''The beautiful white girl''
The phrase "timeless beauty" appears frequently on this forum, but it is more than just a conceptual shortcut. It communicates the fact that the curvaceous ideal transcends fad or fashion, and originates at the very dawn of human existence.
As we have noted in past essays, several anthropological studies have traced the appreciation of the plus-size figure back to Neolithic times (see here and here). When we recently came upon a picture of Kailee O'Sullivan modelling an intriguingly primeval costume, however, we decided to tie it in with the primordial nature of the feminine ideal via a very different text--a celebrated work of literary fiction.
The eponymous hero of Edgar Rice Burroughs's 1915 novel Tarzan has become a cultural icon, spawning an industry comprising "two dozen more novels, over 40 movies, comic books, radio shows, television programs, toys," etc. (according to the author's official site). However, if one ignores all of this cultural dross, and reads the source material--the original novel--afresh, free of any other associations, one discovers a bona fide classic of world literature.
Burroughs's hero is a part of a grand tradition that extends throughout Western literature--the concept of the "Noble Savage." In most of the tales incorporating this archetype, the Noble Savage is a man who, in his youth, is torn from his modern community, and placed in a wild environment, where he grows up uncorrupted by society, and develops in accordance with natural human impulses. Later in life, when he finally discovers his true identity, and confronts the human world, he is a living reproach to present-day "civilization," a scourge of modern decadence, a reminder of the vitality and noble ancestry that humanity has lost, in its relentless drive towards mindless egalitarianism.
From the trees Tarzan of the Apes watched the solemn ceremony; but most of all he watched the sweet face and graceful figure of Jane Porter.
This passage reveals why the Noble Savage generally--and why Burroughs's hero specifically--is such an appealing trope. Such a character is unfettered by modern distortions of gender roles. In following the exploits of a Noble Savage, both male and female readers can vicariously live out their essential impulses, imagining themselves either as the primeval hero, or as his paramour.
From then on scarcely a day passed that did not bring its offering of game or other food. Sometimes it was a young deer, again a quantity of strange, cooked food--cassava cakes pilfered from the village of Mbonga--or a boar, or leopard, and once a lion.
Again, by setting his story in this unique context, Burroughs allows his hero to fulfil the destiny that is dearest to the male heart: to be a provider for his beloved. (In this case, he embodies the role quite literally, by furnishing her with sustenance--feeding her, in other words.) The dynamic that is established between this pair, of a provider and the one he provides for, gratifies the most essential human yearnings. And as the anthropological studies we noted earlier confirm, this is precisely where the male adoration of feminine self-indulgence arises--from the male suitor's wish that his beloved might thrive on the provender that he obtains.
Like two charging bulls they came together, and like two wolves sought each other's throat. Against the long canines of the ape was pitted the thin blade of the man's knife.
Notice that not only does Burroughs allow Tarzan to satisfy an essential male desire to best a rival for the hand of his beloved, but more significantly, he acknowledges her own enjoyment, even her relish for the conflict. Jane finds that she likes to be fought for; she wants to be won--in ways that she herself doesn't understand, brought up as she has been in a modern, "liberated" society. In fact, she discovers that her so-called "liberation" has been a prison, and she only truly comes alive, only genuinely feels free, when she acknowledges her natural desires, and enters into a traditional feminine role (a damsel to be saved, provided for, and won) vis-à-vis her aristocratic lord of the jungle.
As mentioned earlier, this post was inspired by an extraordinary image from the Rubie's Hallowe'en catalogue. Besides Kelsey, the company also enlisted the services of Kailee O'Sullivan to model its seasonal wares, and in this image, we see Kailee in a wild, primitive outfit.
What makes the image so arresting is that while Kailee has an innate quality of girlishness, of delicacy, of fragility and vulnerability, here, with her smouldering glance, and with the unabashed display of her person, she reveals her wilder side. Her carnivorous look is one of raw hunger, and one senses that she would eagerly devour whatever provender her suitor could provide--and still demand more. It is not that she is dangerous, but that she seems to be courting danger that makes her so riveting, for one senses that she is deliberately putting herself in dire peril so that her admirer will save and protect her.
We will share more of Kailee's images from the 2008 Rubie's campaign in a future post.
Re: ''The beautiful white girl''
This is an interesting point. The typical casting choice that one would expect for an outfit like this would be a so-called "exotic-looking" model (brunette, tanned, etc). But choosing Kailee made the picture much more interesting, because of her quality of softness.
The effect of having a fair-skinned, Nordic girl in a primitive context creates a fascinating blend of opposites: the embodiment of civilization dressed in a primeval garb. She does seem vulnerable, even though her stance is confident -- a damsel who doesn't realize that she is (or could be) in distress. She is merely "playing" at wildness, a kittenish vixen who doesn't realize how dangerous her environment really is, and who needs to be defended from the genuinely menacing creatures of the veldt.
Re: ''The beautiful white girl''
Just an FYI for everyone - the rest of the campaign was featured in this post:
All lovely, although the picture included in this thread was definitely the most interesting.
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