However, when I compare images of iconically beautiful women, I see something else: the ideation of pre-pubescent features-- of childhood. I also see ideals split roughly between "pretty" and "sexy," along gender lines-- that is, the female ideal of female beauty is different from the male ideal of female beauty, in extremely general terms. Here I'll make the case using images and facial measurements, then speculate about the social implications-- so if you find that mind-numbing you should probably just skip this whole post. I should also state, before I dissect these ladies' appearances, that I think they're all gorgeous; and that although I find all sorts of people very attractive, I'm well aware of social norms of beauty. For those just tuning in to this blog I am a portrait artist, which explains why I spent so much time looking at facial proportions in the first place-- that and a certain Chez Naïf, se quoi? (I belong to the House of Overcomplicated Thinking.) Since beauty ideals are ever-changing and culturally specific, I'll stick to mainstream icons in post-1950s Western (mainly US) culture.
First, I'd like to gently remind everyone of what adolescence actually looks like:
|Stephanie from "Full House"|
|Tia and Tamera Mowry of "Sister Sister"|
|Anonymous girl from an internet meme (poor kid). Text reads, "Blurt out to guy, 'I love your long flowing hair' / Too Embarrassing to speak to him again."|
|Jennifer Aniston headed to Prom|
|Anonymous woman from BadYearbookPhotos.com|
Yet few women pursue these attributes when they get dressed or do makeup (the beauty industry pushes anything but) and few men seem particularly drawn to these. Most women and girls probably have in mind the appearance of a poised film star, a toned pop singer, a sultry sex symbol or a lithe dewy-faced model-- some of whom are teens, but who tend not to look very "teenaged."
Now that I've pointed out the difficulties in claiming adolescence as the visual ideal in our society, I'll break up ideal beauty into iconic beautiful women with large female fanbases, and those with large male fanbases (keeping in mind that I'm massively generalizing and completely excluding countercultures, non-hetero sexualities, and sticking only to mainstream trends, and comparing dissimilar genres due to differing gender appeal).
|Audrey Hepburn's head and neck viewed from front and back.|
|Audrey Hepburn, probably practicing ballet, with her hands on her hips viewed from the side.|
-While she is quite thin and petite, her oversized head (as compared with an average head) draws attention to her small body, giving her a doll-like (as opposed to the typical emaciated Amazon-shaped model) look. She shares this in common with children up to around age 8 who have enormous heads in relation to their bodies. Large-headedness is a common signifier of childlike cuteness from cartoon birds to Precious Moments figurines.
-If you drew lines from her jaw to her temples-- up the sides of her face-- they would angle out slightly. Hepburn also shares this in common with pre-pubescent children. Because of the way the brain develops, children are born with almost adult-sized brains and eyeballs. That's why the forehead and temples of children and babies are very wide, but the bottom half of the face is much smaller. As they mature the vertical distance between their eyes, nose, mouth and chin grows; their jaws widen to more or less match their temples, which makes their eyes appear closer together; and their soft nose cartilage hardens and becomes more prominent, causing the button nose and wide round nostrils of childhood to become sharper and more defined. Though Hepburn is pictured as an adult, her unusual skeletal structure happens to mimic a child's.
-Her eyes are wide-set and disproportionately large, like a child's.
-Her mouth, though somewhat full-lipped, is small in proportion to her eyes, bringing to mind the typical childlike cupid's bow lips.
|Rihanna, side view.|
|Zooey Deschanel on the left, Katy Perry on the right.|
To get an idea of what I mean when I say, "childlike proportions," take a look at some of these actresses as children, adolescents and adults:
|Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen as children.|
|Jodie Sweetin (Stephanie from Full House) as a child.|
|Jodie Sweetin as a teenager. Though she still looks childlike you can see that her adult bone structure is basically in place by puberty.|
|Jodie Sweetin as an adult.|
Alternatively it could be because women tend to be attracted to baby-like things, whether biologically or because of social conditioning; but my money's on the first explanation.
Now for men. Famously beautiful women who have mass appeal among men tend to be sex symbols, for obvious reasons. Yet men seem more likely to idealize women with adult facial proportions than women. While these women do tend to have some childlike characteristics-- smooth silky skin, full lips with a larger upper lip, large hair and sometimes a Lolita persona-- they tend to have alternative facial shapes, more substantial bodies, much more pronounced curves, and smaller heads. Their eyes also tend to be narrower (as in horizontally elongated), more heavily lidded, or more upwardly slanted, which are seen as sultry (as opposed to the wide open eyes of Zooey Deschanel, Anne Hathaway and Audrey Hepburn, which are seen as innocent and vulnerable). Take Megan Fox, for instance:
|Jolie as Lara Croft, who is based on a video game vixen famous for her body. Now compare Jolie's body proportions with the photo of Audrey Hepburn above.|
|Some women from DC Comics. These women are imaginary ideals drawn mostly by men, for men. They've got small heads, wide shoulders and narrow eyes.|
|Ursula and Ariel|
|Gisele Bundchen: thicker neck, taller and more muscular, smaller head in relation to her shoulders, boxier face with a defined nose and jaw, pointy eyebrows.|
Of course, "ideal feminine beauty" is only part of a much more complicated societal attitude toward women. For instance the famously sexy women I just described-- Fox, Kardashian, et all-- exist within what many call a "virgin/whore dichotomy," wherein men stereotypically want "a lady on the street and a freak in the sheets," or two discreet women-- one for dirty sex (treated with disrespect) and clean innocent one for introducing to Mom and Dad over dinner. So although I called women such as Jolie sexually "ideal," her persona isn't necessarily "ideal."
With this complexity in mind it is understandable that many women have had crossover success. Marilyn Monroe, who began as a sex symbol for men, has become a favorite of women over time:
|Brigitte Bardot. Though she has similar bust-to-waist-to-hips proportions to Sophia Loren, her height and oversized head (emphasized by her trademark gigantic teased hair) give her that doll-like appeal popular among female fans.|