On Beauty as a Possible Category of Analysis in Cultural Studies

Intermediate Examination Paper, 2003

21 Pages, Grade: 1,3 (A)

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On Beauty as a Possible Category of Analysis in Cultural Studies

Dorothy : ”But I've already told you, I'm not a witch at all. Witches are old and ugly. What was that?”

Glinda : ”The Munchkins. They're laughing because I am a witch. I'm Glinda, the Witch of the North.”

Dorothy : “You are!? I beg your pardon! But I've never heard of a beautiful witch before.”

Glinda : “Only bad witches are ugly.”

(Dialogue from “The Wizard of Oz”, 1939)

1. Abstract

The aim of this paper is to show that beauty could constitute an independent category of analysis for Cultural Studies, alongside with race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, and religion, and is equally influential for the individual’s standing in society like the aforementioned categories.

First of all, I will deal with the question whether or not beauty is rather produced by other categories then a category in its own right, a notion which arises very quickly when one looks at the importance of age for beauty. To proof my thesis, I will then list the features that which, to my personal knowledge, make a human quality worth being analysed in cultural studies, like obviousness, negotiability, influence on the life of the people concerned, etc., and apply these standards to the concept of beauty. I will try to proof that beauty is not a mere attachment to or product of other categories, but constitutes a category in its own right, with all implications arising out of this. I will propose several ways of analysing a piece of culture with regards to representations of and opinions about beauty. Finally, to show an application of the way of analysis I proposed, I will in the last part of this paper analyse two movies implicitly or explicitly dealing with the question of beauty.

2. Beauty-An Appendix Category?

If beauty was indeed the product of other categories, the image that would certainly come to people’s minds when asked for the prototypical beautiful person, would be the standard white/heterosexual/middle-aged/middle-class male. Yet, none of these categories is necessary for a person to have to be beautiful.

If one considers the fact that it is not uncommon in some African-American circles to bleach the skin, this “advantage” in beauty caused by that is negligible compared to the effect this has on the perceived racial origin of the particular person. The color of the skin might play a part in determining the social status, but is quite irrelevant to beauty as such.

Concerning sexual orientation, it is very common to associate homosexual orientation with male beauty, which is also contradicting the above mentioned theory. The need to act masculinly, which can also be subsumed under the notion of sexual orientation, plays an increasingly minor part, as exaggerated masculinity is on the brim of becoming socially outcast anyway.

People reach their (socially perceived) peak of beauty around 20, a time when they are not middle-aged, but rather young, which also speaks against beauty depending on anything else but its own measures.

Yet, the most important argument for the independence of beauty from other categories is the fact that this would imply that everyone would strive to appear male/heterosexual/middle-aged/white. If beauty was reached by meeting the socially dominant side on the dichotomy of the traditional categories of analysis, women would strive at being as masculine as possible, which is definitely not the case.

There is no doubt that the other categories indeed have some influence on the perceived beauty of a person, but these are marginal compared to the “inner laws” beauty has.

2.1 Hasn’t beauty been analysed before?

To my knowledge, although there is quite a lot of material on the constructedness and cultural variation of beauty, there is no publication from the realm of cultural studies that treats beauty alongside the traditional categories of analysis like Race, Class, Gender, etc.

The concept of beauty is, in my opinion, not adequately treated, regarding the influence it has on the individual’s standing in society. As people begin to realise that e.g. gender distinctions are mostly a result of a public discourse superimposed on the initially marginal biological differences between men and women, the idea that the whole concept of beauty is similarly inflated from the initial need to procrastinate with physically fit partners, is rather neglected.

There are probably a multitude of reasons why this is so. Beauty hadn’t had that much of influence on the individual until very recently, because the means of influencing it to such a degree as today (e.g. aesthetic surgery, cosmetics, working out) were simply not invented yet.

In the 18th /19th. Century, broadly speaking, beauty mattered for women only as long as they were not married, and for men only as a “soft” category, which came into effect when the social standing was equal to that of someone else. An example for this, though of British origin, is the Novel “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen. Concerned a lot with status and arranging marriages, the novel never makes an attempt to describe the way the protagonists look, be they female or male; it rather describes them in relation to the society they live in.

