Thursday, May 3, 2018

Emaciation and Beauty

(This is a starting point, rather than a finished piece. Still worth thinking about.)

Audrey Hepburn nearly died of starvation when she was 16. She was living in the Netherlands in 1944 when Nazi Germany blockaded the country, and her weight dropped to 88 pounds. She had lifelong medical problems as a result of malnutrition from ages 9 to 16.

And yet she became an iconic beauty. After the 1930s, a period of epic poverty, we had a generation of knife-slender models. The trend, from what I remember, actually started in the 1920s, with the stylish uncurvy flapper, but it was after the lean depression and war years that the extremely slender woman became a model of femininity. And to this day we have women starving themselves to copy that look.

There is a lot of history here I do not know. It may be that part of the reason that emaciation became popular was because it was made popular; there were a lot of men who were threatened by the emergence of independent women and who wanted to make women weaker and ashamed of themselves. Or maybe not. But this is true: part of the model of beauty for a generation was an emaciated woman who was a survivor of wartime starvation.

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