View Full Version : Vanity (and femininity) making a comeback

5th November 2005, 05:16
Here's a really interesting article that touches on a number of issues that have come up at this forum.

We've previously talked about the relationship between fashion and settings/decor. Well, this writer notes the re-emerging popularity of the vanity table -- and of vanity itself -- and ties it in directly with the revival of femininity.

According to the article, vanity tables were once a "sanctuary" where ladies spent "an essential part of every day in pursuit of glamour's high calling." The tradition waned during the last century, but now, it's making a comeback.


The part of the article that's especially interesting is when the writer examines why the vanity table went out of fashion, and why it's becoming popular again:

"Other observers, though, see the dressing table's return as an indicator of social change.

"There has been a re-emergence in recent years of traditional markers of femininity," said Linda M. Scott, author of the book "Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism." Among the signs, according to Scott: the popularity of pink, and the return of glitter and beading and close-fitting, body-revealing styles to fashion.

Scott credits this to the waning influence of the feminist movement, whose early founders, she says in her book, deemed any interest in clothes, makeup or a comely hairstyle as pandering to the male gaze.

"Some of what is going on is that there is a new generation of women who don't agree that femininity is a bad thing," who believe that a woman can be powerful, intelligent "and sexy," said Scott, a professor of media and popular culture at the University of Illinois."

I think Scott's comments also provide the answer to the central question that keeps coming up at this forum, because the eradication of womanly curves was also a part of the feminist mission -- because nothing attracts "the male gaze" that they so resented as much as the sight of a well-fed, feminine figure.

But that should give us all hope, because if the feminist movement is waning in influence, as Scott suggests, then the chance for a re-emergece of the full-figured ideal increases in direct proportion.

M. Lopez
5th November 2005, 20:29
"Scott credits this to the waning influence of the feminist movement, whose early founders, she says in her book, deemed any interest in clothes, makeup or a comely hairstyle as pandering to the male gaze.

"Some of what is going on is that there is a new generation of women who don't agree that femininity is a bad thing"
I think that's exactly right. And you still see evidence of that feminist brand of resentment - in things like those repulsive "reality" campaigns, that try to attack feminine beauty in another way, and to imply that for full-figured women to be celebrated, the ideal of beauty needs to be suppressed altogether. What hypocrisy. Full-figured women were celebrated for centuries, and they were always depicted as goddesses, until feminism started to re-shape society and to attack natural femininty.

I always thought that the androgynous standard was more insidious than just a worship of skinniness for its own sake. It really represented an attempt to artificially reshape women, both inside and out, and was as much about mind control as weight control.

I hope that, as this article suggests, society is finally seeing through this ideology, and rediscovering more natural and timeless ideals.

7th November 2005, 03:54
<br>Vanity is one of the most fascinating subjects in the history of Western art. It is traditionally associated with Venus, and as such, is presented as another "beautiful sin"--i.e., both a sin that <i>results</i> from beauty, and simultaneously <i>heightens</i> beauty.

It is invariably depicted in the form of a goddess gazing adoringly, excitedly, at her own reflection in a mirror. Sometimes the mirror is a smaller, hand-held variety, but often, it is a larger object, situated on the lady's vanity table. The setting of the painting tends to be a private sanctuary, like a bedchamber, where the goddess can exult in the consciousness of her own allure, revelling in it, as social mores forbid her from doing in public.

Owing to their association with Venus, depictions of Vanity enact the centuries-old tension in Western culture between Antique and Christian values. The Christian moral code repudiates vanity, but the Classical ethos celebrates it. And viewers are meant to respond to images of Vanity in a similarly binary way. Their moral code tells them that they should disapprove of the lady's conceit, but their aesthetic inclinations acknowledge that the lady's vanity actually increases her attractions. The viewer is secretly thrilled by her self-love, and yearns for her to transgress the boundaries of modesty and moderation still further.

Our Pinacotheca features many depictions of Vanity, but here is a particularly interesting example from the Hermitage collection, titled <i>Allegory of Vanity</i> (1642) by the Baroque painter Joachim von Sandrart. Note the opulent details in the image, such as the lady's expensive apparel (featuring embroidery and lace), and the treasures on her vanity table. Note also the red colour of the lady's dress (symbolic of immoderate passion), and the fact that her waist is not "tamed" (a traditional emblem of moderation), but rather, is allowed to swell freely and sensually. Her flushed cheeks indicate the voluptuous feelings of self-adoration that her own reflection stirs in her. She appears to be clipping off a lock of her own hair--which was the traditional token of regard that a much-pursued coquette would bestow on her most fervid admirers.<p><center><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/gallery/sandrart01.jpg"></center><p>The presence of the demonic figure on the right, shrouded in darkness, and pointing to the looking-glass, seems to confirm that this passionate vanity is a sinister emotion. But while he may represent a Christian interpretation, the youth on the left--a figure of Innocence--represents the Classical interpretation. He holds up the light to see her beauty more clearly, and regards the lady's delight in her own appearance as something natural, and even inspiring. He gazes at her lovely reflection not with base desire, but with earnest wonder, and high regard.

The two figures may also represent dual aspects of the lady's own personality. The enchantingly vain goddess is simultaneously an innocent girl, with those angelic blonde tresses, but she also has a trace of the wicked temptress, in scarlet robes. These two qualities harmonize perfectly in her looking-glass--and, of course, in the painting that we see before us (which is inspired by the fascination of her own being).<p>- <a href="http://www.getty.edu/art/collections/objects/o267.html" target="_blank">Click here to discover another interesting depiction of Vanity in Western art</a>