In the 21st century, women can be divorced if they fail to meet the beauty ideal, and men are likewise subject to an increasingly powerful discourse about their outward appearance. A survey [1] show that beautiful people have a greater chance in being hired for almost any job. In the past, beauty might also have played a part in choosing an applicant for a job, but nowadays with the labour market’s increasing volatility, and hence greater choice among the employers whom to hire, ugly people with the same qualifications as beautiful ones are more likely not to be hired. Thus, beauty has made the shift to a quality that determines the individual’s fate for the whole lifetime.

3. What qualifies a human quality as being worth analysed in cultural studies?

Not every human quality is worth being analysed in Cultural Studies. There are several prerequisites that have to be fulfilled before a concept can become subject to, or rather, category of, analysis. A list of the necessary qualities was nowhere to be obtained, so I had to rely on common sense, and try to figure out the necessary prerequisites by myself and see, whether they can be applied to the concept of beauty.

I will pick one quality which I think is important for a human quality to become subject to academic inquiry, then give an example how this relates to a category that is already “official” (like race etc..) and then see whether beauty fulfils this criterion or not (it always does).

As a matter of fact, the categories listed below are somewhat overlapping, because to cover the full range of a fuzzy subject, redundancies are almost inevitable.

- Obviousness

Something that is not obvious cannot become part of public discourse. This statement may be trivial, but also obvious things have to be stated from time to time. Someone who has had a kidney transplantation, may be physically affected by this as much as someone is affected by belonging to one gender, but it is impossible to form a public discourse equalling the one around gender for persons who have had a kidney transplant, simply because this fact is not accessible to sensual perception. Beauty, or rather outward appearance, is per definition visually accessible, and therefore prone to be put under a discourse.

- Negotiability in a Foucaultian Sense

The question of who is and who isn’t (White, middle class, beautiful) lies at the core of the whole discussion. Belonging to one or the other race played a key role in the social life of the Antebellum South; the need to be masculine or feminine is still very strong in our society, and the question of who is or who isn’t heterosexual is dwelt upon by many people. Likewise is the question of who is beautiful and who isn't. There are zillions of features to this discussion, from the skin cleaner ad to articles in magazines on how to diet properly to fashion shows on tv. This should be proving that beauty is indeed subject to a public discourse, like all the other categories of analysis.

- Conclusion from obvious features to internal qualities

The whole issue would be meaningless, if people weren’t assumed to have certain internal qualities corresponding to their “external” qualities. The standard example of this is the ascribing of gender differences to men and women, judging from their biology. Another instance might be the fact that African-Americans are often thought to be “closer to nature”, “less mind, more body” , “ talented in music” etc.

Though it is normally not mentioned explicitly, people tend to think that when a person has a beautiful outward appearance, s/he must also be beautiful inside. A study[2] at the University of Regensburg showed that beautiful people are ascribed a higher social competence, higher intelligence, and an overall better character then people who look only average or even ugly, so beauty fulfils this category as well.

- Claim of naturalness.

If the features ascribed to a human quality were not thought to be natural, meaning if people were conscious they were mainly pursuing a discourse, the whole system became meaningless immediately. The common sense argument[3] about beauty is that it is innate, and that the features people think to constitute beauty are somewhat implanted into human genes, reflecting the basic instinct to procrastinate, for which then the instinct chooses a fitting object, regarding only the “object’s” physical features. This is how the mainstream argument goes; the fact that this is only partly true will be examined at a later point.

- Advantages or disadvantages for its bearer

People’s gender determines their standing in society. Women are forbidden in many countries to exercise the same basic rights that their male counterparts have. So, being a woman in some cultures is clearly a disadvantage. Likewise is Beauty. Ugly men tend to earn up to 10% less then their “average looking” colleagues; a figure which is surprisingly lower for women. Surpassing even the importance of racial origin for income[4], being beautiful or ugly certainly has a great impact of the individual’s standing in society.

- Representation in legal discourse.

