Ancient Egypt celebrated symmetry
Similar to more modern beauty standards, the Ancient Egyptians from 1292 – 1069 BC treasured facial symmetry. Much like the cats they considered divine, high cheekbones, pointed noses and sharp features were all seen as desirable. It was common for both men and women to shave their heads and wear wigs.
Han Dynasty China focused on ‘femininity’
Many early empires across China held similar beliefs surrounding femininity and how it should be presented. They focused on the perceived fragility of womanhood, favoring pale skin, large eyes and plump red lips. The Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) also had a focus on small and narrow features, like straight hair and small feet.
Renaissance women reflected their husband’s status
The Renaissance (1400 – 1700) is famous for its depictions of more common Western body types, reflecting naturally curvy women with rounded faces, red cheeks and flowing hair. Women were expected to reflect the status of men around them, with pale skin showing a life free from labor. High foreheads were extremely popular, with women plucking their hairlines to create the look.
The flappers subverted femininity
The 1920s brought with it an excessive burst of wealth and the stirrings of the modern gender equality movement. The ‘flapper’ style that emerged showed women celebrating their new cultural momentum by imitating traditionally masculine aspects. Thin, narrow silhouettes and lip looks, a sharp jawline and short hair were all desirable for their boyish qualities.
Ancient Greece favored a unique look
The label ‘Ancient Greece’ encompasses a long and diverse period, yet some styles remained consistent throughout for women. Strong, defined features – large nose, button chin, low forehead – were seen as desirable, and uni-brows were either grown out naturally or applied with cosmetics. Plato, the father of mathematics, divided the face into three sections, believing a perfect face was two-thirds as high as it was wide.
16th Century Paris loved the chin and teeth
Beauty standards in 16th century France focused on soft and doughy, almost childlike features. Women were expected to be pale and fair-skinned, with small ears and large eyes. Double chins were looked at as one of the most desirable traits a woman could have during this period, and the popularity of dangerous cosmetic products led to many women dying as they pursued beauty.
The 1950s focused on a Hollywood look
With the popularity of bright electric lights, mirrors and studio-quality TV, women were more aware than ever of the pressures to look perfect. The cosmetics industry was born from this anxiety, with the signature 50s face boasting smooth, even-toned skin, glowing red lips and a somewhat flat pin-up look, with no contour and only a little rouge to add dimension.
The swinging 60s were about narrow shapes
The 60s was the dawn of the contemporary supermodel era, as fashion and beauty became a cultural commodity to market. Models like Lesley ‘Twiggy’ Lawson rose to fame, making thin, sharp, almost gaunt appearances the defining face type. There was an aspect of androgyny to many of the 60s most famous faces, with big eyes and razor-sharp lines blurring gender boundaries.
Pre-WWI Britain idolized strong features
In the late 1800s, one of Britain’s most famous faces was Lillie Langtry, a socialite and stage actress. Her look was unique for the time, being of broader frame with a pronounced nose and often sporting shorter hair. Regardless, she was celebrated as a pop culture beauty, with many speculating she was the inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes character, Irene Adler.
What do we favor in modern faces?
While gender roles and presentation become more fluid as humanity progresses, it gets harder to examine what society at large sees as the ideal female face. Supermodels still focus on sharp features, while actresses’ faces range from youthful, glowing rounded shapes to the androgyny of the 60s. Cosmetics have increased in popularity, but more people are using them for self-expression rather than conforming to standards.