The 20th century has seen a huge upsurge in the importance placed by Western society on physical beauty, particularly for women. The fashion, cosmetics and plastic surgery industries have thrived on 20th century preoccupation with physical appearance. It is a preoccupation that affects women in every sphere, whether they choose to pander to it or not. This essay examines female beauty in the 20th century in terms of popular culture, in particular fashion, cinema and advertising. before exploring these areas, I intend to deal briefly with basic definitions of beauty. The main body of the essay will then be concerned with an overview of each decade's particular take in female beauty.
According to Kant, the judgement of beauty is different from cognitive or moral judgement because it is effected subjectively, that is, exclusively in reference to the person making the judgement. For a judgement to be truly "aesthetic", rather than merely idiosyncratic, the person making the judgement must be adamant that their opinion be consensus.
"A person who describes something as beautiful insists that everyone ought to give the object in question his approval and follow suit." Plato, one of the earliest philosophers to concern himself with beauty, defined it as a "property intrinsic in objects" which could be measured in "purity, integrity, harmony and perfection."
Definitions of beauty in the 20th century, when referring to human physical beauty, are nearly always constructed in terms of outward appearance and sexual attractiveness. Nancy Baker's definition is The Beauty Trap is more concerned with intangible personal qualities. "A truly beautiful woman makes the best of her physical assets but, more importantly, she also radiates a personal quality which is attractive." In Beauty In History, Arthur Marwick defines a human physical beauty in more direct terms: "The beautiful are those who are immediately...