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Pygmalion
Pygmalion

Theme of Physical Beauty in Pygmalion

For the amount of emphasis this myth places on physical beauty, you'd think it was an episode of Gossip Girl or a secret advertisement for a Neutrogena ("Get skin as smooth as an ivory statute!").

Nope. This myth just takes pleasure in describing a woman's body parts. In Ovid's account of the story, there are eighteen mentions of the statue's beauty and body. He talks a lot about her "fairness" (a.k.a. smooth white skin) and individually sings the praises of her breasts, lips, waist, and limbs. He even gives a shout out to her "taper'd fingers." Ooh la la!

So what's the message? Basically, that women should be valued for their appearance above everything else, which (duh) isn't true. But physical appearance was one of the main things that ancient society valued about ladies, so Ovid had no shame in waxing eloquent about the statue's physical attributes. His descriptions send the message that in order to be beautiful, you must be young, skinny, and have smooth, ivory skin—even though we know that beauty can come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Questions About Physical Beauty

  1. What is your definition of beauty? If you were to sculpt a "beautiful woman," what would she look like? (Would she be playing the guitar? Riding a skate board? Up to you!)
  2. Why did Pygmalion make a statue that corresponds to stereotypical ideas about female beauty?
  3. What do you think Pygmalion looked like? Does it matter?
  4. If Pygmalion weren't an artist, would his ideas about beauty be different?

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