Gender-, race-, religion- and class difference have a long history of appearing in the legislation of basically every western country; it would be futile to list the instances where these qualities became subject to legal discourse.

Beauty also has its representation in American legal discourse, namely in the so-called bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ), which is originally intended as an exceptional instance where only persons of a specific gender can be hired and so the anti-discrimination legislation does not apply, e.g. men as sperm donors., but which has been altered so that an “ugly” woman can be dismissed as a flying hostess, because the job allegedly required a certain outward appearance.

- Self-identification of the people concerned/ Backed by a political movement

These two issues seem to be not too closely related at first. But with the advent of identity politics, these two concepts have become almost indistinguishably interwoven. For every category of analysis, be it Gender, Sexuality, Race etc., there is a political movement trying to improve the political/social situation for their peers, Instances of these are e.g. Black Panthers, the Feminist movement or, to take a non-American Example, Die Grauen Panther.

Recently, there has itself established a fat persons movement in America, The NAAFA, The National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance[5]. This group is aiming at reducing the prejudices of immoderateness, stupidity, and “obscenity” their peers are often subject to. Their official position on size discrimination reads as follows:

Because existing local, state, and federal statutes do not provide fat people with adequate protection from discrimination, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance demands the inclusion of "height and weight" as a protected category in existing civil rights statutes and the enactment of additional laws as necessary to ensure protection against size discrimination in employment, education, housing, and public accommodations. (www.naafa.org)

This shows that the so-called “Ugly” are becoming self-aware of the particular qualities society ascribes to them.

- Changing over time.

The popular opinion about all the traditional categories of analysis are varying much over the centuries. Age once was a reason to pay honours and recognition to the person concerned, Sexual identity used to be a reason to send people to prison, and because of belonging to a certain race, people were denied the right to carry weapons in the Old South.

The images of beauty in the past centuries have changed profoundly. The ever-quoted fat women Peter Paul Rubens used to paint are just one example. There was a time in European history where double chins were en vogue, and for almost half a century, it was impossible for a Chinese woman of the Ruling Class to find a husband if she hadn’t had her feet broken and bound, so they would become almost as small as horses’ hoofs.

- Representation in pieces of popular culture

Everything that happens to a person in a piece of culture simultaneously happens to someone with an outward appearance. The spectator relates what happens to the persons to their looks. Seeing it that way, every piece of popular culture has a message on beauty, namely what happens to people that look a certain way.

It is a very common feature of ads to use professional models to sell their products, as the spectator assumes that s/he will become as beautiful as the model when s/he buys the product, be it a skin cream or a car. Watch any ad, it is very improbable it will feature someone with a dirty skin or a fat body, unless it is explicitly for these target groups and promising improvement of their condition. In many movies, the “bad guy” is also looking “ugly”, which makes the implicit statement that bad people look bad.

4. Features beauty is constructed from

Its quality which helps beauty disguise its real role and importance for the standing of the individual in society, is that it consists out of many factors. There is no single marker like the Y-chromosome which differentiates a male from a female person, it is rather a multitude of factors, both negotiated and genetically predetermined, that come into effect when one judges the beauty of any given person. This is mirrored in the fact that the political movement that has itself established in the United States, names as its peer group “large”, but not ugly people, although public discourse is such that it would often be possible to exchange these two adjectives. The amount of intellectual/political exercise to establish a category “ugly” in the public consciousness as a group of people who suffer from discrimination would simply be too great and complicated.

One cannot deny that there is a genetic predisposition what body and face to find attractive, yet I tried to treat “innate” factors alongside the “negotiated” , as most pieces of culture do not differentiate in their treatment either, but present beauty as a single concept.

- Body weight

No aspect of beauty varies so much inter-culturally as the perception of the relation between body fat and beauty. Whereas in every second issue of any woman’s magazine one can find a new diet scheme, in certain African cultures, the young women are sent to fattening houses to gain weight, which is seen as an indicator of wealth. The current standard western weight ideal is slim, for both men and women, and one rarely finds occasions where this ideal is not perpetuated.

