ARCHIVED REVIEW: Beauty Culture at The Annenberg Space for Photography


At a certain point, young girls pick up fashion magazines and the longing begins. By the time they get to their Senior Prom, they are capable of turning themselves out as the epitome of youth and beauty. High-school girls can flaunt their Facebook status this month, but they know just how many hours of work (dress and shoe shopping, hair and nail appointments) went into presenting their pretty faces.

A new show at The Annenberg Space for Photography,Beauty Culture, reminds us that we have always had a cult of beauty, from Marilyn Monroe to Elizabeth Taylor to Gisele Bundchen. As a parent, it’s easy to blame the media stranglehold that inundates our children at an early age, and perhaps we react strongly because images of perfect models are so prevalent in our kids’ lives. The proliferation of plastic surgery and the advanced technology that allows a photograph to be altered create a juggernaut of perfection that squeezes us all, no matter how old we are. As our children grow up, and as parents deal with their own aging parents (and as we ourselves get older!), it’s especially important to retain power over our own sense of self.

Beauty Culture happens to open during a week of stunning news about image and sexuality, starting with the startling news that a mother had given her nine year-old Botox before competition in a beauty pageant, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s infidelity and the arrest of the head of the IMF for sexually assaulting a maid in his NYC hotel. More than ever, it’s tricky to talk with kids about these topics. The Annenberg’s new show, which will be on display through Thanksgiving, aims to create a discussion about just these problems. The images, from over 170 photographers, are organized around questions such as: “What Size is Beauty?” and “What Color is Beauty?” In the gallery’s inner sanctum visitors may watch a half-hour film by Lauren Greenfield that goes behind the glossy magazine images to deconstruct the messages that are delivered nonstop by the advertising and cosmetic industries; Greenfield interviews models who are struggling with weight and age issues, older models and photographers who spend their lives making the images that create such a culture of beauty. The Annenberg is a cozy space, so we like to drop in and look at the images before heading off to lunch at one of the restaurants that are nestled into the park between the office towers.

Red Flag: Because these topics are intense, it’s not a show for kids under fourteen. Recommended for teenagers and their parents, and parents on a date night.

What: Beauty Culture opens this weekend and runs through November 27. Don’t miss the Microsoft Surface Tables, where visitors can interact with additional images. Also, a workshop in the back room of the gallery allows guests to alter their own image digitally. The Annenberg Space for Photography, 2000 Avenue of the Stars in Century City (LA 90069). Open from 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM; closed Monday and Tuesday. Parking is EASY, under the building. Admission is FREE.

Lauren Greenfield: We’re big fans of Lauren Greenfield’s work in documentary photography and film making, where she has tackled contemporary issues, such as kids and money and our obsession with being thin. Click here to visit her website and view more images from her previous books, Girl Culture and Fast Forward: Growing up in the Shadow of Hollywood.