Jan. 18, 2016
Dec. 01, 2010
Could you please love yourself, cheekbones or not?
A new issue of Vogue’s best-dressed came out this week with a cover story on Vodianova. Vodianova inevitably sends me back to the summer of 1996 when I finished my freshman year, moved back in with my parents for the summer, and kept busy breaking up with my boyfriend.
Our love story spanned from elementary school to the first year of college and included romance, friendship, and a shared childhood. But at some point we grew apart. The parting process was painful, melodramatic, transformational. When his first new girlfriend came along I was infatuated with her. I was 18 years old and realizing you liked your ex’s new girlfriend felt confusing. I was decidedly straight and this happily coexisted with an appreciation and insatiable appetite for female beauty. Eight years of art school must have played their role.
My best friend with whom I shared an easel and notes on Art History had a keen eye for beauty herself, but she did not share my feelings. She would denounce my ex’s new girlfriend’s angular face, thick low eyebrows hanging over deep-set eyes, and a boyish body. The girl was the complete opposite of my curvaceous, round-eyed, oval faced features, which echoed the European classic paintings of Greco-Roman mythology.
And yet, to me, my ex’s new girlfriend seemed magnificently mysterious. Her physique and demeanor seemed intriguing and fresh, but deep inside I also felt very sad. Anyone would feel sad letting go of her first love especially as it lasted half a lifetime, but in retrospect it feels even larger than a personal feeling. It was an overwhelming saudade.
I came to realize this years later when Vodianova’s face started appearing on magazine covers. She was that exact face: full low brows, wide set eyes, square jaw and cheekbones; all the checkmarks of the fashion-forward face, of which I possessed none. NONE. My smooth, soft lines were gradually fading into the twentieth century. Century twenty-one was decidedly calling for all things square, chiseled, and angular.
In his epic novel Stone and Pain about the life and times of the Renaissance artist Michelangelo, the Czech writer Karel Schulz describes the scene in which Lorenzo Medici learns about the discovery of America on his deathbed. Ruler of the Florentine republic and a devoted patron of scholars and artists, Lorenzo Medici is frequently referred to as “the godfather of the Renaissance.” What must it have felt like for someone who got his energy from cognition and art to learn that the world’s horizons had just expanded, and to realize that he was not going to be a part of it? It must have caused tremendous excitement and sadness.
Looking back at the summer of 1996, I realize that this girl did not just feel like the new girlfriend of my ex. She felt like a new continent of female beauty. And as someone who was getting all her energy from beauty in general and female beauty in particular, I was fascinated, puzzled, and sad all at once.
The exodus of the oval face started at the beginning of the twentieth century. The introduction of the cloche hat in the 1920s, inspired by an aviator helmed, called for a strong, chiseled jawline. Coco Chanel’s angular, gamine designs did justice to her own strong-chinned face. But even with such seemingly convincing milestones it took a century for things to change. In the May 2010 issue of Vanity Fair a centerfold article on Grace Kelly brought up the story of Carolyn Reybold, Kelly’s fellow model, who provided reassurance to Grace Kelly and suggested she should not be conscious of her square jaw. This seems unthinkable today, but there was a moment when Grace Kelly needed reassurance about her jawline. Later Cecil Beaton would make a note about Kelly’s success in his memoirs that “all photogenic people have square faces.”
Cecil Beaton worked during the shift from black and white to color photography. These advancements had a lot to do in dictating new beauty requirements. The early century sepia photography and daguerreotypes still favored delicate chins and the soft lines of the Renaissance looking face. Those early cameras belong to technology, but the images they produced were much closer to the heavily manual sfumato effect, a painting technique introduced by Leonardo da Vinci and reigning over fine arts for nearly five centuries. Powerful cameras of the twentieth century produced high-resolution color shots called for more defined and strong lines. This is how high cheekbones and square jaws came into play. For centuries faces with highly defined, angular lines and square jaws, like those of Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss, and Angelina Jolie, were considered unfavorable and strange looking. It’s hard to believe now, but the aforementioned story of Grace Kelly can help put things into context. I can see Gainsborough and his colleagues frantically “photoshopping” square jaws onto their canvases, much in the same way today’s soft faces, like those of Adele, Anne Hathaway, and Marion Cotillard, undergo their own post-production “treatment” to make them fit the modern angular visual landscape.
So what exactly has changed? A lot on the surface, and absolutely nothing in essence. For centuries artists used to “photoshop” square jaws and high cheek bones into sfumato. They now photoshop soft chins and plump cheeks into chiseled brushstrokes. Either way, we continue photoshopping ourselves so that we can fit some dominating agenda.
I have scores of perfectly fit women among my readers and clients who lament their “fat” faces. The “fat” face by modern standards, excuse me a minute, is the Renaissance face with gentle, undefined cheekbones and a soft jawline. These are features that grace museum walls and hordes of tourists line up for hours to take a look at them. Women with Renaissance faces today do find themselves looking unattractive because their features require certain necklines, design elements, and tailoring techniques that are nowhere to be found in the mass market today. But let’s be clear about it: it has nothing to do with weight. The garment industry is making necklines predominantly suitable for faces with square jaws, a blueprint of the modern fashion industry.
It is easy to put the burden of responsibility on the fashion and garment industry and in a separate entry I will. In this write up I would like to appeal to you, my dear reader. The relationship between fashion industry and consumer has never been more of a chicken-and-egg phenomenon than it is now. The fashion industry today is placed in a situation where it is forced to follow us, the consumers, and not the other way around. So please, speak. Insist. Demand. But first there must be awareness and acceptance. It is amazing that even with all the kudos the square jawed gal receives from fashion media today, the number of women lamenting their own square faces is still mind-blowing. Their oval-faced sisters are equally unhappy with their faces and I see ladies ready to dump their world-class Botticelli-worthy features for a chance to pose for a very poor tomboy repro, just so they can feel like they are part of the mainstream.
Could you please love yourself, cheekbones or not? I know we have heard that self-acceptance is the most important thing out there, yet we still struggle. But honestly speaking, it is not a personal matter anymore. We all depend on each other’s ability to love our faces, regardless of the angle of our tuberositas mandibulare. So, could you please make an effort? Thanks.
Jan. 18, 2016
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