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Old 7th February 2006   #1
Join Date: August 2005
Location: USA
Posts: 61
Default Examining the current beauty aesthetic

While researching online for articles and images about one of my favorite artists, Peter Paul Rubens, I came across an article that I thought would be of interest to readers of this forum.

It's entitled "From Rubenesque to Twiggy: The Meaning Behind the Waif Aesthetic."

Now, when I read the title, I immediately wondered if the author, a clinical social worker named Karen L. Smith, has been reading the posts here, given the similarity of terms! She begins her examination of our current "beauty" aesthetic by saying:

"Current beauty aesthetic is just that: Current. In order to understand the willingness of so many women and young girls to engage in eating disordered behaviors to resemble a beauty ideal, we must first attempt to understand what that beauty ideal represents. Beauty ideals reflect the cultures that support them, hence the changing ideals through time and culture."

Which of course, touches on the topics we have been discussing here for so long--the beauty ideal, the underlying culture, and the current suppression of the timeless aesthetic and natural female form.

Smith goes on to discuss that the plus-sized woman represented fertility but "However, when the Rubenesque artist put his brush to the canvas, he didn't set out to paint a wealthy child bearer. He set out to paint sexy..."

I found it refreshing to read that Rubenesque=sexy in the context of an article about eating disorders, especially coming from a member of the psychological/social services community, whose approach to eating disorders is usually utilitarian and behavioral, in my experience.
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Old 7th February 2006   #2
Join Date: July 2005
Posts: 1,784
Default Re: Examining the current beauty aesthetic

Thank you for that intriguing link. The article is by turns enlightening and frustrating, because one has the sense that the author is almost there. She has almost managed to escape modern ideological brainwashing, but is still partially caught in its grip.

The point that Rubens painted opulently-proportined goddesses for aesthetic reasons ("He set out to paint sexy") rather than for socio-economic ones ("he didn't set out to paint a wealthy child bearer") is exactly correct, and bears repeating. The human heart (or, if you prefer, human DNA) determines what the ideal of beauty is, not the material conditions of society.

There is a simplistic, ahistorical, and politically-motivated myth floating around these days that "resources" or "scarcity" create the ideal of beauty, which is a colossal fallacy--and moreover, a clever evasion by the proponents of the modern underweight standard, a way for them to dodge criticism and "justify" the inhuman aesthetic that they have artificially imposed on society, by denying any agency in its creation.

Full-figured beauty was not significantly "rarer" in the Baroque age than in our own, as evidenced by the fact that depictions of the European peasantry have always presented them as hale and robust. The notion that beauty is determined by how "rare" it is is absurd, and flouts basic human psychology. Lillian Russell would be just as gorgeous in a village in which many young women equalled her in beauty as she would be in a milieu in which her beauty was unique. Rubens did not paint curvaceous goddesses because curves were scare; on the contrary, his ideal reflects the general mode of appearance of North European womanhood.

(Rubens, Perseus Rescuing Andromeda, 1639-40.)

Where the author of this article truly misses the mark is in her discussion of culture in general. She fails to realize, or acknowledge, that all cultures are not equal, and that the culture of the Rubens's age was a natural creation, one that grew organically out of the wishes and needs of the people, whereas today's culture is an artificial construct (engineered by a small clique of like-minded ideologues) that has been imposed on the general populace without their consent--and commonly, against their will.

The author fails to consider that whereas historical cultures were largely in tune with the people, modern culture is not. In the Baroque era, Rubens's art was in harmony with the populace, and with its essential beliefs and inclinations, whereas today, what passes for "culture" (not just high culture, but lately, even popular culture, e.g., the film world) is increasingly foreign to the values of the majority of society. Modern culture is increasingly alienated from its ostensible audience. model, whose figure remains just as ideally beautiful today as it was when Classical contours such as hers were immortalized by Rubens's brush:

- NEW Lindsey Garbelman gallery

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