Keeping up with the Gibson Girls

In response to an article about the Gibson Girls and their influence on the feminine ideal, Katie Brownlee considers how the Kardashians support the old-fashioned perceptions of beauty which still pursue us today.

Katie Brownlee
6th December 2020
The parallel that Blakemore draws upon the beauty standards of the 1900s encompassed by the vision of the Gibson Girls and our equivalent of the Kardashians is shockingly similar and equally grotesque at the same time. By means of beauty ideals of that decadent era, Blakemore is right.

I’m sure we’ve all witnessed the old photographs and drawings of women with cinched waists and gorgeous, voluptuous topped hair. Even today, the appeal of the Gibson Girl can be seen among celebrities like the Kardashians. The trend of using waist corsets, in particular, and slimming underwear that is heavily imposed by Kim (who has also launched her own shapewear line, SKIMS) on her social media, has influenced so many to follow suit in order to obtain the glorious hourglass figure that we, as women, are told is desirable. I’m sure many, myself included, have participated in this trend, the results of which have been minimalistic and not without difficulty, adding to ever-growing issues of self-esteem amongst countless young women.

The Gibson Girls equally influenced the women of their generation through their unattainable beauty standards. If we draw parallels on this to the dresswear of upper-class Gibson Girls, the rigidity of a whale bone corset that was often worn in that period to obtain the same "womanly" figure portrays how fashion develops and returns. But the harsh beauty standards are not limited to the hourglass shape; today, they extend to facial features as well. Kylie, for one, had once claimed that she acquired her lip shape purely from her own branded lip kit and not through cosmetic surgery. The consequence of this: a rise in numbers of people seeking to adapt themselves through various cosmetic surgery procedures to achieve the aesthetic of the youngest sister.

The ideal was unattainable to many women of the period, particularly working-class women, who could not afford the lifestyle portrayed by the Gibson Girl

As Blakemore states, the eponymous Charles Gibson, whose name dons the term we are addressing in this article, may be viewed as a beauty entrepreneur akin to some of the developments of the beauty trends we see now. Although Irene, Evelyn and Camille (three of the most famous models of the Gibson Girl illustration) represented the beauty standard of the time, in the same way that the Kardashian family and other celebrities do today, we must draw attention to the reality that, though it was highly admired, the ideal was unattainable to many women of the period, particularly working-class women, who could not afford the lifestyle portrayed by the Gibson Girl. In contemporary society, too, the coveted image really does come at a price.

Now – compared to over a decade ago, when Keeping Up With The Kardashians premiered – there are advances in promoting diversity in beauty

Yet despite the fact that some women – namely the Kardashians – continue to ascribe to the hyper-feminine ideal, we are beginning to undergo social change and development in terms of gender and beauty standards; the beauty world is slowly redefining what is considered "beautiful". For example, now – compared to over a decade ago, when Keeping Up With The Kardashians premiered – there are advances in promoting diversity in beauty: models of all ethnic backgrounds, sizes and genders are employed to showcase runways and online shopping campaigns. This dramatic change, recently incorporated in Harry Styles’ Vogue cover shoot where he wears a dress, also demonstrates society's efforts to move away from the prescribed ideal of beauty.

In regards to Blakemore’s remarks on scandal and the Gibson Girls being elevated to a celebrity status, it was very much a status of class than anything else. The Kardashians replicate that today with wealth and press coverage.

Overall, Blakemore reasonably argues her case that the Kardashians are modern-day Gibson Girls, in pursuit of a damaging ideal of feminine beauty, the influence of which is difficult to undermine. Thus, we can draw the conclusion that, while beauty ideals are certainly beginning to change, some (for now, at least) are here to stay.

This article was written as a response to 'The Gibson Girls: The Kardashians of the Early 1900s' by Erin Blakemore. You can read it here.

Featured Image: @dreamswallpapersfabrics
All images courtesy of Instagram

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