Friday, 31 August 2012


It was the writer John Fowles who first drew my attention to the changing face of beauty. Published in 1969, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”, is set in the late nineteenth century. In one of his many discourses, throughout the novel, John Fowles remarks on the face of Ernestina Freeman’s serving maid. I can’t remember the character’s name, but John Fowles remarks that the serving maid’s face, is not of the style of beauty appropriate to the time in which she is living. He gives an image to the reader, a face that would have been fashionable at the time he is writing; the late nineteen sixties. He likens the face to a popular film star of that time. I wonder whom he is talking about?

Samantha Eggar, pictured above perhaps? She coincidently starred in the 1965 film of John Fowles novel, “The Collector”. Or maybe The American Actress, Ali Macgraw. Both women were born in the same year, 1939,  their styles differ completely, yet both are of that time frame.

Yes, beauty is subjective, in the eye of the beholder, but the essence of what is beauty changes.

Elizabeth Taylor in the 1958 film, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”.

Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film “Niagara”

Grace Kelly, in the 1954 film “Rear Window”.

In just a decade, the face of beauty has changed.

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’ Hara, in the 1939 film “Gone With The Wind”.

Or the dancer and film star of the same era, Rita Hayworth.

The 1930’s brought “the Talkies” and gave us Marlene Dietrich  and Greta Garbo

Then those faces of the 1920’s the “Silent picture” decade; Lillian Gish and  Clara Bow.

Lillian and Clara

But before the era of film we still have records of what was considered beautiful and the look that women would aspire to. Funny, I don’t consider any of these women beautiful -- but then I am viewing the images from a twenty first century perspective. You can view more of these photo's here.

1890’s PICS from Wall to Watch. And thanks to David Price for suggesting this post, and for giving me the link for Wall to Watch.


  1. This is a really interesting post - I'd actually buy the photobook if anyone ever took on this subject in full. Think of the "beauties" in paintings by Reubens and Titian, to see how much our template has changed. The only constant factors seem to be youth and an absence of disease/scars ... though probably for much of human history, that WAS enough to make you stand out from the crowd.

    Personally, btw, I find the 1920s women the most attractive, followed by the 1960s models.

  2. It certainly is interesting, how our preferences change. I guess for a huge part, the idea of what constitutes beauty, was dictated by fertility -- wide hips and belly and large breasts. But it is certainly a subject worthy of further investigation and I too would buy the photo book if anyone brought it out.

    Yes, I think the 1960s models are the most attractive, particularly Jean Shrimpton and a lady I was talking about a few weeks back, Christine Keeler.