Evolution of the Female Image Through the Centuries

My roommate showed me this video the other day and I thought that it was very interesting and relevant to what we have been discussing in class. This video shows the evolution of the female image through many centuries, but only focuses on the white female figure, thus ignoring many other cultures and minorities.

As you can see from the video, the female imagine in the beginning was more savage, and gradually transforms throughout the years. The hair, make up, bone structure, as well as outfit of women all change depending on the cultural and political backgrounds of the time. For a large majority of the years, women are seen wearing outfits that inform us of their domestic roles in the household, which contrast to the historical image of men.

What do you all think about the video? Was it the same or different from how you perceived the female image?

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2 thoughts on “Evolution of the Female Image Through the Centuries

  1. amaliad2013

    I completely agree with what you have said about the limited depiction of the female image in this video. The depiction of the female image is pretty much what I expected it to be, except for the last look actually, which was more plain and 90’s-esque than what I would have expected. Moreover, the looks portrayed were by no means the only ones for females in the past, but it sticks with the traditional “young, white, domestic” idea of a woman that society has. Something else I noted was how so many of the female images included hair coverings (i.e. veils, wigs, etc), which is a form of control over women’s bodies in patriarchal societies (via religion in particular). I also thought that the more “natural” looks (such as the first, more primitive/cavewoman image) could be considered the least attractive under society’s standards today, which shows how women are put under pressure to use alternative tools to help them achieve these high standards of beauty. Overall, I thought this video was really cool. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  2. cnurik

    While watching this video, I was fascinated by the way that the image of females has evolved over time, including changes in dress, hairstyle, and facial features. Although it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the societal role of women has entirely been shaped by men over the course of history, it is possible that an analogous video of men might reveal a similar set of transformations in different eras. Placing these images side by side (i.e. split screen) would be enlightening as it would help to view these shifts within a broader socio-historical context (for example, men might be depicted as savages early on, as well). I do agree with your point that one shortcoming of the video is that it captures white females and “ignores other cultures and minorities.” An additional criticism is that it seems to feature women of middle to upper class status, overlooking those of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Although not apparent in the earlier time periods, this problem became evident in the video starting in the middle ages .

    While watching the video, I was drawn to two features that constantly changed over time: women covering or adorning their heads and the use of hands to either pray, adjust head pieces, or reach for a man (in the end). It seems that during periods of social repression, women covered their hair with plain shawls, scarves or veils or pulled their hair back tightly behind their heads. Conversely, during periods of increased social freedom, women wore decorative headpieces or styled their hair in a more loose, flowing manner. For women, hair seems to symbolize sexuality and social empowerment which was either constricted (during Biblical Times and the Middle Ages) or celebrated (during the 1920’s flapper era and the 1960’s Women’s Movement).

    The video also captured changing hand gestures over the course of time. During certain eras, women used their hands to pray, perhaps representing their powerlessness and lack of self-efficacy (i.e. the belief that their fate rested with external forces). At other points, women momentarily touched/adjusted their hair in a manner that reflected a degree of social self-consciousness. This may represent the emphasis on physical attraction to gain male attention and, ultimately provide financial security through marriage. However, the most disappointing part of this video was that female hands were not connected with self-empowerment in any way and were ultimately used to reinforce traditional gender stereotypes. In the last frame, the contemporary woman does not get up from her seated position on her own and relies on a man’s “hand” to help her rise form her seated position.

    This video is accompanied by Moby’s song,“Wait for me.” Softly heard in the background of morphing female images, the lyrics help to carry the aforementioned themes. Some key phrases include: “I’m gonna ask you to look away/I love my hands, but it hurts to pray/Life I have isn’t what I’ve seen/The sky is not blue and the field’s not green.” These lyrics suggest that women are aware of their competence (“I love my hands”) while at the same time are pained by their social restrictions (“it hurts to pray”). The lyrics further highlight a sense of disillusionment for women. While starting out with idealistic expectations, women quickly learn that life is not all they thought it would be (“the sky is not blue and the field’s not green”). During the course of watching this video, I similarly experienced a sense of disappointment. I was expecting to see that the transforming images of women would reflect an increased sense of societal empowerment and greater freedom of self-expression. However, as previously noted, the end was a big “let down,” and instead, reinforced female dependency.

    This video connects to a reading we did in class: “Ways of Seeing “ by John Berger. In his article, Berger explains how a women’s physical presence shapes the way that she is viewed and treated by society. He explains, “Every woman’s presence regulates what is and is not ‘permissible’ within her presence” (Berger 37). Berger believes that women have a natural passivity as they simply reflect what society thinks of them. Women are not creators or shapers, but merely reflectors. Berger also contrasts the social presence of men and women by stating that “men act and women appear” (Berger 38). The theme of female passivity is illustrated through the video’s exclusive focus on physical features (and not actions) to chronicle the transformation of women. Women “appear” in different styles that match the norms and standards of the era in which they exist. Each reflects the socio-political climate of her time and exists in a limited manner, as a presence to be “watched.”

    Works Cited
    Berger, John. “From Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. By Amelia Jones. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.
    “”Wait For Me” Lyrics.” Azlyrics.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2013.

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