a distinction is made between creation, which is reserved for men, and procreation, which is deemed of a lesser order. She suggests that ~~there would seem to be confusion now between the beauty of the work [of childbirth] and its definition within a between-men civilization in which women no longer have a recognized right to engender spiritual values."

        The third point is stated bluntly: " As women, we have thus been enclosed in an order of forms inappropriate to us. In order to exist, we must break out of these forms. "This may have one of three consequences. First, it may destroy us: " Instead of being reborn, we annihilate ourselves." 


 Second, it may show us what flesh, and therefore what colours, we have left: "I think colour is what's left of life beyond forms, beyond truth or beliefs, beyond accepted joys and sorrows.Colour also expresses our sexuate nature, that irreducible dimension of our incarnation." The third possible consequence of breaking out of the inappropriate order of forms which encloses us is that women may rediscover their identity and forms, forms which are "always incomplete, in perpetual growth, because a woman grows, blossoms and fertilizes (herself) within her own body."


        The fourth and final main point of "How Can We Create Our Beauty?" concerns the representation of a "female divine." The between-men culture disallows women's expression of meaning. Just as a child is not an abstract or arbitrary sign, so too for women "meaning remains concrete, close, related to what is natural, to perceptible forms."ll In what is called pre-history, women participated in civil and religious life and were represented as woman-goddesses (not only as mother-goddesses). Today, lack of divine representation leaves women in a state of dereliction, without means of designating or expressing self, or of identifying and respecting mother-daughter genealogies.

        From this essay, then, there are three salient points for discussion: ( 1) the very broad issues of flesh, body, their representation, and female 



 morphology; (2) the nature of female creativity and subjectivity; and (3) the representation ofwhat Irigaray terms the ~~female divine" and its inevitable adjuncts, "universality" and 4~transcendence." Running through these discussions, as they unfold into Irigaray's wider writings, are two others: 4) the necessity for productive acknowledgment of female genealogies (two-way interchanges between mother and daughter, and its concomitant, exchanges between women) and; 5) in very close relation to this, a notion of ful-fillment or 4"becoming" for women. Without any of these points, 



women's beauty is not possible: indeed, in conjunction they would be productive of and allow for the performativity of women's beauty. It is thus clear that anything approaching "an Irigarayan aesthetic" will not be found in the reproduction of certain methodologies in the studio, or adherence to one or another "style" of imagery. Irigaray's discussion of beauty therefore, and my discussion here, is not about defining a new aesthetic, nor is it an essentialist notion of a female aesthetic which has been overshadowed by a male aesthetic, and which only requires a light to be shone on it in order to become visible. For Irigaray, "beauty" for women is a potential state of being which can only come about as a result of rethinking political and cultural discourse. Her discussion of beauty is about making possible an order of discourse which would in and of itself, and inevitably, be productive of beauty. It is 


a discussion which requires the reader to think differently: to rethink what might be productive of beauty, and what might constitute the transcendental and the universal. 






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