A Woman’s Beauty: Put Down or Power Source? by Susan Sontag

Intention: The intention of this essay is to point out the fact that the standards of beauty varies greatly between the two sexes and is much more difficult for women to achieve than men.

The intention of this piece is also to delve into gender roles and their different interactions with beauty.  Sontag uses examples from historical events and different ethnicity groups to convey her thoughts on the role that beauty plays in people’s lives.

Arrangement: Throughout the essay, Sontag continuously compares the standards of beauty of women to that of men. She brings up the fact that women are “beautiful” but men are “handsome” and are therefore more masculine. Later, she goes on to say that, “Women are taught to see their bodies in parts…In men, good looks is a whole.” By making these comparisons, it becomes clear to the audience that beauty and the desire to be perfect is something we attribute only to women.

Audience: A Woman’s Beauty was originally published in Vogue magazine in 1975. Vogue is generally read by a female audience and the ’70s were a time when women were very liberated with their bodies. Therefore, Sontag can assume that the women reading this article would be very outraged by the double standards of beauty in men and women. Sontag uses this liberation to her advantage and, again, the comparison of men and women convinces the audience to agree with her intention.

Quote: A quote that stuck out in this essay was, “Damned if they do –women are. And damned if they don’t.” This short quote sums up the entire intention of the essay by implying that women are judged negatively if they strive to reach the impossible standards of perfection, but are also judged if they decide not to do so.

-Grace Dearing


Quote:  “…we are actually surprised when someone who is beautiful is also intelligent, talented, good,” (683).  I especially enjoyed this quote because of its relevancy in today’s society.  We often associate beauty with a lack of intelligence, and intelligence with average looks.  It seems almost rare in our society to have a smart, beautiful, and talented woman.  This creates the idea in girls’ heads that they have to be one or the other- either smart or pretty.  It’s very strange to me that intelligence and beauty are not often associated together, and it seems almost wrong to pair the two together.  I think this notion in our society is extremely detrimental to women and how they view themselves.  If a woman is smart, she may think of herself as being ugly and “nerdy”.  If a woman is pretty, she may think of herself as incapable to perform well in school.  People often fall into the stereotypes of society, causing great harm to their potential.  This quote stood out to me because it emphasizes the issues of beauty that are present in today’s world, and that were issues in previous generations as well.

Memory:  Sontag uses a range of background information, from historical times to modern times.  She begins by recalling beauty’s role in the lives of the Greeks.  For this group of people, “beauty was a virtue: a kind of excellence,” (682).  The Greeks believed “that inner beauty would be matched by beauty of the other kind,” (683).  This information helps contribute to her intention of using historical events to reveal how beauty was present in people’s lives.  Sontag also discusses early Christianity’s effect on the idea of beauty.  It was through the Christians that beauty was seen as “an alienated, arbitrary, superficial enchantment,” (683).  She then maneuvers into the more modern memories of beauty that our generation can easily relate to.  She mentions that all of society has “identified being feminine with caring about how one looks,” (683).  This quote is extremely relatable and well-known throughout society today.  Females are expected to care about their appearances and if they are pleasing to men or not.  This memory helps contribute to her intention of discussing gender roles and how beauty plays a role in people’s lives.

Arrangement:  The essay begins with an early culture and its views on beauty: the Greeks.  They had a pretty positive outlook on beauty.  The Greeks were the only culture in this essay to discuss inner beauty, which is the most important type of beauty there is.  Then Sontag’s essay moves through history and discusses how the Christians viewed beauty as superficial and trivial.  This gave a negative connotation to what beauty is, which affected beauty and the meaning of it in modern times.  Beauty today, as the essay discussed, “encourages narcissism, reinforces dependence and immaturity,” (683).  Beauty was once a positive thing, but is now seen as sour and almost detrimental in today’s society.  Sontag takes her reader through history and explains how beauty got to be the way that it is today.  I really enjoyed this arrangement; her essay gave just enough background information to set up why beauty is viewed as detrimental in modern society.  It was important to tell the story of beauty and how much it has changed over history because it helps give insight to the reader.

–Vanessa Petranek



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