Beauty Throughout History


The below excerpt from a 1987 article for the Washington Post by Sharon Romm highlights the changing ‘aesthetic ideal’ when it comes to female beauty:

“The ancient Greeks believed perfect proportions were the key to a woman’s beautiful face. They would not have prized the quirky beauty of a modern movie star… The double chins on the women of Rubens would offend the lenses of present-day fashion photographers. And Victorians, who thought tiny rosebud lips were beauty’s quintessential element, would be aghast at the full, sensuous mouths admired today.”[1]

The natural, soft, and gently-rounded form of the goddess Aphrodite as represented in ‘Lely’s Venus’[2] is a great example of the physiological ideal of Ancient Greek femininity – an ideal that became commonplace again in the art of the Renaissance 1500 years later.  However, this ‘natural beauty’ hasn’t always been the desired look!

In Tudor times, a highly domed forehead (achieved by plucking the hairline itself as well as the eyebrows!) was often ‘enhanced’ by painting veins on the forehead using dark coloured dyes[3].  The practice of painting faux veins onto the skin also occurred in Victorian England, with one enthusiastic practitioner of this beauty practice – ‘Madame X’ – and her ‘corpse-like skin’ (achieved via a combination of indigo dye used to recreate the appearance of veins and white enamel as a foundation) immortalised in the John Singer Sargeant painting ‘Madame X’[4].

Whereas today, the majority of people aim to look healthy and youthful through their diet, skincare and beauty regimes, in the Victorian era ‘the look of the consumptive was very desirable: the woman with the watery eyes and pale skin… (like) the cadaver in the throes of death’[5]. Skincare products such as mercury, ammonia, arsenic, and lead were really popular when it came to helping women achieve this look, though this had its own worrying side effects that occasionally made the death ‘look’ more like reality!

Tempted to jump on the bandwagon with the latest beauty trend? Why not take a step back and consider doing what makes you happy? Beauty trends can change so frequently, and easily go from one extreme to the other! So embrace your unique characteristics and beauty to achieve a timeless look that makes you happy.



[3] Pitts Taylor, V (2008) “Cultural Encyclopaedia of the Body” Greenwood Press (page 144)



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