Friday, 8 June 2018

Feminine and Masculine Identity in Style Types

It is so easy to get trapped into worrying about how much you read as masculine or feminine and whether one is more desirable than the other.  All manifestations of masculine and feminine qualities are beautiful and all people have them in a mixture of some kind.  Anyone who reads as female has a higher proportion of feminine markers in appearance and anyone who reads as male has a higher proportion of masculine markers but intriguing mixes exist and we tend to find androgynous looks fascinating because they are unexpected.  Sometimes cultural preferences and biases are attached to these and that is unfortunate and even problematic.  We can even find ourselves disliking our masculine or feminine tendencies even if they line up well with out stated gender.  Current beauty standards for females in western culture are not purely feminine.  They are a mixture of masculine and feminine traits-think the 90s supermodel.  Being high in feminine traits has risks, such as being sexualised, infantalised, treated as weak or inferior.  Perhaps this is why women whose appearance reads as very sexy turn this into their super power if they can.

This is a subject that can get quite fraught with emotion and to some extent any discussion about the appearance of things will always lack pure scientific objectivity.  But my understanding is that there are markers of what humans read as masculine and feminine which are cross cultural and we know that physical markers of masculinity and femininity exist in other animals so why would they not also exist in humans?  This has nothing to do with what your genitals look like or how they function or even what gender you identify as.  This has to do with the lines of the face and body, how the bones and muscles create a certain kind of appearance and which appearances tend to show up in the average male and the average female.  

For example, males are on average taller than females so height is usually read as masculine.  Females on average have smaller chins so a small chin is read as feminine.   There are articles which outline this better than I can. Below I've linked to some discussions of faces.

Look here for a blog post titled Where Do Our Ideas of Ethereal and Dramatic Beauty Come From

Look here for faces explained by a plastic surgeon

Look here for an artist's perspective

In style archetypes the types usually called Dramatic, Natural and Gamine are masculine because they are about features which read as sharp, large, strong, bold or blunt, which are generally masculine traits

The types usually called Romantic, Ingenue and Ethereal are feminine because they are about delicacy, roundness, S-curves or full round curves, smallness

All people are mixtures of masculine and feminine lines but might be anywhere on a scale from equally balanced to more noticeably one direction or the other.  This doesn't effect attractiveness or sexual appeal, it just adds to the interesting variety of human appearances.

Consider actors who have played roles where they are dressed as another gender.  If comedic effect is desired, a male actor who looks very masculine, with no noticeable feminine lines, looks quite funny in a wig, dress and makeup.  Other male actors who are considered very attractive and sexually appealing as males, can look surprisingly pretty in a wig, dress and makeup.  Some women can convincingly play a male and some just can't.  Given that appearance and gender identify are sensitive subjects there will be people who are upset by these ideas but that is to miss the point.  

All human beings are a blend of traits we identify as masculine and feminine and some are even difficult to identify as one or the other without clues that come from hairstyle or clothing.  All of these variations are right and good and attractive.  None are better or worse than another although cultural ideas might lead us to think so.

Among the current western ideal feminine images there is often included some degree of masculine element which essentially lends drama and muscular power to the appearance even if there are also curves.  Sculpted facial features are considered attractive but they are a masculine leaning feature and their popularity in female faces waxes and wanes in different time periods.  I am sure there are cultural anthropologists who can explain how masculine or feminine features become more or less idealised under certain circumstances.

I often think it would be wonderful if we could arrive at a place where everyone understands that all expressions of human appearance are uniquely beautiful and right.  But since this goes against the need of marketers to convince us that we need their products and services, I don't know that this will ever happen.  Of course we will all have variations in what we are personally attracted to and that's fair enough.  Things could get chaotic if everyone was attracted to everyone!

In style identity using archetypes the concepts of masculine and feminine, sometimes called yin and yang, are used essentially to describe lines of the face and body.  They must not be interpreted as suggesting any one type is better, more or less attractive than another.  Personal opinion will always butt in but it is subjective.  We are entitled to it but not accurate if we assert its objectivity.

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