Join Date: July 2005
Aesthetics of Guilt
We don't call the fashion industry's androgynous standard an expression of the "aesthetics of guilt" for nothing.
In a new article
in the Irish Independent,
a female writer candidly acknowledges many of the suppositions that our forum members have had about the basis of the modern, emaciated ideal.
The article begins delightfully enough, with the writer acknowledging her love of self-indulgence:
I absolutely adore food. From the humble home-grown potato to the most expensive beluga, from the takeaway burger to the filet mignon, I like anything at all, but it must be in large quantities.
But then she confronts the V Magazine editorial, focussing on Candice Huffine's stunning swimwear image, and experiences conflicting reactions:
I opened the magazine, saw a model in a swimsuit that was cut away at the waist to reveal rolls of [flesh], (just the sort of [flesh] that I live in terror of revealing myself), posing away, as bold as brass.
"My goodness, will you look at this," I said to Shane, my beloved. "Isn't it shocking?"
"She looks like you," Shane replied. It was not at all the desired response.
"I mean she looks sexy, like a real woman should," he immediately clarified.
"I'm not that big!" I protested. "And surely they shouldn't be wearing skinny jeans if they have big stomachs?"
"Why not?" he said, gazing rather admiringly at them.
"Why not indeed?" I asked myself, rather taken aback at my own ignorance and blatant sizeism.
Let's leave aside, for a moment, the obvious fact that the V models weren't the least bit "big," nor were their waists. (If only they had been!)
Rather, note how different are the reactions between the man and the woman to Candice's gorgeous image--the former finding it alluring, the latter frightened by the model's freedom.
This leads the writer to an epiphany:
As I was having another look at a quite astonishingly seductive naked model in V, it came to me. I realised why it is almost always us women who want to be skinny; it's not the men who want us to be thin.
As I was looking at the picture of the girl, various words were coming to me. 'Soft', 'voluptuous', 'sensuous', 'cuddly' and 'gentle' were some of them. But also 'languorous', 'lazy', 'wicked', 'greedy' and 'wanton'. Wanton was a big one. I had another look at the skinny models in the other magazines, some of whom were scarily skeletal. Wanton was not a word that one would use for them. Disciplined, controlled, hard working, starved, restrained, cold, hard and self-sacrificing were some words that came to me.
At the Judgment of Paris, we frequently use every one of terms that the writer lists to describe the beauty of full-figured models. From the writer's first set, we deem them "soft," "voluptuous," "sensuous," and "gentle." However, we also use (approvingly) the second set of terms that the writer is troubled by. We laud the "languorous sensuality," of plus-size models, their "seductive laziness," their "exciting wickedness," their "alluring greed." For there is nothing intrinsically negative about the latter set of terms; only the preconceptions that we bring to these concepts.
In fact, all of those supposedly negative qualities are not negative at all, but characteristics that make curvaceous goddesses especially attractive. Indeed, the very finest plus-size models (Kelsey Olson, Kailee O'Sullivan, Justine Legault, etc.) embody both sets of attributes--gentle in one image, wicked in the next--the variety and range adding to their fascination.
On the other hand, there is nothing whatsoever that is intrinsically positive about the second set of characteristics that the writer attributes to emaciated models. "Disciplined" is what one says of a guard dog. "Controlled" is equivalent to robotic. "Hard working" sounds joyless. "Starved" is tragic. "Restrained" seems pleasureless. "Cold" feels brittle. "Hard" inhuman. And "self-sacrificing" is simply pitiable.
How could anyone prefer these latter characteristics, and a look that betokens them, to the infinitely warmer and more wonderful qualities (both the supposedly good, and the supposedly bad) that fuller-figured beauty evokes?
This entire admission on the part of the article's writer is quite revealing, and brings us back to the notion that the modern, underweight standard expresses an "aesthetics of guilt." There is a moralistic imperative driving the imposition of androgyny, an effort to evaluate beauty along moral rather than aesthetic lines, a good/evil dichotomy that has now morphed into a political ideology. The values that a Puritanical brand of religion imposed in one century (the "cold, hard" qualities that the writer associates with anorexic-looking models) were picked up by Wollstonecraft and other writers in the 19th century and implanted into the feminist ideology that still governs society today.
On our survey page, we feature a collection of literary quotations, many from 19th-century female writers such as Charlotte Brontė, delineating characters from their novels. Every passage describes the sensuous beauty of these goddesses, yet--and this is the crucial point--in most cases, these voluptuous female characters are not the protagonists of the novels, but the antagonists. They possess the same attributes that the writer of the article associates with plus-size models. The novels' supposed heroines, on the other hand, are "disciplined, controlled, hard working, starved, restrained, cold, hard"--and thin; qualities that are equally appealing to feminist ideology and to the Puritanical morality that is its aesthetic forbear.
Nietzsche (who was right about everything) condemns this politico-moralistic suspicion of full-figure beauty, and encourages us to move "beyond good an evil" in aesthetic values. He termed the individuals who propagate these "cold, hard" notions as the "despisers of the body," and asserts that "there is more reason in your body than in your best wisdom." The body of the female writer of this article reasons better than her wisdom when it rejects her puritanical-feminist castigation of voluptuousness and compels her to "adore food" and to indulge in it "in large quantities." Not only is her body desirous of pleasure (and there is nothing wrong with that--in fact, there is everything right with that), but it is also seeking to develop its own beauty, to acquire the "soft, voluptuous, sensuous" (as well as "languorous and wicked") curves that make it--and her--more gorgeous, more desirable.
Just as the Classical age (an era predating both feminism and Puritanism) gave birth to the aesthetic ideal of full-figured beauty, so did it ascribe "voluptuous" and "languorous" qualities to Venus, its goddess of love. In Classical morality, the very qualities that this writer associations with plus-size models (including the ones that she views negatively) were religiously venerated. No wonder that Classical civilization was able to revere curvaceous beauty. Its aesthetic values and moral values were in harmony, both celebrating a natural female voluptuousness.
One of the goals of this site is to overcome the narrow, life-dying ideology of the present day, favouring coldness and hardness over softness and sensuousness; to redeem these Classical, voluptuous qualities, and show that not only is there nothing intrinsically negative about these attributes, but that they are exciting, fascinating, and irresistibly feminine characteristics--properties of true goddesses.
In her conclusion to the article, the writer acknowledges, "perhaps it would be more fun to be wanton." It would indisputably be more beautiful.
The breathtaking Justine Legault (size 14; Scoop, Montreal)--who, with the alluringly untoned fullness of her waist, appears "soft, voluptuous sensuous" . . . but also "languorous, wicked," and therefore utterly irresistible.
- More images from this test