Originally Posted by Kristina
How did this come to be? Exactly how did a whole world go from one standard of beauty to another? Can the process be reversed?
A simple question with a complex answer. In fact, this is the very query that we pose on our "Timeless Beauty" page.
Over the years, people have offered many theories on this topic, and several can be rejected outright--such as those ridiculous ideas about food scarcity, or about people being fuller-figured today than in times gone by. All nonsense. Artistic depictions of historical peasant life show that the women of the lower classes were just as curvaceous in the past as they are in the present. Also, people do not
base their ideas of beauty on what is "rare." If they did, then those of us with unique physical deformities would be considered "beautiful." Rather, beauty is wholly independent of rarity or plentifulness. A man would be just as attracted to Lillian Russell if Lillian Russells existed everywhere as he would be if he saw a Lillian Russell only once in his life. Beauty does not derive from a conscious calculation of availability. It is an instinct, an impulse, a subconscious drive. Every man has an image of ideal beauty locked in his heart, and he will respond to that image whether he sees it every day, or once a year, or only once in his lifetime.
The actually chronicle of how the timeless beauty ideal was dethroned proceeds as follows. One can identify it as a four-part process, with the alien ideologies of feminism and Marxism dealing the first blows.
Feminists have always clung to the ridiculous notion that gender is not biological, but a cultural construct. Yet the actual physical appearance (and the anatomy) of women, which is so obviously and profoundly different from that of men, contradicts this absurdity. Therefore, motivated both by their personal resentment of feminine women, and by the awareness that such women are living contradictions of their ideology, feminists began to devalue the physical attributes of womanliness--particularly since hips, a bust, and overall fullness are emblematic of the essentially feminine practices of child-bearing and -rearing. Feminists sought to supplant the eternal feminine ideal with an androgynized standard of appearance; i.e., the appearance of women who were divested of the physical characteristics of femininity, and resembled the male as much as possible.
The more this androgynous look was popularized, the more the feminists could pretend that women were indeed "just like men," that gender was not biological but cultural. The evangel of this agenda appears in the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and her ilk, with their dripping contempt of feminine women, but the androgyno-feminist vision didn't achieve cultural penetration until the 1920s, with the "flappers" and the suffragette movement
(Every time feminism has bourgeoned, the ideal of beauty has correspondingly grown less feminine, more androgynous, as a physical manifestation of the ascendancy of feminist philosophy.)
Feminism is, in many ways, merely a subset of Marxism, and the Marxists too sought to devalue femininity. Their materialist ideology centred on the concept of an industrial economy rather than the agrarian European tradition, and their goal was to recruit women into the labour workforce. Thinner, harder, masculinized women better suited their brutally functional world-view. Such persons would make suitable worker-drones, automatons--just like men. The Marxists never saw individuals, or distinct human beings, but "classes": broad generalizations of undifferentiated beings, biological machines. To the Marxists, with their coldly mechanistic minds, the traditional, chivalric notions of femininity as something beautiful and delicate and graceful were unwelcome remnants of the aristocratic/bourgeois world that they wanted to do away with. The same destructive impulse that led the Communist nations of Eastern Europe to blow up their most beautiful cathedrals and castles led them to eradicate feminine beauty. The Marxists viewed any legacy of the Western aesthetic tradition as a threat--and rightly so, for if the citizens of Communist nations were ever given the opportunity to compare their new, cold, grey world of harsh angles and flat surfaces with the beautiful, natural world of curves and softness that Marxism had displaced, they would always prefer the nobler past. (After all, the Berlin Wall was built to prevent people from getting out, not to keep people from getting in.) The Marxists realized that only be making people forget that there had ever been
a past, a better past, a more beautiful past, did their nightmarish dystopia have a chance of succeeding.
But this beauty-hating political movement in the arts wasn't confined to Communist nations. It poisoned the West as well, where Marxism became the avant-garde, elite ideology of the arts, regardless of the fact that the political system in each Western nation was still capitalist. In the West, this ideology morphed into an aesthetic movement--first Modernism, and then, after World War II, Post-Modernism. But all along, it was governed by Leftist precepts. It didn't have the state sanction that it had in Communist nations, but through nepotism and other corruptions of the market system, it wholly permeated Western "high culture."
