Masculine and feminine beauty

In one of my all-time favourite books “Perfumes : the guide” (2008) by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, the latter says this about beauty and gender :

For eye candy, both men and women look at women: men are simply not decorative, as everyone knows.  Except once in a great while comes a disastrously beautiful boy who turns every head in the street, even if his hair is overgrown, his grubby clothes fit badly, and he’s oblivious to the attention as he goes about his ordinary life — he breaks more hearts running out innocently to buy milk than we ordinary mortals manage to bruise in a callous lifetime.

I don’t know that it is all that simple.  For me, beauty is beauty.  Masculine beauty, feminine beauty… they can’t be compared.  And masculine beauty is absolutely not restricted to boys.  Not for me anyway.  And, at this time in history in both Western and Eastern cultures, one could make a case for men being decorative (see “Guys are the new girls.“).

For me, beauty, whether feminine or masculine, evokes a disturbing, troubling, uneasy feeling.  It transgresses physical attributes though it is based in the physical, obviously.  It provokes.  It leaves you with conflicting emotions and, dare I say, an impression.  This is why we love the impressionists so much because we understand them and they understood beauty and that to capture a beautiful day, it wasn’t enough to record every physical detail of the day.  You had to give the viewer an idea of what it would have felt like if he or she were there, at that moment, next to the painter.  Painting every poppy in great detail would not give you the same idea of the beauty of the poppy field on a cloudy day.  Claude Monet knew that.


As for human beauty, I scoured the Internet for hours only to fall on photos of Hollywood and other famous people… Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry… no, no, no and no.  Catherine Deneuve?  No. Marlon Brando? No. Elizabeth Taylor?  Which film?  😉

Look at this photograph I took almost 20 years ago.


I initially wanted to explore the photographic concepts of focus, shadow and light.  I asked a friend to pose and it wasn’t a difficult photo to take… I had been taking photographs for over 10 years.  But in the darkroom (yes, I’m THAT old) the photo quickly became an allegory of Adam and Eve… desire, temptation and sin (yes, I’m Roman Catholic).  Today, it captures exactly how I feel about beauty.  It’s not about sexual orientation.  And, it’s NOT about perfection!  It’s about a glimpse into another world… untouchable and impossible to capture.  And, it’s not passive (see The impassive power of beauty).  It’s an assault on the soul, on logic, on rational thought.  It’s relentless and immortal… and it certainly makes life worth living!  Let me know what you think.

After reading my post on perfume and opera heroines, a librarian friend asked me to write about perfume and literary heroines.  So… I enlisted her and her colleagues to help out and we’ll see what we come up with in next week’s post.

Have a nice week!


Leave a comment


  1. FiveoaksBouquet

     /  February 12, 2018

    I don’t know what it is that makes a person beautiful, masculine or feminine, but I know it’s not the kind of Barbie-doll plastic surgery rife today, that strips the person of all individuality. I think human beauty has something to do with integrity.

    Take a person like Iris Apfel, 96 years old, wrinkled and covered in her own idea of plastic—it’s her style, couldn’t be more genuine and I find her beautiful.

    • Oh God, yes! Had I thought of her, I would have put her photo in my post. Obviously in my Google searches for beautiful people, her image didn’t come up. But her style, her integrity, her vision… certainly makes her beautiful. Thanks!

  2. Saskia

     /  February 17, 2018

    Very interesting juxtaposition and black & white photo! I like the reference to Adam and Eve.

  3. Tara C

     /  April 20, 2018

    I love Mapplethorpe’s work. It truly shows the sculptural beauty of the human body.

  1. Jean Patou : 1000 | The Perfume Chronicles

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