What was it that made these woman so captivating?
A hundred years ago, photography was a greatly underdeveloped craft and technology, in general, was light years behind its development today. Despite this, the beauty of the day’s starlets shined through on the stage and screen and in blurred black-and-white photographs. What was it about these women that was so unquestionably beautiful and how does there beauty compare to the beauty icons of today?
hen taking a look at the photos of the female elite from 100 years ago, it is clear to see a drastic change that has occurred in the expected ideals and norms of beauty.
In the past, inner beauty and docility were held in much higher regard and honored in equal measure to physical beauty. That which could be seen through the wide-opening eyes and pure and naive face of a model was the character of the woman. The characteristics most admired were purity, female placidity, and wifely charm. The eyes of the beauty symbols of today often have a look of detachment, glassy lustfulness or mystery, far removed from the engaging purity of days gone by. Their power takes center stage, their self-ownership and of course, their nudity. But within this difference lays the drastic changes society has experienced with regards to the female role.
A British singer and actress best known for a number of comedic and musical films; one of the most photographed women of the early 1900s. She possessed a pure and uncensored beauty, wide-opening eyes, and a plump face with tightly pursed lips. Differing from most of today’s beauties with their angular bone structure, emotionless eyes, and open lips.
A beautiful British actress who had a successful acting career spanning several decades across many fields such as theater, film, and television. This posing style was simple, virginal and almost bridal, and was seen to reflect the image of naivety and natural shyness.
An early actress of American silent cinema. She was famous for her tangled hairstyle, often pinned with flowers, her open trusting eyes, and striking natural beauty. The old actresses of stage and screen were directed to portray the image of demure and relatively feeble women. Quite removed from the seductive and highly headstrong women of today’s modern cinema.
A familiar face on the British stage and popular household name, partly due to her famously feminine hourglass figure and commitment to superbly stylish dressing. She perhaps bridges a gap between the day gone popularity of the hourglass silhouette and the current popularity of the extreme ‘Kardashian’ curved body.
American drama and silent film actress. The way she is posed in this image feels as if staged to emphasize the purity of her soul, with her high neckline, princessly tiara, and a single white rose. Even her contrasting, naturally wild flowing hair feels almost like its conforming to her innocent aesthetic. A sharp contrast to today’s material and secular beauties.
American silent film actress. She was not known for her special style or outlandish behavior but was admired because of her pure and natural beauty.
The British actress who played many main roles in the favorite plays of her time across both England and France. Her way of coming across dreamily contemplative produced a charming narrative of female wonderment. An innocent character type lost in today’s world but for that of child roles.
The first supermodel of the world, who was the undisputed beauty symbol of the United States, with her curls of copper hair and slender body. Even when posing in indifferent styles, her face still looked childlike. Perhaps reflecting the former obsession with female innocence, youthfulness, and naivety.
French stage actress, social activist and fashion icon. Her eyes were often photographed looking upwards, mirroring old Renaissance paintings where people directed their gaze up to the heavens, rather than seductively out towards the audience.
Famous actress of Broadway stage, America. She embraced unique beauty, full of purity and simplicity.
The Belgian stage actress had a famous hourglass silhouette and a 46cm waist. She was known to always keep composure and to portray the noble style of a past era. Her poise is admirable and her defiant confidence certainly set her apart from many of her contemporaries.
A distinguished drama and movie actress with a special voice, who was celebrated as the ‘first lady’ of the American theater. With her gentle and bright face and high tufted Victorian hair, she commonly looked straight out into the lens. An unusual beauty, highly regarded for her talent before her looks.
Australian professional swimmer, theater star, movie actress, writer, and business owner. While posing for photographs her posture was serious and simple but still, powerful. Perhaps a reflection of her highly successful, truly multifaceted career.
Still Lily Elsie
British singer and actress, best known for a number of comedy films, and one of the most photographed women of the early 1900s. With her serious appearance and beauty of wisdom, she showcased the image of a fully accomplished woman. It is inconceivable today to imagine a contemporary actress photographed posing to read a book. But her image was one of a truly well rounded young British woman, a desirable identity for a celebrity in the early 1900s.
When comparing these images of the greatest beauties of the day, with the highly sexualized images of modern female beauty figures, it is staggering to observe the differences. Purity, accomplishment, virginity, and sincerity were the virtues most admired in women; most lusted after by men and most aspired to by women. It is to remark upon a society to remark upon how they view the members of the female sex.
Perhaps we could preserve the acknowledgment of the inner beauty of our female stars, inspired by a day long past. Their individuality, intelligence, and accomplishment, alongside their powerful beauty. Perhaps what we have lost most evidently is the understanding that virtue is forever the root of everlasting beauty. The tornado of the modern material world has swept much away, including such treasures.