The Thinking 

On Beauty and Female Faces

October 1, 2012


AT THE literary journal Praesidium, Peter Singleton analyses photographs of female celebrities over the years, looking for the qualities that make for exceptional beauty. His essay is perceptive and interesting, despite a clumsy opening and some verbosity. The most beautiful faces, he says, are those that suggest moral and spirtual depth. He notices that in recent years prominent foreheads and brows are less common. He writes:

It has been my frequent observation that the female faces marketed as beautiful in recent decades seldom devote much emphasis to either feature, but rather seem to efface both. I should say that both are associated symbolically with intelligence. Can it possibly be that the ideal woman of the twenty-first century, a beneficiary of three generations of militant feminism, has actually descended to obscuring her intelligence in favor of a rather low-brow sexual aggression? (For there is clearly an implicit connection between a reduced cranium and increased lust, just as the ape is to be more feared than the human for violent bouts of blind rage: people who think less are always more prone to servicing their appetites and yielding to their passions.)

It’s worth bearing in mind that these photographs show not just the character of the women photographed, but of the photographers and stylists who worked with them. Reading this essay, I was reminded of the sheer banality of one prominent celebrity: Jennifer Aniston. I cannot understand why people find her face interesting enough to see everywhere. It is devoid of mystique. There isn’t the slightest trace of introspection or reflectiveness in it.

—– Comments ——

Kevin M. writes:

1. Aniston was dumped by Brad Pitt because she didn’t want kids.

2. She is Gloria Steinem’s No. 1 fan.


Jeanette V. writes:

Funny that you should mention this. I ran across some lovely photos of Marilyn Monroe when she was Norma Jean. Quite frankly, she was far more attractive as Norma Jean. The Marilyn Monroe photos look degenerate to me.

James P. writes:

One thing I noticed is that in the older photographs, the women tend to have their mouths closed — the exception being when they are smiling enough to show their teeth. They actually look like serious people!

In the more modern photographs, the women who are not smiling have their lips parted in a vapid-looking manner — e.g., Melissa George, Farrah Fawcett, Eva Longoria. This makes them look like dingbats.

Is there some rule of modern-day photography that women may not have their mouths closed?

Laura writes:

One explanation may be, as a dentist argued here before, that women today have teeth they want the world to see.

Paul writes:

This is something I can claim expertise at because I am a man with hormones. Most men know which women are beautiful with mathematical certainty. For example, let’s consider Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall, and Nicole Kidman. In their Hollywood glamour photos, if I recall accurately, they all have a smile. Lauren I suspect is smiling the least. If there is more expertise about beautiful women, it would be Hollywood. So much, as a start, for the writer’s delusions about women smiling.

Appalling, weird, and unjustified are his criticisms of a woman’s smile and his particular criticisms of photos. (Also, he contradicts himself.) A woman smiling is something a man pays favorable attention to. But the writer seems to agree, in part, with feminist psychology: men have subconscious deleterious—to women—machinations going on when women smile. Boring are professional women and men who go on and on without smiling. His swipe at Melissa George’s photo (I have never seen her image before) is beyond the pale. Except for the bad and nasty (on the part of the writer) photo of the beautiful Gillian Anderson (see her intense and overlooked movie The House of Mirth), all the photos show beautiful women. Is the writer actually a man with hormones left?

(The writer is talented but writes too densely for my taste. He is worse than Steven Jay Gould was.)

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