Hollywood's Changing Face of Beauty


Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but over the years there have been some beauties that almost all beholders and critics have been able to agree on.

Grace Kelly in the 1950s, Cindy Crawford in the 1990s and these days it's Angelina Jolie or perhaps Kate Hudson, People magazine's "Most Beautiful" cover girl.

"Kate Hudson embodies beauty right now, she's adorable but she has flaws, her ears stick out a little . . . she's not a classic beauty like Michelle Pfeiffer," said Galina Espinoza, senior editor at People magazine.

It just so happens that Michelle Pfeiffer graced the cover of People's first Most Beautiful issue way back in 1990 when classic beauties and so-called "glamazons" such as Crawford were the hot "faces" of the day.

Fast-forward 18 years and women are gravitating to a more "accessible" kind of beauty, such as Hudson's features, according to Espinoza. And the list of accessible beauties is a long one -- think Reese Witherspoon, Drew Barrymore and Jennifer Anniston.

And if the standards of beauty have changed from classic to accessible in just 18 years, imagine the difference if you go all the way back to the 1700s.

"The most beautiful woman in London in 1720 who had a big mouth and a big nose would seem very ugly to us," said Lois Banner, a professor in the department of history at the University of Southern California.

Likewise, in the 1890s the Victorian ideal of beauty was really "a fat woman by today's standards, maybe about 5-foot-5 and 160 pounds, with big breasts and big hips," according to Banner.

Although fashion magazines had traditionally set the standard for what was beautiful, around the turn of the 20th century along came vaudeville performers and film stars to define the trends. Mary Pickford was one of the first silent-era film stars. Known as "America's Sweetheart" at the height of her popularity, Pickford's curly brown hair was widely copied by women around the country.

Then in the late 1920s along came two actresses whose looks defined an era, even though they could not have been more different.

"Joan Crawford was kind of a 'chick,' with her roguish eyes and rebellious ways," Banner said. Crawford's dark-haired beauty contrasted with Greta Garbo's angular features and thin physique.

"The word glamorous came in to use right about that time," Banner said, "and it was perfect to describe Greta Garbo."

But pretty soon both of those women took a back seat to the blonde bombshell, Jean Harlow. Patricia King Hanson, the film historian at the American Film Institute, said Harlow's looks were "very, very big. People wanted to have that platinum hair and the very pale skin and narrow eyebrow."

At the same time, the boyish attractiveness of Katharine Hepburn also was in vogue. "It was a straight up and down slim look. She was that way and so was Ginger Rogers," Hanson said.

World War II prompted a fashion change -- shorter skirts came into style because there just wasn't a lot of fabric to go around. War-weary GI's clamored for pretty girls and the "pinup" look was born.  The more popular actresses were curvaceous women with big hips and big busts, a la Lana Turner and Betty Grable.

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