|12th January 2006||#1|
Join Date: July 2005
In our recent discussions of history's most renowned beauties, such as Countess Skavronskaia, and Isabel de Porcel, we noted that the paintings which have preserved their loveliness for eternity also testify to their irresistible self-assurance, their intoxicating vanity. No one can look at their images and fail to realize that these goddesses knew exactly how gorgeous they were, and that they deserved the worship that was bestowed on them.
The archetype of the goddess who is conscious of her own attractions, and knows that she merits adoration, is a leitmotif that recurs frequently throughout the history of Western art. And it invites an answer to that most crucial of all questions confronting size celebration, which is, "Why does the media suppress plus-size beauty?"
But before we get to that, let's consider a fascinating passage from the novel Villette (1853), by Charlotte Brontė (author of Jane Eyre). In the following excerpt, Lucy Snow, the thin, humble, morally-rigid narrator of the novel, is describing her flirtatious, voluptuous, self-indulgent rival, Ginevra Fanshawe:
She had an excellent appetite, like any other healthy school-girl, for the morning pistolets or rolls, which were new baked and very good, and of which a certain allowance was served to each. This allowance being more than I needed, I gave half to Ginevra; never varying in my preference, though many others used to covet the superfluity . . . I don't know why I chose to give my bread rather to Ginevra than to another . . . I always contrived that she should be my convive, and rather liked to let her take the lion's share, whether of the white beer, the sweet wine, or the new milk: so it was, however, and she knew it; and, therefore, while we wrangled daily, we were never alienated.
Ginevra Fanshawe is perhaps the definitive example of that exciting staple of English literature, the vain, spoiled, gorgeous coquette, pursued by all men, and envied by all women. She possesses angelic features, but sensual desires, being described as "orbed, ruddy, and replete," with "plump, and pink, and flaxen attributes." Morever, she becomes visibly more curvaceous as the novel progresses, and, in a famous passage later in the novel, Brontė writes that "Miss Fanshawe's gaieties and flirtations agreed with her mightily. She had grown quite plump; her cheeks looked as round as apples."
In his work titled The Laws, Plato outlines the concept of proportionate equality as follows:
There are two kinds of equality which, though identical in name, are often almost opposites in their practical results. The one of these any State or lawgiver is competent to apply in the assignment of honors,--namely, the equality determined by measure, weight and number,--by simply employing the lot to give even results in the distributions. But the truest and best form of equality is not an easy thing for everyone to discern. It is the judgment of Zeus . . . It dispenses more to the greater and less to the smaller, giving due measure to each according to nature; and with regard to honors also, by granting the greater to those that are greater in goodness, and the less to those of the opposite character in respect of goodness and education, it assigns in proportion what is fitting to each. (757b757c)
The Greeks even provided a mathematical explanation of the notion of proportionate equality, or "equality proportionate to desert," which Aristotle offers in his treatise titled, Politics:
Equality is of two sorts. One sort is numerical equality: the other sort is equality proportionate to desert. "Numerical equality" means being treated equally, or identically, in the number and volume of things which you get; "equality proportionate to desert" means being treated on the basis of equality of ratios. To give an example--numerically, the excess of 3 over 2 is equal to the excess of 2 over 1; but proportionally the excess of 4 over 2 is equal to the excess of 2 over 1, 2 being the same fraction of 4 as 1 is of 2. (1301b29)
This, of course, is where the famous phrase "just deserts" comes from--i.e., the determination that people be given what they justly, proportionately, deserve.
It is harmful for our bodies if those who are unequal have equal amounts of food and clothing; the same goes for honours. (1287a)
To apply this to the case of Ginevra Fanshawe and Lucy Snowe, the fuller-figured, more voluptuous Ginevra wants and needs more than the diminutive Lucy Snow, in order to blossom with youthful beauty. She needs more food, and (as even Aristotle acknowledges) richer clothing. Ginevra's desires are proportionately greater than Lucy's, and her beauty is proportionately greater as well. And even while the moral side of Lucy's nature resents Ginevra for this, Lucy's aesthetic inclinations impel her to provide Ginevra with the extra portions that she requires--the "lion's share"--so that her beauty can reach its fullest potential.
This may provide us with a clue as to why the modern media resists plus-size beauty. The ideologies that dominate media culture are predicated on simplistic, numerical equality, with its goal of levelling distinctions and uniqueness among individuals, and treating everyone as interchangeable, undifferentiated units, in a machine-line manner.
(Image kindly provided by Mr. David Stone.)
Last edited by HSG : 6th August 2010 at 00:41.
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