Softness: The Feminine Ideal
[Originally posted on the Judgment of Paris Forum on November 3rd, 2004, in response to M. Lopez's observation that the fetishization of unnaturally hard/flat characteristics is a function of modern society, in which people lose their humanity and live mechanistic lives, with the repetitive movements of gym regimens seeming particularly machine-like and robotic, which makes female weight loss a fundamentally dehumanizing activity.]
Indeed, and the predicament that you describe gives the phrase "slave to the machine" a whole new meaning.
It's also interesting to note that in this, as in so many things, the modernist aesthetic upended principles that guided Western culture from its earliest days.
Throughout Western history, artists depicting feminine beauty sought to make their inanimate creations appear as human as possible (i.e., soft and full), whereas today, the modern aesthetic prompts women to alter their natural appearance to emulate an artificial look (hard and flat).
The inversion of these two ideals indicates much about the essential deadness of the culture that we have inherited from the Moderns.
Consider the art of sculpture. Its greatest practitioners favoured the use of marble, which is among the hardest substances that can be shaped into any form. But the supreme goal of the sculptor's craft was to make this firm substance appear soft--indeed, to mimic human flesh. The sculptor's ideal was to create a work so lifelike, that viewers actually believed that if they reached out and touched the statue, its surface would yield beneath their fingers, like plump human flesh.
Here is a remarkable example of this technique--Bernini's Rape of Proserpina (1620-21), which stands in the Galleria Borghese in Rome:
As revealed in this detail image, the marble figure of the goddess appears so soft that it dimples under the pressure of Pluto's amorous embrace:
The material is hard marble, but one would never know it to look at it. In the pursuit of artistic beauty, the artist miraculously transformed it into a tender, human form.
But despite a century of suppression, we are at long last witnessing the revival of this living ideal of beauty, which dominated our culture throughout its long and noble history. And it is today's plus-size goddesses who are making this aesthetic restoration possible.
Screen capture of Ivana (Ford 12+), in the "Romanesque" portion of the 2003 Cacique show--which remains the most gorgeous segment of any of Lane Bryant's runway events:
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