In Search of the Face to Launch a Thousand Ships: Changing Tides in Cultural Images of Beauty

By Khairiah A Rahman.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Female beauty has long been the subject of reflection, critique and obsession. From poetry to science, artists and researchers have deliberated over its characteristics. Anthropology and media communication studies see beauty through social, historical and political lenses. In art, female beauty is captured as a by-product of a time to be recorded and immortalised. As Keats so aptly put it “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
From a socio-cultural perspective, beauty is as individual as there are people, for how often have we heard the phrase that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Yet, the world is more interconnected today than it has ever been. With growing multicultural societies, transnational communities, increased social media use and easy exchange of ideologies, there is the likelihood of shifts in common perceptions. These perceptions influence the way women view themselves and may well shape their identities. In order to understand the motivations, rationale and consequences behind visual images of female beauty across cultures, this paper investigates the concept of beauty, its characteristics, manifestations, purposes and impact on the female identity cross-culturally.
This paper critically analyses cultural images used in international media and reviews cultural interpretations of beauty in the literature in two broad categories; the female beauty (style and beauty markers, beauty products, fashion wear) and cosmetic surgery. The sections discuss notions of cultural homogeneity versus variety by evaluating images that have universal elements of beauty and culture-specific ones. Motivations for and the impact of cultural interpretations are discussed, with a case made for the many realities of beauty and further research into the impact of beauty ideals on identity.

Keywords: Cultural Images, Beauty and Culture, Diaspora, Media Influence and Communication

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.153-166. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 888.733KB).

Khairiah A Rahman

Lecturer, Communication Studies, AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand

Khairiah A Rahman lectures in intercultural communication and public relations at AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand. She is the National Director for the Asian Congress for Media and Communication and is pursuing her doctoral research in intercultural aspects of trust in online communication between organisations and their public. She is Singaporean, has lived in England and Malaysia and currently resides in Auckland, New Zealand. She has worked in both the private and public sectors in finance, retail, public relations, media and education related industries with special interest in communication and organisational relationship management. Her research interests include organisational communication, intercultural communication, applied pedagogy and global sociological developments impacting societies, organisations and nations.