- Clear Skin

The importance of a clear skin for the judgement of a person’s beauty cannot be overestimated. A recent survey[6] found out that women, shown a piece of skin of a man and asked to judge his attractiveness, vary only marginally when shown the real person. This survey shows that the condition of the skin has a profound impact on the perceived beauty of people. Although this study suggests that clear skin is indeed very important, its preference probably genetically predetermined and thus potentially immune to discourse, there is a lot of advertising for skin cleaners, which suggests, and thus emphasises, that people with a dirty skin do not find a mate. No matter how genetically predetermined the preference for clear skin really is, it is nevertheless emphasised in discourse, and thus a potential candidate for analysis.

- Age

The category of age represents an independent category of analysis in cultural studies. Although this is so, I assume that Age plays a double role in analysing pieces of culture, the one being Age in its social aspect, which determines when people become eligible for voting or to receive their pension, the other is Age in its beauty aspect, which tells one how old one should look to be treated in a certain way by society. In my analysis, I will try to focus only on the Age in its beauty aspect.

.In an ageing society, which has to cope with the burden of caring for an increasing amount of old people, while these are no longer able to contribute their fair share in a society in which the prototypical form of knowledge shifts from “life experience” to “book facts”, it is no wonder that the quality of old age is no longer seen as it was before.

The current development the treatment of Age has undergone in Western society is also mirrored in the communicated desirability of Age in its beauty aspect in pieces of popular culture.

- Facial features

This feature is doubtlessly the most difficult to make accessible to scientific objectivity. Yet, there is some research on which facial features people find attractive. An indication of the fact that this category is indeed the least influenced by discourse is given by the study Beautycheck [7], because it shows that the preferred features vary only marginally across cultures, hence suggesting a genetic blueprint in humans which features to find attractive. This, in turn suggest that yet one can rely very much on one’s common sense when judging the beauty of facial features depicted in pieces of culture. Although it might be genetically predetermined how people perceive facial features, it is still not genetically programmed how people with “beautiful” or “ugly” features are shown in pieces of public culture.

- Distribution of muscles (male)

This category of beauty applies especially to men. While women are urged to hold diets and exercise aerobics, men are supposed to train their muscles, so that they develop a defined body. The biological background to this might me the necessity of the caveman to be strong to hunt and keep dangers away from his family, yet as today’s males are increasingly unlikely to develop such a body shape by mere working or hunting, it has become more and more an indicator of pertinaciousness in working out. Because this character feature is projected to the whole life of the person concerned, it suggests that the person can overcome inner resistance to reach a goal; a trait of character that is very desirable in modern society.

- Distribution of body fat (female)

The size and shape of the female breast is being traded as a primary marker for sexual attractiveness, and the size of the waist and the hip and the relation among these are almost as important. Although the preference for large breasts might also have a genetic origin, the quality associated with large-breasted women in nowadays discourse is not fertility, but being a willing object of male desire.

5. Sketch of a possible way of analysing beauty in cultural studies

Here, I will propose an approach for on what topics an analysis of beauty in any given piece of culture could focus. Some of the features described below need a plot to come into action, others do not. As the standard representations of pieces of popular culture I had in mind movies and novels, but most of the categories can be applied to any piece of culture, be it a news-anchorperson outfit, an ad for cars, or a sport magazine.

- Is the person depicted beautiful?

This question is quite tricky and very subjective, so it has to be subdivided, to make it a little more accessible. It can be subdivided along the lines of the aforementioned categories beauty is constructed from in the form of a checklist

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

- What is the persons attitude towards outward appearance?

Here, it would be interesting to see whether the person cares a lot about his/her outward appearance or is afraid of the judgement of strangers, e.g. is afraid to hit the street with a beauty deficit, and explicitly says so.

If the piece analysed is static, like a newspaper ad, it would be interesting to see whether the person is shown in stylish clothing, with visible makeup, or rather un-made-up.

- How is the persons financial situation?

Pierre Bourdieu in Die Feinen Unterschiede-Kritik der Gesellschaftlichen Urteilskraft [8] mentions that the French upper class is almost completely lacking ugly people. This is a hint at the fact that beauty and class are at least somehow depending on each other. It would be interesting to analyse what class the person in question is supposed to belong to, and whether there are any people in the piece that are poorer/richer, and what their outward appearance is like.

