Bound Feet Blues explores female beauty in the context of Ancient China and the practice of footbinding that was meant to make a woman more beautiful. My work on this project has led me to reflect on modern concepts of beauty in the modern West. Now, I have just seen this article on the BBC website by historian Bethany Hughes looking at the beauty in the world of the Ancient Greeks – and it points to a rather different view of beauty from what we are used to.
The article says “In ancient Greece the rules of beauty were all important. Things were good for men who were buff and glossy. And for women, fuller-figured redheads were in favour – but they had to contend with an ominous undercurrent”
In Greek mythology, the first woman to be created was …” “the beautiful-evil thing”. She was evil because she was beautiful, and beautiful because she was evil. Being a good-looking man was fundamentally good news. Being a handsome woman, by definition, spelt trouble.”
This point of view contrasts with most notions of beauty which ellide goodness of character with good looks. In Ancient China, for example, an Exemplary Woman was one who was obedient and dutiful – and who was also beautiful, where her beauty was entirely defined by the tiny size of her feet. In modern times, heroines in movies and books tend to be beautiful, too, rather than plain or ugly unless their plainness is part of the plot device/ reason for the story.
However, this Greek notion of female beauty as evil does live on today in the modern trope of the evil seductress whose beauty is almost otherwordly or supernatural. Think of the classic noir movies where a crumpled looking hero usually played by Humphrey Bogart meets a glacial beauty who mesmerises him – can he trust her…? And that wonderful line in “Who framed Roger Rabbit?” where the private detective played by Bob Hoskins initially thinks that Jessica Rabbit is an evil gold-digger because she is impossibly beautiful and sexy but she isn’t: she says, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way” – see the clip below.
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