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Beauty Across the Ages. An Exhaustive, Expansive, Completely Conclusive Study by Kate Fitzsimmons and Karen Krautwurst. What Is Beauty?. Webster’s Definition of Beauty:

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beauty across the ages

Beauty Across the Ages

An Exhaustive, Expansive, Completely Conclusive Study by Kate Fitzsimmons and Karen Krautwurst

what is beauty
What Is Beauty?
  • Webster’s Definition of Beauty:
    • the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit .

The Definition of Beauty is

That Definition is none –

Of Heaven, easing Analysis,

Since Heaven and He are one.

- Poem By Emily Dickinson

does beauty change or is it a constant
Does Beauty Change or Is It a Constant?
  • Over the years, what is considered beautiful has changed. This is especially true with clothing and other fashions.
  • Cultures seem to agree (and some characteristics agree cross-culturally) that there are certain qualities that define beauty during one specific era.
  • This presentation will examine 4 different eras, one dating back five centuries, and compare and contrast what their definitions of beauty were.
16 th century france1
16th Century France

What’s the deal?

  • France was aristocratic
  • There was a rigid system of social classes
  • The clothing that a person was allowed to wear was determined by which social class he or she belonged to.
16 th century france women s beauty
16th Century France-Women’s Beauty
  • Women were considered beautiful if they had:
  • Soft, Pale Skin
  • Tiny waist, Large Hips
  • Flat Hair, usually styled or pulled up
  • Small features, delicate hands
why these qualities
Why these qualities?

The peasant girl shown on the left represents undesirable qualities, such as thick arms (which signifies manual labor), rough features, and tanned skin (from working outdoors).

  • Pale skin because it indicated that a woman was not forced to work outdoors, and thus it represented wealth and status.
  • Large hips were favored because a woman would be seen as motherly, and tiny waists were seen as feminine.
  • Corsets were designed to flatten the torso and shrink the waistline to create the desired look.
men s beauty
Men’s Beauty
  • Men were effeminate; men who were physically masculine were workers.
  • Wigs were very expensive during this time, and the more ornate the wig, the higher the status of the man.
  • Men were also expected to have pale, soft skin, which again indicated wealth and status.
men s fashion
Men’s Fashion
  • Men’s clothing was elegant and ornate during this time.
  • The more elaborate the clothing, the higher the status.
  • Jewelry became very popular and the aristocrats competed with each other by comparing the size and extravagance of their jewelry.
pre civil rights image
Pre-Civil Rights Image

In the pre-civil rights America, it was especially important for black women to look “presentable” to reflect a positive image on their race as a whole.

pre civil rights image1
Pre-Civil Rights Image
  • Black women tried to look as European as possible.
    • Women spent hours trying to straighten their hair, as opposed to their natural kinky hair.
    • Women with smaller facial features and lighter skin were preferred.
  • Women always left the house wearing prim and proper clothing with their hair straightened and makeup on.
the post civil rights era and into vietnam
The Post-Civil Rights Era and into Vietnam
  • What’s the Deal?

The Vietnam War had created tensions among youth culture. It had spawned an era of rebellion which was reflected in styles and fashion.

civil rights post civil rights image
Civil Rights/Post Civil Rights Image
  • The younger civil rights generation was all about taking pride in racial uniqueness.
  • Black women no longer tried to look like European women, but rather took pride in their natural beauty.
    • Straight hair was out; Afros were in.
    • Fuller bodies were celebrated along with fuller facial features (full lips and wider noses).
    • Darker skin was no longer shunned.
the 20 th century
The 20th Century
  • From This to This

In 1975, top models and beauty queens weighed only 8% less than the average women. Today, they weigh 23% less, a size that is almost impossible to achieve by everyday females.

the importance of body image
The Importance of Body Image

The graph at left represents the number of full-body photographs that appear on the front cover of 4 different fashion magazines. As one can clearly see, in recent years the importance of the full body has increased exponentially.

today s beauty women
Today’s “Beauty”-Women
  • To be beautiful, women must:
    • Be thin and toned
    • Have large breasts
    • Have long legs
    • Clear, tan skin
    • Have no unwanted hair (legs, underarms, eyebrows)
    • Wear Makeup
today s handsome men
Today’s “Handsome”-Men
  • To be handsome, a man must:
    • Have defined muscles
    • Be tall
    • Have tan, clear skin
    • Have no unwanted hair (back, ear, nose, etc.)
    • Have straight, white teeth
what can we learn from all of this
What Can We Learn From All of This?
  • Differences
  • Qualities valued differed between cultures (i.e. pale skin representing status vs. tanned skin representing leisure)
  • The French focused on things that could be changed (clothes, hairstyles), whereas in today’s culture the focus is on inherited features (nose jobs, breast augmentation)


  • Each culture has a set of desirable characteristics for which everybody strives.
  • Physical qualities reflect a certain societal expectation
  • Similar aspects were important (hair, skin color, body shape, etc.)
jacksons theories
Jacksons’ Theories
  • Status Generalization Theory
  • The French physical attributes reflected their positions in society, i.e. social expectations
  • Pre-Civil Rights black women were expected to look a certain way in order to reflect an equal position in society.
  • Post-Civil Rights black women were regarded in a diminished social light by the older generations because of physical appearance.
  • Today, pretty people are thought to be more competent or skilled.
  • Social Expectancy Theory
  • In each culture, there is a widely accepted standard that all members must meet in order to be considered attractive/worthy
  • In the Pre-Civil Rights Era, black women who did not straighten their hair, for example, were eschewed not only by white culture, but by their own race as well.
works cited consulted
Works Cited/Consulted
  • “Beauty.” Webster’s Dictionary. 2005. Mirriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 19 Sep. 2005.
  • Dickinson, Emily. “The Definition of Beauty is (988).” Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. 1955.
  • Jackson, Linda A. “Physical Attractiveness: A Sociocultural Perspective.” Body Image eds. Cash and Pruzinsky. Chapter 2.
  • “Jewelry.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2005. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 14 Sep. 2005.
  • Sypeck, Mia Foley and James Gray, Anthony H. Ahrens. “No Longer Just a Pretty Face: Fashion Magazines’ Depictions of Ideal Female Beauty from 1959 to 1999.” International Journal of Eating Disorders 36.3 (2004). 342-7.