ideal beauty

Semiotics of Ideal Beauty

The notion of a Semiotics of Ideal Beauty examines whether there can ever be an objective measurement of beauty or whether the concept and appreciation of beauty will always remain in flux as cultures evolve and establish new standards of physical attractiveness.

Some people use signs to associate themselves with the most successful groups within their society. In cultures where being overweight is considered a sign of success, health, and beauty, people modify their diet to achieve a body image reflecting the consensus of thought among those within the social group they aspire to join (e.g. in modern Ghana the popular view is that "the thicker and heavier, the richer and more attractive a woman is.").)

Dietary intake and relative obesity may be a result of social factors in some cultures. In other cultural circumstances, dietary intake and the variety of available food-types may be a primary contributor to the development of a specific idealized body type. The contours of the female form are partially defined by fat-deposition during puberty. Onset of puberty can be initiated by a large fat:lean mass ratio in young girls or by large amounts of dietary Vitamin C. In the Medieval and Renaissance eras, Northern European girls ate relatively Vitamin C -impoverished diets. Puberty was, for them ,triggered by a large amount of body fat.This led to the development of the Junoesque figures depicted in the works of painter Peter Paul Reubens.In Southern Europe Vitamin C was easily obtained in the readily available citrus fruits of the Mediterranean basin. As a result, girls entered puberty younger and leaner than their Northern European counterparts. Their relatively boyish figures can be seen today in paintings such as those of Sandro Botticelli. Male fashion complemented female fashion, except for emphasis of gender-specific characteristis. In cultures where certain body parts are desirable, clothing is modified to enhance or disguise a feature (e.g. padded codpieces enhanced a European man's reputation).

An example of semiotic analysis

In her book, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England, Kim Hall studies the concepts of blackness and colonialism and the construction of race in England of the seventeenth century by examining the juxtaposition of black and white images in literature, poetry and art.


  • Hall, Kim, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England: "An Object in the Midst of Other Objects: Beauty, Colonialism, and Female Subject," Cornell University Press, 1995, pg. 53-247.

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