Versailles, with multiple digressions

At Versailles, King Louis is the man.

No silly, not that King Louie, though he was a pretty chill dude as well. This King Louis:


He holds his scepter like we hold the pole in the metro, only his pole represents a hold on the world itself. His figure speaks royalty at every level.

Here is me taking a picture of him:

His expression is that of the guy who knows he’s the boss. No question who’s in charge, not in those eyes:

Let’s compare:

And back in this day and age, calves were important.

Strong, viril men had thick….um…calves. The calf was a symbol of potency…and let me say, Louis was apparently one potent fellow:

Dudes’ legs were beautiful back then, and you if you were rich you just had to show them off. I this forces us to admit how arbitrarily we arrive at standards of beauty and gender. Who among hetersexual men in the mainstream today (not to mention as men of power) is allowed to have “nice” legs? Or to wear revealing clothing to show it all off? Skirts and tights, anyone?

Gasp gasp, look at that guy’s gorgeous legs! Of course anyone can talk about a woman’s legs, which are allowed to be beautiful and are supposed to be shown off today. Back in Louis’s time though, women had to cover up their legs for sure.

Back to Louis. Did I mention he had nice hair to go with his nice legs? Yep! Everyone who talks about Louis’s physique never fails to mention gorgeous, flowing hair. I don’t know how accurately hair can be captured in stone sculpture, but the one above is  Bernini’s best attempt. Here at right is another sculptor’s rendition.

But apparently it doesn’t stop there. Besides legs and hair, the guy apparently had great abs too, as we see below.

I guess that’s not leaving much. It pushes us to to the only parts left out…what great attributes must be kept hidden under the man-skirt? In any case, my case for the arbitrariness of beauty is now finished. Men of high rank in that era were allowed to say: “Hey look at my curves and check out my coy skirt and my long curly hair.” Today our men of high rank wear vests with shoulder pads and different colored neckties, presumably to establish a sense of physical equality as they do business (no comparing of shoulder broadness; no exposed throats).

Somewhere since then, we switched things up. Men in here have lost the ability to be beautiful or pretty, and they’re stuck being mundane, or posing macho with Rambo and Arnold. Those guys with trim, slim (normal) physiques like the average Frenchmen are supposed to feel a bit ashamed not to have bulging GI Joe muscles, and guys are definitely not allowed to be proud of anything going on below the waist (or at least not in public). Quite a contrast to the codpieces of yesteryear. For bottom clothes, the baggier, the better, to cover up those awful man-legs and man-hips and man-bottoms. And for hair, long and beautiful is definitely out. For men: shorter is better, like Matt Damon in The Green Zone. Good style in many American social groups thus means pants that almost fall down, nothing clingy enough to show what your flesh underneath looks like, definitely no thigh-skin, and the Marine-style haircut is best. I kind of think we’re regressing here, and in some ways we got more conservative than Louis the fourteenth.

I guess the true logic behind US males’ modern-day dress-codes is an opposition between male and female appearance.  If girls do one thing, guys gotta do the exact opposite, lest they be taken for…effeminate guys.

For gender to be function well, it operates best as a set of oppositions in visual appearance or character traits. If girls do this, then guys must do the opposite, obviously. If guys are like that, than girls are the inverse.

Hence the many facile opposites that stand as the tropes we live by, the ones we internalize in order to generate ourselves “properly,” which is to say, legibly within society.

If guys used to wear makeup, and dress like King Louis in these pics, now is girls’ turn to show their bodies, while guys hide them. Girls: let’s see legs, thighs, butt, boobs. Guys: you have to hide it all, only biceps allowed.

What is fascinating to me is that it is all so obviously arbitrary, so constructed, even while many live and die by their beauty judgements every day.

The tighter female clothing has gotten...

...the looser male clothing has become in order to maintain the opposition.

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One Response to Versailles, with multiple digressions

  1. Andrea says:

    This was a really fun post – interesting point well illustrated. It would be interesting to hear an analysis of a female portrait from the same era. Is your point that no aspect of female bodies was more eroticized than any other? What quality made them attractive? Undoubtedly not muscle tone, which is “fit” and “sexy” today…

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