Hard Work and Performance: Beauty Across the Decades

Debbie says:

This video from cut.com has had 16 million views, so chances are you’ve seen it:

To get the obvious out of the way, what the video calls “beauty” is a specifically Western high-fashion concept of beauty, probably researched in fashion magazines. The model (Nina Carduner) is white and thin and reasonably young. Her scrawny collarbones remain the same as everything above the neck changes.

Here’s why it’s worth writing about:

First, the premise: instead of just showing Carduner in the various decade “looks,” the video also shows how much work it takes to create the looks. Beauty is depicted as the result of effort, not on the part of the model (who would be working a lot more if she was really maintaining any one of those looks on a daily basis), but on the part of fast-moving, skilled stylists (Shyn Midili doing makeup and Juel Bergholm doing hair). They even put in the detail of Carduner disliking the 1980s hairspray. You can’t watch the video and come away thinking that beauty is “just something that happens.”

Second, the performance: I love the way Carduner inhabits the facial expressions and body language of the various decades, though a couple seem a little odd to me (what is she doing in the 1970s shot?). “Beauty” is not just looks but a style of actions; a quirk of the lip, a tilt of the head, a widening of the eyes. If you try to imagine Carduner’s 1920s face and 1980s gestures

Beauty is work, and the work of more than one person. And it is performative. And cut.com could easily have gone along with the simplistic mainstream concept of beauty, and made a video that left out both of those points.

Because they didn’t take the easy route, it’s worth watching.