- Does the person have a relationship, are there any people in the piece that do not, and how do they look.

Beauty in its prototypical form is seen as THE main category which enables people to find a mate in most recent pieces of popular culture. Here, the question is whether this attitude is maintained, meaning if a character has a mate despite his/her displeasing outward appearance, and if not, how the person’s mate looks. Is s/he ugly? Is s/he nice?

- Is beauty ever explicitly mentioned in the piece, and if, what attitude is expressed?

Are any people judged by other people in the piece regarding their beauty, and if yes, who is judging whom? What exactly do they judge? How is the person judged reacting? How credible is his reaction? The question is, who has got the authority to judge another person by their looks. Is it only men that judge women, or is it women judging men, or is judgement carried out intragrenderly?

- What is the general attitude towards beauty, is it seen as being in the genes or as a result of hard work?

The still prevailing protestant ethics in America, which promise wealth and a happy life (and beauty) towards everybody, provided s/he puts enough energy into it, suggests that beauty is something one can achieve by hard work. Is this attitude perpetuated, or, in other words, are people said to put more energy into their looks, or is beauty seen as “God-given”?

- Is the character to undergo a change in outward appearance, and how does his/her life change afterwards?

Here, it should be looked at whether or not a character does something to improve or worsen his/her outward appearance, and how his environment reacts towards it. Do they give compliments if somebody has bought a new piece of clothing? Do they ignore it? Are people rewarded by society, if they do something for their looks, or is beauty regarded as superficial?

- Is the audience to sympathise with the character?

The question here is whether the audience is supposed to see in the person depicted a role model, whose course of action and tackling problems is acceptable to them, and with whose possible suffering and success they feel compassion. As I will show in my analysis later (taken for granted my choice of movies is representative), the person people are supposed to feel compassion with is most probably standard-beautiful.

6. Application

In this section, I will put into practice the scheme of analysis I proposed above. I will focus on two movies, to my best knowledge representative of what Hollywood normally produces. I will analyse one tightly to the criteria I listed above, and the other in a more general sense, as it is not explicitly about beauty.

6.1.1 Synopsis of “The Nutty Professor”

[9] [10] For Professor Sherman Klump, being the big man on campus wasn't all it's cracked up to be. His body was disproportionate. His family was dysfunctional. And his love life was disastrous. But now, thanks to the miracle of modern science, his world is about to change as pounds--and inhibitions--melt away. A contemporary twist on the Jekyll-and-Hyde tale, (...). Tom Shadyac, (...), brings his deft comic touch to the story of a brilliant, calorically challenged chemistry professor who almost discovers the perfect diet solution. Having tried everything--diets, exercise and weight loss experts--in an unsuccessful attempt to shed some of his 400 pounds, Sherman Klump invents a revolutionary fat gene formula. Testing it on himself, he discovers he's no longer the man he used to be; in fact, he's only half the man he used to be. With one swig, the gentle, painfully shy academician is transformed into the swaggering Casanova, Buddy Love--an irresistible ladies' man who can talk his way out of any predicament. As Buddy Love, Sherman Klump for the very first time experiences life that he could once only envy. No longer the butt of every butt joke--and every other kind of joke imaginable--Buddy Love can dish out what kind-hearted Sherman has always had to take. Most remarkable of all, this new personality gives Sherman the confidence to pursue the chemistry department's beautiful new professor, Carla Purty (...). Indeed everything, to Sherman's utter amazement, is beyond his most perfect dreams--until one fateful day when he discovers that his long-lasting creation is actually an unstable substance that can wear off at anytime.

6.1.2 Analysis

The plot has a very clear message on beauty. The obesity of the protagonist is presented as an obstacle to finding a mate. When he discovers a means to alter his looks, his attractiveness increases sharply and he is able to date the woman he is in love with (which is, of course, slim). His character changes from dumb and shy to eloquent and extroverted, obviously all because he has changed his looks. Now, I will go through the points I enumerated before, and see what a viewer of this movie is to think about beauty.

- Is the protagonist beautiful?

