Years ago, my friend and colleague James Richard Skemp III wrote a short piece on beautiful women and included pictures of the women he has found worth noting. As the time passed, this essay quickly rose to be the primary item retrieved when searching Google for “James Skemp”.
While everyone is entitled to their opinion, what is the point of sharing your opinion if no one is going to open up a dialogue with you? With this in mind, I offer my response and thoughts on the women James finds to be the world’s example of beauty.
What is Beauty?
Elsewhere I have discussed what beauty is and the origins of the word “beauty”. I have no desire to rehash that here, but thought if beauty was going to be discussed we ought to at least examine one idea of beauty.
The Wikipedia informs us that “[b]eauty is the phenomenon of the experience of pleasure, through the perception of balance and proportion of stimulus. It involves the cognition of a balanced form and structure that elicits attraction and appeal towards a person, animal, inanimate object, scene, music, idea, etc.” There are a few things we can take from this, but let’s focus on the idea of objectivity and subjectivity.
Beauty has some level of objectivity, or constancy. This definition points out that beauty tends to favor “balance” and “proportion”. Symmetry is something beautiful, both in the human body and in nature. If someone has two eyes, but one is noticeably out of line with the other, we would likely find them less beautiful than if the same person had level eyes. A dog that is beautiful might be considered less beautiful if one of its legs were missing.
Proportion also contains some level of objectivity, as there is only so large a person’s head can be on your neck before they would be considered “freakish” or “deformed”. We expect things to have a steady ratio to them: we expect a person with big hands to have big feet.
But beauty is also obviously subjective, or varying from person to person. As nobody agrees which person is the most attractive, this point should be obvious. We may agree that a certain person is attractive or another person is ugly, but a wide range exists between what is attractive to one person compared to another.
The definition mentions “perception”, implying our senses. Our senses are not infallible or universal and one person may see something different from another or hear something different. Other factors come into play: a certain fragrance might remind us of another person or event that was positive or negative and affect our judgment of the new individual (regardless of their facial symmetry).
With the groundwork covered, let’s venture into the specifics.
James has long had a fascination with Sandra Bullock, for reasons that are entirely unknown to me. He has informed me personally that as she is married, his interest is no longer present. Be that as it may, a person’s marital status does not affect their physical beauty (although I freely admit that a husband or boyfriend does make some women less desirable).
James seems to suggest Bullock is “classy”, and this is a fair assessment. She has not been known for any “trashy” or “slutty” performances, often taking the role of the innocent, down to earth girl-next-door. She also has tended to be somewhat ditzy, involving herself in on-screen shenanigans (“While You Were Sleeping”, “Miss Congeniality”) but not to the point of appearing foolish.
Until “The Lake House”, I have not found Miss Bullock to be worth raving about. She has had a few films where she appeared attractive (again, “While You Were Sleeping” and perhaps “Speed”) but overall has never really stood out. James comments some guys like Julia Roberts. I prefer Bullock, if these are my only two options. Though Sandra is still, as I say, not someoen I consider consistently “beautiful”, appearing in a manly way during the film “The Net”.
Sandra Bullock does seem to appear genuinely beautiful in real life, though, if we are to take her television appearances as any indication. She is also know nto be very charitible, which makes her appear more desirable, at least in my eyes.
James seems to sway on his choice of Charlize Theron for being beautiful. He points out that she was clearly not beautiful in trailers he saw for the film “Monster”. I would, however, dismiss this since covering anyone — beautiful or not — in a hideous disguise will make them hideous. That reflects nothing on the actual person. (Incidentally, I prefer Christina Ricci to Charlize Theron and the same can be said for Ricci’s character in “Monster”.)
James also frets that Charlize is not as attractive in “her newer pictures”, lamenting that she was particularly dazzling in “The Devil’s Advocate”. This is where I have to agree. I have not found Chalize to be attractive, for the primary reason that she tends to change her appearance and while she may be attractive in one film, is unremarkable in the next. She is very much like Elizabeth Shue in that regard.
Charlize also rubs me the wrong way. She has something of a snub face, which brings out a lesbian quality. While I don’t think she is a lesbian, this throws up a “red flag” for me (perhaps in the same way that James steers clear of married women). I think this is because she has facial features similar to Meg Ryan, who also comes across to me as a lesbian, though I suspect she is not either. Furthermore, Theron is a known drug user. And while I don’t have anything against her for this, there is something far less attractive about a woman who goes against conventional standards of purity and innocence.
