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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Beauty Culture at The Annenberg Space for Photography is for Every Woman

The first thing you want to see when visiting the Annenberg Space housing the current instillation, Beauty Culture is the short, but impressive film made by documentary filmmaker, Lauren Greenfield. Without this introduction the true meaning of the exhibit will certainly be lost on the uninformed. Without the multifaceted observations (good, bad and otherwise) provided by the film the photos hanging in the gallery loose their significance, being nothing more than representations of the exultation of beauty in Western culture. With few exceptions most of the photos are merely reproductions of iconic magazine covers or layouts, mostly from the ‘80s on up, resulting in what would appear to be a salute to fashion photography. By experiencing the documentary first the photos take on a far more significant and deeper meaning. Seeing the photos after the film the observer can’t help but wonder about the stories behind the images, and the history of the women within in them, let alone question the intentions of the photographer.

I don’t get out to Art exhibits much. It’s the kind of thing I always want to do, but never end up doing. And I’m certainly not the type of woman who thinks too much about beauty; mine, yours or anyone else’s for that matter. I don’t obsess about fashion and I take the minimalist approach when it comes to makeup. So, when I first heard (I should say ‘saw’) promotions about Beauty Culture I wasn’t all that interested. I’ve seen many of the banners swinging from light poles around town promoting the latest installation at the Annenberg Space for Photography, but had a completely different idea of what I might see if I actually made the effort to go. Fortunately for me a friend suggested the museum for a long overdue meet up and I came away convinced that every woman, form preteen on up aught to see this important work.

What impressed me the most about the short film was the variety of viewpoints represented. Surely the filmmaker, Greenfield, wants us to examine our perceptions of beauty, but it is never dictated as to what is right or what is wrong about the American obsession with appearance. Doctors, models, photographers, agents, icons and idols all have their say as well as a group of unknown teenage girls, and self-image enthusiast, Jamie Lee Curtis. Images of the sublime are mixed with the grotesque to provide support or counterpoint to the opinions expressed, often resulting in humor and thought provoking reactions from the audience.

The experience most definitely effected the conversation I had with my friend as we left the exhibit. We both work within the entertainment industry so we understand a lot about the pressures of perceived beauty, especially within the world of film and television. Even so-called “reality” falls by the wayside when it comes to pleasing a viewing audience. But it certainly doesn’t always rub well against our consciences. I have no children, but my friend has a very young daughter who some day will face the same dilemmas we did as she grows up and discovers the sometimes-ridiculous expectations of a culture obsessed with beauty.

I know my friend has a very good head on her shoulders and will guide her daughter the best she can. But I hope that all women, especially those lacking the example of a strong role model, experience this exhibit in its entirety, and ideally with a friend. You will be moved and inspired, and I guarantee you’ll have one of the best discussions you ever had with another woman. I would recommend men see the Beauty Culture as well, especially fathers, but I just can’t see them really getting it. Sorry, guys, but it’s a girl thing. But do encourage every woman you know to see it. They’ll love you for it.

The Annenberg Space for Photography is located in Century City at 2000 Avenue of the Stars. Entrance is free, and parking is only $3.50 with validation. Beauty Culture will be on exhibit through November 27th.

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