“Beauty Culture” delves beneath superficial ideals

What is beauty? Who defines it? How has it evolved? These are a few of the many questions “Beauty Culture” explores in the latest exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Diva · Toddlers in tiaras were just one part of the intriguing exhibit.

Running through Nov. 27, “Beauty Culture” proves the furthest thing from superficial. With a subject matter as broad as beauty, the show could have easily faltered;  “Beauty Culture,” however , proves to be thought provoking and innovative with its interesting subject matter, the complexity of its intimate look into the definition of beauty and audience interactivity.

Many of the images are particularly shocking. When one thinks of beauty, the end result tends to come to mind, but there’s an entire process that is often overlooked.

“Beauty Culture” explores this process, bringing a new understanding to the efforts to feel beautiful or meet what others perceive beauty to be. Specifically, the show features a bountiful amount of images of facemasks, electric treatments, hair curlers and botox — just to name a few.

The exhibit upstages itself with something even more terrifying — toddlers in tiaras. Susan Anderson’s portrait of a four-year-old pageant queen, completely made-up with glittery pink ruffles, wildly curly hair that likely required enough hairspray to be a major contributing factor to global warming and of course more makeup than any average girl would wear in her lifetime, truly makes a statement. It forces the viewer to contemplate the ridiculously high standards of beauty and how these in turn have affected our youth.

Leonard Nimoy’s “Full Body Project” is a head turner as well. He juxtaposes two images with the exact same composition and similar subjects, but there’s a catch — the subjects on the left are supermodels such as Naomi Campbell and Cindi Crawford, while the subjects on the right look similar to the models but are instead full-figured.

It’s one thing to see magazines with plus-size models, but to directly compare them with supermodels forces the viewer to question why one is considered far superior to the other, and in turn challenges the superficiality of American values.

“Beauty Culture” continues with juxtapositions by comparing old ideals of beauty to more contemporary standards. This transition was demonstrated in the “Dreams on Paper: The Pinup Girl” portion of the exhibit in which the iconic poster of Farah Fawcett, in her classic red bathing suit matched against the infamous burlesque dancer, Dita Von Teese, posing almost entirely nude.

The exhibit dedicates itself to one iconic beauty in particular, giving her an entire section all to herself. You probably guessed it — “The Marilyn Syndrome.” Plastered on the wall are Gloria Steinhem’s exquisitely accurate words: “The woman who died too soon became the woman who will not die,” emphasizing the long-lasting effects certain beauties can have.

This segment features a collection of photos of both the idol herself and imitations from Lindsay Lohan to Anna Nicole Smith. “The Marilyn Syndrome” proposes that even though our ideals of beauty are constantly changing, some perceptions remain the same.

The exhibit includes a thirty minute documentary with commentary from Crystal Renn, a model who has seen both the plus-size and dangerously thin sides of the business, senior citizen beauty pageant queens, female body builders and many more to offer examples of beauty from all walks of life.

There’s also an interactive, touch-screen table where viewers can select and enlarge images from the likes of Tyen’s Dior Beauty campaigns, which are exquisitely enhanced by CGI, intriguing viewers with its detailed artistry and futuristic take on what it is to be beautiful.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then why would these various beauty treatments and ridiculous standards exist in the first place?

“Beauty Culture” brings to light to an issue we all know exists but passively accept, forcing the viewer to pause and take an in-depth look at an important issue our society grapples with.