Fashion Through the Lens: What is beauty?


‘Short and round, fat as a pig, with puffy fingers constricted at the joints, looking like rows of short sausages; with shiny, tightly-stretched skin and an enormous bust filling out the bodice of her dress, she was seductive and much sought after, owing to her fresh and pleasing appearance. Her face was like a crimson apple, a peony-bud just bursting into bloom; she had two magnificent dark eyes, fringed with thick, heavy lashes, which cast a shadow into their depths; her mouth was small, ripe, kissable, and was furnished with the tiniest of white teeth.’ – Guy de Maupassant, Boule de Suif

A voluptuous bust rippling over in cake-like folds and the proud owner of hands with fingers much reminiscent of Cumberland sausages, so Guy de Maupassant depicts his sumptuous French heroine as the gentry of her carriage look upon her with aroused eyes of desire, much as a famished captive beholds a succulent apple at his feet.

Meanwhile, some 300 years earlier in Tudor England, gushing damsels in corseted finery are throwing themselves at the of feet of the season’s hottest sex symbol – Henry VIII. Peacock upon peacock makes its way down a kingly oesophagus and into subcutaneous layers of fat while gouty thighs protruding from the knee-high breeches of the small yet, full-figured king leave the ladies (and men?) of the court longing for more.

As we fast forward to 21st century New York, we stumble upon Vogue cuttings of anorexic fashion shoots and towering Dior clad models who roam red carpets like lace covered rib-cages – it is safe to say, fashion and health have never gone hand in hand. Whether it be the rubenesque creases of a 19th century double chin, the skeletal shadows cast over haute couture cheekbones, the pale-faced charm of an untouched Geisha girl, the beautifully brokens toes of Chinese noblewomen bound into undersized footwear, the artificially elongated lips of Ethiopia‘s Mursi people, the bald scalp of an Israeli married woman, or the sun-scorched melanoma skin of Western icons – beauty seems inextricably linked to culture and a distorted sense of perfection detrimental to the functioning of the human body.

Naturally pale Europeans longing to darken their skin spend their summers smearing on fake tan and scouring the skylines for the sun’s beautifying shafts of light, whilst on the other side of the ocean, the naturally darker skinned Koreans and Japanese soak in their whitening creams and hide themselves from the vitamin D rich rays under ornate parasols. In the West we may lament the size of our overly large noses, but fly over to the Far East and you may well be met with a gaggle of Chinese girls queuing up for nose enlargement surgery – or what is known as ‘Eiffel Tower Nose Jobs’ – in a bid to increase their perceived attractiveness and employment opportunities through Rhinoplasty. Perhaps society’s sense of ultimate aesthetic beauty will always veer towards an unnatural ideal only obtainable through artificial modification or intervention due to our innately human lack of self-approbation; we eternally yearn to alter the organic state of the human form, we strive to become whatever we are not.

How are we shaped by the psychology of beauty? Is beauty purely visual? In feeding our vanity, do we harm our own physical form? Is our perception of beauty cultivated by society, culture and fashion iconography? What may be defined as aesthetically pleasing in colour and form? To what extent do we possess a capacity to perceive beauty beyond the borders of our own cultural experience? What is the balance between cultural perception of beauty, biological compatibility, pheromone attractionfacial symmetry, intelligence and individual personality in terms of the way we attract and are attracted to others? 

 'And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.' ― Roald Dahl

‘And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’ Roald Dahl


A family take a fashionable step back in time as they board their radiantly red vintage vehicle on a Shanghainese walkway.


Rihanna Hot Snake Photoshoot Wallpaper (1)

Damien Hirst explores modern and ancient fashion as a nude Rihanna channels that elusive serpentine enchantress that is Medussa.

‘There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.’ ― Edgar Allan Poe




A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.’ ― Roald Dahl




‘It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.’ ― Leo TolstoyThe Kreutzer Sonata





Humans with one head, yet many faces - ancient Greek mythical creatures, or each and every one of us?

One head, many faces – mythical creatures, or each and every one of us?


‘There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.’
― Abraham Lincoln

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27 thoughts on “Fashion Through the Lens: What is beauty?

  1. Hi Rachel, in his MA thesis of the 1850’s (‘The Aesthetic Relation of Art to Reality’), Chernyshevsky distinguished between the beauty of the ‘noblewoman’ (pale, sickly, unhealthy) and that of the peasant woman (plump, strong, healthy). To each (class), his/her own. I like the energy in your post. Phil Stanfield

  2. The definition of beauty is very much influenced by the culture of a society and today you need to add to that the media (television, Internet). The message is repeated over and over again, and people believe what they see as being the truth. For example, if every day, people come here and tell you that you are “dumb” and no one tells you the contrary, after a few months you will probably start believing that because the message will get to you.

    If someone does not have the ability to separate what is right and wrong from the messages they get, they will see only the culturally accepted definition of beauty rather than the “real beauty”. …. My two cents 

  3. Sometimes I find myself inexplicably drawn to a person with whom I have no particular chemistry or reason to be drawn to and slowly over time become aware that it is because in some vague way they look like a member of my family. This phenomenon has caused me to wonder about how our genetics may unconsciously and subtly guide us in our life choices.

    Standards of beauty is a thoroughly fascinating topic.

