Nefertiti, 1330-1370 BC
April 12, 2012 - When the face of a movie star appearing "puffy" can spark a media frenzy, the focus on female beauty seems to have reached an all-time high. A recent piece by actress Ashley Judd in the Daily Beast calls out the media for their concentration on women's bodies and looks. After widespread speculation that the actress had plastic surgery she calls the conversation about beauty "nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women...endure every day."
Here, we look at what that conversation has looked like through the years -- from Nefertiti to Michelle Obama.
This representation of the pharaoh's wife, Nefertiti, is thought to be the most beautiful by both modern and ancient Egyptian standards, says Joann Fletcher, an honorary research fellow at the University of York, who has studied Nefertiti extensively. Nefertiti lived from about 1330-1370 BC.
"While its specific facial proportions are almost completely symmetrical, again conforming to this notion of beauty, the sculpted face is further enhanced by the artist's very skilful use of color to suggest the application of a black eye paint and red lip color, creating the idealized form of beauty we see in other representations of ancient Egyptian women," she said.
"In other representations of women at this time, the hair can sometimes tend to obscure their facial features, since it frames the face in a curtain-like mass of braids and plaits, the hair being another attribute of beauty associated with Hathor, goddess of beauty, who was also hailed as 'She of the Beautiful Hair' and 'Lady of the Lock'."
Venus and Adonis by Peter Paul Rubens, 1635
Today, "Rubenesque" is a polite way to say "big" or "plus-sized." Peter Paul Rubens painted portraits of full-figured women in the early 1600s, inspired by his second wife, 16-year-old Hélène Fourment.
Gibson Girl, 1897
"In the late 19th century, the emphasis was really on women’s facial features," said Joan Jacobs Brumberg, a historian who wrote "The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls."
"The bosom was noticed in the 19th century but not with too much cleavage." Women wore corsets, and the Gibson Girls showed off slender waists. Ankles, also, were highly sexualized.
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Flapper Girls, 1929
Around World War I, with the advent of movies, the body begins to be emphasized as much, or more, than the face.
"Fashion has changed so that a slim silhouette in a chemise is ideal, and matronly seems old fashioned. Women are dancing and doing sports, and they are no longer infatuated with the Victorian ideal of being frail and sickly,” Brumberg said.
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Marilyn Monroe, 1955
After WWII, technology started changing the way beauty was perceived: bathrooms with electric lights and mirrors highlighted concerns about acne and formerly overlooked details, Brumberg said. Corsets replace girdles, and bra cups became extremely pointed.
Actress Marilyn Monroe was perceived as the epitome of beauty in the 50s. There's been much speculation about her size and weight. Was she really a plus-sized beauty, asks this piece in Jezebel which dug up the actress's actual dress size numbers.
Photo: Actress Marilyn Monroe on the set of "The Seven Year Itch," directed by Billy Wilder in 1955.
Betty Page, 1955
In 1955, Betty Page won the title "Miss Pinup Girl of the World."
She was known as "The Queen of Curves" and "The Dark Angel."
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“It wasn’t just feminists who burned bras,” Brumberg said. “Bras and underwear changed. The body becomes something for you to control from the inside, through diet and exercise, instead of exterior control through the corset. Different body parts get attention in different ways.”
Model and actress Twiggy personified the swinging 60s mod culture in London. Twiggy was known for her androgynous looks, large eyes and short hair. In 1966, she was named "The Face of 1966" by the Daily Express and voted British Woman of the Year.
Christie Brinkley, 1987
When Allure magazine conducted a poll on beauty in 1990, Christie Brinkley embodied the all-American look, landing her on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition three times.
When Allure did a similar survey in 2010, attitudes had changed: 69 percent of respondents no longer believed in a single "all-American" look. Women and men picked a Latina model as most attractive among pictures of different races and ethnicities.
Photo: Christie Brinkley Sighting in London - July 12, 1987
Michelle Obama, 2012
"Michelle Obama is very much about health and mobility and activity and strength,” Brumberg said. “People may say she looks hot, but really they’re saying she’s an icon for the women’s health movement.”
Obama’s body suggests healthy eating, she notes, whereas today's fashion magazines still portray more emaciated bodies.
Ashley Judd, 2012
Ashley Judd's piece in the Daily Beast asks everyone to try to change the conversation about beauty.
"If this conversation about me is going to be had, I will do my part to insist that it is a feminist one, because it has been misogynistic from the start. "
"Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate? If not in the conversation about me, in parallel ones about women in your sphere? What is the gloating about? What is the condemnation about? What is the self-righteous alleged 'all knowing' stance of the media about? How does this symbolize constraints on girls and women, and encroach on our right to be simply as we are, at any given moment?”
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