As the beauty haters proliferated in the art world, they brought with them critics of a similar mindset. These critics, often Marxists themselves, saw an opportunity to topple the elegant society that they detested by praising artists who promoted ugliness and offended the "establishment," and denouncing the traditionalists.
Nevertheless, the forces of modernism might never have triumphed as completely as they did, but for two cataclysmic events which first damaged and then shattered traditional Western civilization: the two world wars.
The first decapitated the aristocratic lineage of Europe. The artistic preferences of the kings and princes and nobility had always been in tune with the tastes of their subjects, as the tastes of the alienated ideologues of Marxism never were (despite the latter's mendacious insistence that they were the people's "representatives"). Once the aristocracy was dethroned, the Western artistic tradition was crippled, for it had always been the nobility that had championed artworks guided by principles of beauty.
Then, the second war not only obliterated the remaining forces of tradition (in both the victorious and vanquished nations alike), but it also left the beauty-haters with an ideological monopoly, for the beauty aesthetic became associated with the "enemy," and therefore, whatever opposed the beauty tradition became regarded as a de facto "good."
So ended the reign of the Western beauty aesthetic in general. Feminine beauty suffered a further blow, though, when the fashion world became dominated by individuals who were not physically attracted to women. No malice was intended in this development. It was just a case of certain individuals gravitating toward an industry that suited them. However, the results of this sea change have been disastrous. Because of their biological antipathy to the visible attributes of well-fed womanhood, these individuals increasingly excluded femininity from "their" world, and imposed an androgynous ideal. In effect, they ended up promoting the same, unnatural, anti-feminine standard as the Marxist-feminists sought, except for aesthetic rather than political reasons. But the difference in motivation is irrelevant. The result is still the dominance of a harmful and inhuman aesthetic that forces women to starve themselves in an attempt to eradicate the physical signs of their own gender.
The four and final element is the commercial motive, which is well documented, and needs little further comment. To sell their products, and to increase market share, the diet-starvation and exercise-torture industries have conspired to make women feel bad about themselves. For mercenary ends, they abet in the suppression of plus-size beauty, in the defamation of womanliness, and in the propagation of an anorexic or artificially "toned" standard of appearance. There is no mystery as to their motives or their methods. The wonder is that the transparency of their goals hasn't persuaded women to reject these industries, their products, and everything they stand for, outright.
So in a nutshell, the full-figured feminine ideal was destroyed by four forces, as described above:
1. Feminism (the root of the problem, specifically ruinous to femininity)
2. Marxism and modernism (related movements that sought to eradicate all beauty)
3. Biological antipathy to femininity (imposing a false, androgynous standard of appearance in place of womanliness)
4. Commercial interests (the financial motivation to continue the suppression of feminine beauty, and to promote the artificial, unnatural standard of androgynous thinness)
We need to add one further, rather obvious point: this has become a self-sustaining monopoly. Since society now universally associates fashion and the media with an anorexic standard, the sort of people who enter into these fields of endeavour, and succeed in them, are those who are attracted to such a look.
By contrast, those who oppose the modern aesthetic and prefer traditional feminine beauty are kept out of these industries, both through self-exclusion (not bothering to enter a world that is so obviously hostile to their tastes), and self-censorship (keeping their divergent opinions to themselves, even if they do enter this world, for fear of career failure).
This makes it difficult bordering on impossible for any meaningful change to occur, and for the timeless ideal to be restored. However, the world shifted once before--slowly, but surely--and it can just as readily shift back. Every time a plus-size model produces beautiful images; every time a client shoots a gorgeous campaign celebrating full-figured femininity; every time the public rejects the weight-control industries and supports those companies that promote timeless beauty, the world improves, just a little.
The aesthetic of the past can
become the aesthetic of the future, and the world can recover from its hundred-year nightmare, and wake up to a glorious new dawn.
The voluptuous, feminine, aristocratic, bourgeois, timeless
beauty of Lillian Russell:
- Another vision of turn-of-the-century beauty