  4. Rachel, thanks for liking and thus introducing yourself to your lovely blog. The “President of Beauty” and the father of cool would say, “I have nice eyes for those smoke signals.”


  5. For those of us who may not fit the ideals of cultural beauty, there is always beer.
    ps. great post btw.

  6. Spectacular piece. I can’t imagine it said and illustrated better. When we were young, my sisters lovingly teased me for having “glow-in-the-dark” skin in my extreme paleness, and my Thai roommate and her fellow Thai students, meanwhile, admiringly called me Princess Snow White for the very same reason. We all want to be what we aren’t, apparently. Silly us.

  7. What a great post. I like how you contrasting beauty ideas and methods all over the world. I too wondered about the tan vs pale skin issue, and back then I concluded that people usually want what they don’t have, i.e, Caucasians in the West love to spend hours and hours to get the tanned look, while Asians in the East do everything they can to avoid the sun ray. Beauty and fashion trends always change from one to another, but it is also human nature to be critical with ourselves and we all have something about ourselves that we wish to change. Ironically, somewhere else on earth, there are others who desperately want that “imperfection” of ours. It’s just a matter of perspective.

    Van from Fashion for Petites

  8. Reblogged this on Ace Friends News 2014 and commented:
    #AceFriendsNews says such an incredible writer and great research, all put together with elegance and style. Also may l thank you for all your likes on our news site.

    Any-time you would like to write a guest post visit our front-page at this link and follow the information and any problems let me know.

  9. Love this post. I went to to see statistics over the last decade on cosmetic surgeries here in America. Top 5 / 2013 vs. 2012: Breast augmentation (290,000) Nose reshaping (221,000) Eyelid surgery (216,000) Liposuction (200,000) Facelift (133,000). The statistic page is interesting to read. Love your blog by the way 🙂

  10. I have to agree with Phil about the energy (vitality?) of some of the images. As for Henry, when young he was quite the dashing athlete. As an unwell older king what made him ‘sexy’ would of course have been his position and power …

  11. Thank you for liking “Storybook Photos” and for following imaginenewdesigns. Nice post! 🙂 It is strange and sometimes awful what people will do to themselves in the name of beauty. Sadly, people feel insecure about themselves because society tells them they must look a certain way in order to be acceptable. Hopefully people will develop the wisdom to question these social messages.

    I also like your point that what is considered a beautiful feature in one culture is considered unattractive in another and vice versa. You just cannot please everyone . . .

  12. It is amazing what people do to attain “beauty”. I see women around here way over tanned. What they don’t yet realize is their skin is going to look like leather when they get older. They put chemical products on their skin, which is absorbed into their blood stream and causes cancer. Use sunscreen and natural skin products without chemicals, and make sure it’s biodegradable so the earth doesn’t suffer either.

  13. I’m really enjoying your thoughts and photography. It’s true about looks-you really captured how ridiculous it all is! Meanwhile I don’t know why my gravatar pic isn’t showing on WP, so right now my skin is green :0

  14. Beauty in most people is defined by fault rather than perfection. The body that photographs so well is wand-like and awkward in reality. Few have the gift of fulfilling both the living and the printed image. This is nothing new. I recall that women in Victorian to Edwardian times often fainted simply because they ate like flies to satisfy the tyranny of the corset. Botticelli’s eye was romanced by acres of dimpled flesh, the harems of the lords of the Golden Horn in time warp could have doubled as rugby players for their country.

    To end on a magnificently low note, an acquaintance whose marriage to a widely admired model (well, at any rate among ourselves) ended a few years ago, introduced a vengeful note to our well-oiled conversation one night by claiming that sleeping with her was ‘like making love to a plate rack’. I hasten to add the divorce was acrimonious and extremely expensive, so he may have been somewhat biased!

  15. Well, fashion is a product, and as such is makes its appeal to some people and it can be disguised by other people. I believe, many have noticed, that naturally beautiful or perfectly proportioned and balanced does not attract as much attention as abnormal, overdone and awkward. Meaning, it’s way easier to stand out with something which is out of line even though it may be ugly and shocking. Fashion has often featured things which are not present in everybody and which would be hard or impossible to obtain (read which are abnormal in some instances). It has never been healthy to fit oneself to the fashion or a trend, and people just don’t get this right. Most will blindly follow fashion or trend, and they have forgotten the main principle of a personality: we don’t adjust ourselves to fashion, we have to adjust fashion and anything which we assume worth implementing to ourselves.
    Beauty also does not mean perfection. Beauty is balance and harmony of every aspect present in either human, piece of art, nature or some other hand-made thing. It is rare, just like people who possess personality and /or personal style. That is definitely not understood as blindly repeating some color schemes, silhouettes, or turning oneself into a joke.

  16. I really enjoyed this!
    It made me think, and it made me laugh, and I am going to share it.
    You are thinker!
    That is a quality that I find particularly beautiful.
    I think that you are a talented writer as well.
    Thank you for sharing!
    I have also enjoyed and appreciated many of the replies here.
    Thank you to the thoughtful “responders”, too!

  17. Dude!
    I don’t know what the graphic that shows up as “my picture” by my post is…but I didn’t put it there.
    And it freaks me out. 😮

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