Todays socialites promote an ideal of beauty that belongs to another time, says French journalist Marie Le Conte
Kim Kardashian West is perched on a chair. Shes not quite sitting; instead, shes pushing her hands into the armrests then leaning against the cushion. Her figure is grotesque: above her generous hips rests an already small waist, tightened beyond belief thanks to a flesh-coloured corset. She addresses the camera. Anna, if I dont sit down for dinner, now you know why. Ill be walking around mingling, talking, but I can hardly sit she tries to sit, she cant I can only half-sit.
The Anna in question is Vogues Wintour and the dinner is the Met Galas, which took place in May. The video the quote is from was posted on 7 May, and has been watched more than 21m times since then. Perhaps she was right not to sit; a few weeks later, actor Elle Fanning attended a dinner at Cannes where she fainted and fell off her chair. Her dress, a vintage Prada gown with a corseted waist, was too tight.
Earlier this month Kylie Jenner posted a picture of her nails on Instagram. They were tie-dye, presumably acrylics, and absurdly long. How long is absurdly long? There arent universal rules about this of course, but if your nail goes on for around an inch after your finger ends, it seems fair to assume that your ability to go about your day normally will be limited.
The picture itself was unremarkable, as talons have been a social media staple for a while now, but it does not exist in a vacuum. Between garments so tight that their female wearers can barely move, and nails so long they cannot do much with their hands, a new image of femininity emerges. It isnt simply about body ideals or the heavily restricted boundaries of what constitutes an attractive female form; class and labour are other dynamics worth looking at.
Kim, Kylie and their sisters arent the only ones guilty of it, of course; a scroll through Instagram reveals the existence of dozens, perhaps hundreds of women looking eerily similar. Though their exaggerated lips and doe eyes do not quite fit in with Victorian aesthetics, our current era has a lot in common with that one. During the latter, women needed to look close to death to be considered beautiful, and a tremendous amount of effort was put into making eyes big and watery, skin translucent, and limbs frail.
Alexis Karl, a researcher specialising in the Victorian era, has some interesting things to say on the topic. Beyond the tuberculosis-chic look, Karl says, women of a certain social standing aimed to look pale to demonstrate their privilege. While it is about purity, innocence, health, beauty, class also plays a role: Women of money are going to have white skin theyre not going to be working outside. Though their looks aimed to appear natural, it was understood that there was a lot of artifice going on.