Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Eye of the Beholder

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I have been thinking this week about beauty, and the images of it that trap women. Scooting around the internet I have learnt that Saudi women long for nothing more than a nose job, Japanese women are having unspeakable things done to their eyelids, Jordanian women are ashamed of their olive skin and are buying skin whitening products by the bucket, and every last American woman is on a diet. All the fashion insiders are saying, in the wake of the magazine-shows-woman-with-actual-stomach affair, that the idea of models getting any bigger than your little finger is a funny joke.

I suddenly wanted to look at women who did not look like models. I am not anti-beauty. I smile when my eye falls upon lovely Audrey Hepburn, or ravishing Ava Gardner, or bewitching Julie Christie. I have a tremendous penchant for those outrageously stylish ladies of the fifties, like Babe Paley. I came of age in the eighties, when the supermodels were truly super, and Helena Christiansen and Tatjana Patitz and Christy Turlington were in their pomp. But the modelliness of models is now so self-referential that it has started to eat itself, and the actresses, sadly, are following in their wake. There is a sameness to the pictures of today's beauties that feels thin and meaningless. If 'beauty' is all there is to see, then horizons narrow and views warp. I suddenly wanted to cast my eye on women who did not look as if they belonged in a magazine.

So I found these. Some of them are anonymous. Some are famous. One won a Nobel Prize. One revolutionised American cooking. One is a supreme court judge. I like them because they look real to me. Sometimes, authenticity is its own form of beauty.


  1. You know, we see "regular" faces all day long. Sometimes I consciously recognize those faces as beautiful--usually either with great familiarity (say, my friends) or with utter unfamiliarity (a stranger on the subway who is doing something unconsciously enchanting). This post struck me because instead of asking us to see "regular" people as "beautiful" (in quotes because of the narrow definition beauty takes sometimes) or asking us to see some sort of inner quality in these "regular" faces, you were simply presenting them in the context of beauty. That's a larger challenge to the reader than it appears at first, so thank you.

    Side note: There's a whole branch of modeling that specializes in "real" people. These are the people used in ads for, say, green power companies: They're symmetrical and pleasing to the eye, but more like any pretty person would as opposed to a "model," which is a highly specific look. They're designed to be "accessible" (I actually thought at first that Lizzie Miller was a "real" model instead of a, um, real model?) At women's magazines I've worked at, the model editors sometimes have baskets or books full of portfolios of various types of models. To walk by a booking director's desk and see "plus," "ethnic," and "real" is both hysterical and upsetting.


    I find the lengths that women will go to - and Jocelyn Wildenstein in particular is the very embodiment of this - absolutely frightening. The utter and imperative command from the media in all guises to be young and taut and unlined is something I think we all underestimate. It's clearly psychologically damaging if you have even a moment of self-doubt.

    The various TV presenters and actresses shaving years off their age, just to ensure they're not put into the 'old lady' bracket for jobs is the tip of the iceberg. You could argue dear old Anne Robinson is back in front of the camera on Watchdog and look at her go, but at the expense of a few varied facial expressions.

    Another lovely post T. And love the smiling piccies of the dog. Did you see the full article about dogs and their umwelt in Arts and letters daily that Miss Whistle touched on? Really interesting. Must test this on my parents' dog on Sunday.

  3. I am a 48 year old Teenager! I get so annoyed with myself that even after giving birth to two boys plus all I have endured and enjoyed in life. The wisdom I have learned... I still cannot be totally happy in my skin unless I am 10 lbs lighter than I am now.
    It is ridiculous but my vanity is that deep. Yet I see beauty in others of all nationalities, ages, shapes and sizes ...


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