James is most vociferous about Natalie Portman, even having written a page of poetry dedicated to her. While my poetic impulses are not ignited by Portman, I would clearly agree that of the three he has singled out Portman is the most beautiful and desirable.
James came to admire Portman through “The Professional” and “Mars Attacks!”, and this si also where I am in agreement with him. When I saw “Mars Attacks!” in the theater, I had no idea who Portman was but I distinctly recall her on the screen and thinking that she was a truly beautiful and precious creature. (To keep this in perspective, James and I are of a comparable age to Portman, so it is not as if we were thirty years old admiring a fourteen year old girl, in case you were curious.)
James says, “She’s not in Heat long enough to really get a feeling for her in that movie”, and afgain I agree. While her acting was quite awful in “Heat”, I felt she might be attractive, though it was unclear. Subsequent films have been consistently successful in portraying her as attractive, particularly “Garden State”. And even in “Star Wars” or “V For Vendetta” where her natural beauty is hidden, the beauty underneath is very evident.
Russian and Other Slavic Women
James has “always found Russian women to be beautiful”, and with this I will also agree. I have not known enough Russians to make any declaration of their superiority, but I think he might be on the right track. I have tended to favor Dutch women, but Russians do seem to have a beauty that is both modern and traditional (by this I mean they can be “hot” but yet be seen as someone you can settle down with).
James says he “had the very lucky chance to speak with a Slavic woman on a number of occasions during college.” This is where Russian women excel. I enjoy a solid accent, particularly a Russian or German accent. My body “melts” when I hear their voices. Other accents (British, French, etc.) are fine but do not have the same allure as German or Russian. I had the pleasure of speaking briefly with a woman from Belarus just a few months ago (August 11, 2006) and I could have listened to her for hours if she wasn’t on the clock and wouldn’t have been creeped out about it (though she likely would have been).
James believes that Russian websites “know that they have some of the most beautiful women in the world”, a claim I cannot verify or deny. Don’t all countries think they have some of the world’s most beautiful women?
Sexiness and Beauty
Women can both be sexy and beautiful, but they need not be both. In the November 2006 issue of Esquire, Scarlett Johansson is declared the Sexiest Woman Alive. While there may be a few solid contenders, I think they are not far from the mark with this designation.
But “beauty” is first and foremost a validation of the senses. A beautiful woman is pleasant and is like art, you would like her to be around at all times and she is someone your mother would approve of (physically). Sexuality is a trait connected to the libido. Desires are raised that might make men have impure thoughts or wish to do impure things to the woman in question. She may be beautiful, or she may just be disposable. Sex appeal does not require a long term approval. A sexy woman is the kind you show your father, but would likely not show your mom.
Would I be tempted to do some questionable things with Scarlett Johansson? Absolutely. Is she beautiful? Yes, but not to the degree of Natalie Portman, whom I don’t find to be as sexy (though the proper wardobe could change this attitude).
What I Find Beautiful
Apart from the comments above, I find beauty to be in things not only symmetrical, but what appears to be “pure” or “innocent”. I am drawn to Mandy Moore (as evidenced in other articles I have written), who comes across as innocent not only in her appearance and movie roles, but in the way the media portrays her. It may be a mirage.
For similar reasons, I am also drawn to Arielle Kebbel, who is strikingly similar in appearance to Mandy Moore (particularly in “American Pie 4”). Kebbel does not exude the innocense as much, but her youth and vivaciousness make this easy to overlook.
Older women can be attractive, too. Julianne Moore is attractive, but older women have different standards. One might become simply “old” or perhaps “motherly” and not so much gracefully aged. The exact way to explain this grace is a mystery to me, but women are able to keep it longer and longer these days (both on screen and in real life). A woman in her forties is no longer considered past her prime in some cases. The best example of all might be Jennifer Connelly, who continues to become more beautiful with each film she makes. Connelly is also an exception in the “pure” or “innocent” category, after appearing in “Requiem For a Dream”.
Beautiful: Mandy Moore, Arielle Kebbel, Christina Ricci and Janeane Garofalo. Although Garofalo had the same “manly” problem in “Cop Land” that Bullock had in “The Net”. So who knows?
Skemp, James. “Beautiful Women According to James Skemp”. http://strivinglife.net/articles/beautifulwomenaccordingtojs.shtml November 8, 2004
Skemp, James. “Natalie Portman”. http://strivinglife.net/articles/natalieportman.shtml April 8, 2005