Beauty or Torture: Society’s Demand of Perfection Examined


Beauty or Torture, a new exhibit at the Women’s Museum of California, explores how women across the ages have gone to extreme measures to alter their looks, often in painful ways, in order to conform to beauty standards of the time.

From the Gibson Girl to the Instagram Model, Beauty or Torture showcases the ways women have conformed to various beauty demands across multiple decades and reveals how those demands affected every day women’s physical health as well as their perceptions of self-worth.

corsets-19th-century-dressing.0.01For example, learn about the lengths Victorian women went to achieve the desired consumption look of pale skin, rosy cheeks, and a fragile, slim figure. Torturous beauty routines included bathing in poisons like arsenic, wearing corsets that disfigure inner organs, and the tapeworm diet.

Or explore more modern trends such as high heels that can cause nerve damage or back pain, and the risks women take to change their appearances through plastic surgery.

The Women’s Museum will be showcasing items from their own collection including dangerously high heels, corsets, curling irons, and vintage makeup. “The WMC Clothing Collection houses many fascinating pieces, including various corsets from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, to wire crinolines, to earlier versions of the modern bra.  Many of these pieces have never been displayed in our gallery, and we are thrilled for the public to view these significant pieces of women’s fashion history for the first time”, Women’s Museum Collections Manager, Julia Friedman on the historical items that will be on display.

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Beauty or Torture is curated by fashion and costume historian, Marley Healy. Healy works as a historical textile consultant and reviews fashion-based exhibitions along the West Coast and is working on a long-term curatorial research project around dress-based collections in Southern California. As for the significance of this exhibit, Healey explains “Ideas about what constitutes physical beauty have fluctuated radically for centuries, and in 2017 the conversation is as relevant as ever. This exhibit will illuminate how women have navigated shifting beauty standards with the help (and occasional horror) of some extreme tools and styles.”

The exhibit opens at the Women’s Museum on November 3rd and runs until January 28th, 2018.

learn more about the exhibit here

Are you a Member of the Women’s Museum of California? Don’t forget to RSVP to the VIP opening, November 2nd at 6:00 PM. Not a Member? Become one when you RSVP


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