Applied to the standard markers of beauty proposed in 5.1, one gets the following result:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Thus, the person depicted is a standard example of an ugly contemporary.

- What is the persons attitude towards outward appearance?

The protagonist is obviously unhappy about his looks, this goes even so far that he scientifically investigates a means to reduce his body weight. The suggestion behind that is clear: Strong people hate the way they are, and do everything to change it.

- What is the person’s financial situation?

The protagonist is a university professor, so probably belonging to the upper class. Yet, it has to be considered that the plot has necessarily to be set in an university environment, as no where else would it be credible to “suddenly discover a magical substance”. The professor’s family, which are all resemble him very much, are not upper class, but working class, thus the “ugly equals poor” idea is again perpetuated.

- Does the person in question have a relationship, are there any people in the piece that do not, and how do they look?

No, despite his deep longing for a mate, he has not been able to find somebody. This suggests, as he is large, that it is because of his weight that he does not find anyone. His beloved woman, who is slim, would be at any point in the movie be able to start a relationship with him or with any other person, given she wanted it.

- What is the general attitude towards beauty, is it seen as being in the genes or as a result of hard work?

The movie does not hold the attitude that beauty was to be reached by everyone, given the will, it does not deal the question at all. Beauty can be reached by drinking a tonic that reduces the fat in the human body, but, as this movie is a comedy, the spectator is not supposed to take it serious. What the movie shows is how easy life could be, if such a tonic was available. All the misfortunes and character deficits of people could be eliminated, just by making them beautiful.

- Is the audience to sympathise with the person in question?

The reaction the audience is to give to the “Nutty Professor” is that of ironic pity. On the one hand, the audience feels sorry for him as he is unhappy and at first unable to change anything about that, on the other hand, his behaviour is extremely stupid, depicted as a result of his being strong, which makes the audience laugh about hi m and about fat people in general.Yet, the alter ego of Professor Klump, Buddy Love, is slim, very sympathetic and so the audience is to take his side and feel with him. If one extrapolates this to real life, then the film suggests to treat fat people with ironic pity, whereas slim people are sympathetic, intelligent and eloquent.

6.1.3 Summary

To find a movie with such an obvious message on beauty is a very rare instance. The protagonist changes his looks, suddenly has an increased sexual appetite, is loved by everyone, and lives happily ever after. Would the tonic the professor invented not change the body shape, but change the Race from Black to White, the protest this movie would earn would be enormous, and so with good reason. Yet, to adapt the shape of one’s body to society’s ideal can still be depicted as a move everyone should make without an outcry from any side.

6.2. “When a Man Loves a Woman”

[11] This movie, in contrast to the above mentioned, carries a very implicit, yet quite strong message on beauty. In this analysis, I will only focus on one key scene in the movie near to the end, where the female protagonist, played by Meg Ryan, wins back her spouse in a very emotional speech held at an Alcoholics Anonymous convention.

While she speaks of the redemption she feels for her misdeeds in the past, like not caring for her family, the camera shifts from her to the audience, which consists of ugly, fat and hopeless people dressed in rags. The protagonist, in contrast, has well-chosen garments, an enlightened smile in her face, a clear skin and nicely cut hair. After the scene, when her ex-husband reveals himself as having overheard her speech, he shows that he still loves her and they decide to try again once more, strongly envied by the other people present, who mention they would have liked something like that happened to them, too.

The message here is not as clear as in “the nutty professor”, but also quite obvious. Why does it not happen to them? Because they are ugly! The one person out of the hopeless bunch of alcoholics to master her life and find a way back to happiness is the most beautiful of all of them.

Certainly, the message can be read in two ways: One could either argue that being able to find a way in one’s life actually makes you beautiful, or, that, when you are beautiful, you will be able to find your way in life. But, as the subconscious, in contrast to the conscious, works not deductively in the form of “From X follows Y” but rather like “ Y and X appear together”, the distinction between cause and effect can be neglected for the analysis of the effect on the viewer.

7. Conclusion

I have shown that beauty constitutes a valid and fitting category for the analysis of pieces of popular culture. Here again a synopsis of my argument: Beauty has every characteristic that the other categories of analysis (race, class etc.) also have. It is subject to discourse, has a very decisive influence n the life of any given person, and in the meantime, even has a pressure group trying to improve the situation of people not blessed with it. Just as with every other category, every piece carries a message on beauty, be it explicit, like in the example of “The Nutty Professor” or implicit, as in “When a Man Loves a Woman”. The importance of beauty can be emphasised, perpetuated or silenced, like that of any other category of analysis.

People experience a different treatment from society depending on how close they come to the alleged beauty ideal, and this is mirrored in pieces of culture.

I have tried to sketch a way of analysing the importance and messages of beauty a piece carries, yet this is far from adequate, as definitely not every “good” character is beautiful, and vice versa. The pieces of culture that lend themselves to an analysis of beauty are, although this distinction is out-dated, pieces of low (popular) culture, e.g. the prime-time soap opera, which deals a lot with stereotypical characters. As soon as the message of the piece becomes a little more complex, the characters’ deviation from the beauty and character norm multiplies, and an analysis becomes harder and harder.

The one thing that makes beauty hard to access is its fuzziness. To properly analyse a movie’s message on beauty, one has to very much rely on world knowledge and intuition, as many features beauty consists of are, though yet present, very hard to categorise as it would be necessary for scientific study. Exemptions of this are yet there, like the movie “The Nutty Professor”, where it is only one and a very distinctive quality of beauty the piece deals with. The chart I proposed in section 5.1 might be a little help, but it still is not able to cover the full range of perceived beauty with the required accuracy.

It could be said, with good reason, that my whole paper somehow missed the target, and that the thing that should be analysed is not beauty, but the more general concept of “outward appearance”, be it beautiful or not, because the former is clearly a subset of the latter. But then, the problem of accuracy would not diminish, but multiply. Yet, beauty has and will always have a great importance in pieces of culture and on the people concerned, and it would be unscientific to ignore this fact.



[1] Hamermesh, D. “Business Success and Business’ Beauty Capital” Department of Economics, University of Texas at Austin; n.d. http://www.eco.utexas.edu/faculty/Hamermesh/BeautyDutchAdvertsEcLetts2000.doc (18 August 2003)

[2],5 Braun, Gruendl, Marberger, Scherber “ Beautycheck – Ursachen und Folgen von Attraktivität” Psychologische Faktultät der Universität Regensburg, 2002. http://www.uni-regensburg.de/Fakultaeten/phil_Fak_II/Psychologie/Psy_II/beautycheck/bericht/beauty_mi_zensiert.pdf (18 August 2003)

[3] Wolf, Naomi “The Beauty Myth”, (Harper Collins Publisher, 1998) 10

[4] Tomaskovic-Devey, Donald Race, Ethnic and Gender Earnings Inequality: The Sources and consequences of employment segregation. A report to the glass ceiling commission of the US department of Labour, (January 1994) http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/library/e_archive/gov_reports/glassceiling/default.html?page=papers%2F14front&CFID=2631826&CFTOKEN=86265040 (18 August 2003)

[5] The national Association for Advancement of Fat Acceptance “Employment discrimination” n. d. http://www.naafa.org/documents/policies/employment.html (18 August 2003)

[8] Bourdieu, Pierre Die feinen Unterschiede : Kritik der gesellschaftlichen Urteilskraft (Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main), 1998. (253)

[9] Movieweb.com “The Nutty Professor “ http://movieweb.com/movie/nuttyprof/ (18 August 2003)

[10] “The Nutty Professor” Dir. Tom Shaydac, Universal Pictures (1996)

[11] “When a Man Loves a Woman” Dir. Luis Mandoki, Universal Studios (1994)

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On Beauty as a Possible Category of Analysis in Cultural Studies
Ruhr-University of Bochum
Contemporary Literary and Cultural Theory
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Beauty, Possible, Category, Analysis, Cultural, Studies, Contemporary, Literary, Cultural, Theory
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Dennis Pachernegg (Author), 2003, On Beauty as a Possible Category of Analysis in Cultural Studies, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/108472


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