StMU Research Scholars

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September 19, 2016

Were Women in Ancient Egypt More Concerned About Beauty Than Modern Day Women?

The Egyptians, along with the other ancient civilizations, were complex societies. Their culture has many similarities with modern societies, one of which was their concern for beauty. Egyptians went to great lengths to ensure that they were portrayed as flatteringly as possible, rarely depicting their true age. Youth was seen as central to their concept of beauty.

Ranofer Statue, Courtesy of | Egyptian Museum of Cairo
Ranofer Statue | Courtesy of the Egyptian Museum of Cairo

When one looks at human depictions in the artwork of the ancient Egyptians, one may notice the black lines around their eyes. Upon closer attention to detail, one notices that it resembles the way girls today apply eyeliner. This is what was intriguing enough to spark questions about the Egyptian society’s views on cosmetics. Was it a statement of beauty? Of power? Did it relate to their status?

There is evidence to support the generalization that Egyptians may in fact have valued beauty even more than we do today. They expressed their fondness for beauty in their artwork. Their sculptures and paintings provide evidence for how they valued beauty. The value they saw in beauty is depicted in their paintings and sculptures, such as the bust of Nefertiti, which was made to make her look flawless. They also used eye paints (similar to today’s eyeliner), and it was typically made from malachite and galena. Eventually galena became the country’s primary eye paint, and both are found in tombs on pallets and stones that are believed to have been used in preparation of the paints.1

The image to the left is a statue from the Egyptian Museum of Cairo. This statue gives us a visual representation of the ideal form of a male. One may notice the square, wide shoulders, a slim, muscular figure, and a very defined face shape.

Bust of Nefertiti, Courtesy of | The Egyptian Museum of Berlin
Bust of Nefertiti | Courtesy of the Egyptian Museum of Berlin

The image to the left is a bust of Nefertiti, the great Royal Wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten. It is believed to be sculpted by Thutmose, who is believed to be the official court sculptor of Pharaoh Akhenaten.2 It was recovered in his workshop and is believed to have been sculpted in 1345 BCE. Nefertiti was a staple for beauty in her time, and her husband strove to make her co-equal with himself, making her one of the most powerful women ever to rule. Nefertiti was universally portrayed as beautiful, and her beauty can still be appreciated today. As one can see in this bust, the queen was sculpted to depict an exemplar of beauty, with a slim face, painted lips, long neck, and adornments on her head and clothes.3

It seems that maybe the Egyptians were more beauty crazed than people of our generation. It is apparent that the ancient Egyptians did not find pride or beauty in older ages. They preferred to alter the way they looked, instead of having themselves accurately represented. It gives us the impression that maybe this ancient culture is not as different from ours as we may have initially assumed.

  1. A. Lucas, “Cosmetics, Perfumes and Incense in Ancient Egypt,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 16, no. 1/2 (1930): 41.
  2.  Who’s Who in Ancient Egypt, Routledge, 2003. s.v. “Thutmose (c. 1352 – 1366 BC), ” by Michael Rice.
  3. Thutmose. Bust of Queen Nefertiti, Egyptian Museum Berlin, n.d.

Tags from the story

Egyptian conceptions of beauty

Recent Comments

Celina Resendez

I found this article very interesting in that it leads the mind to compare the women of today to that of the ancient Egyptians. It is my belief that in our current time, women are far too concerned with how they look on the outside. It is easy to see from your article that this was also a prominent issue centuries ago. Women are constantly striving to be thinner, more beautiful, more youthful looking. I am one of them myself! Sometimes we have to take a step back and think, how did our society become like this? Perhaps she who is most beautiful holds the most power. We may never know, but it is nice to know the women of today aren’t the only ones who had these concerns!



12:50 pm

Rachel White

This article, with its attention grabbing title, intrigued me right away due to the high volume of women in our society constantly trying to be a more perfected, almost photo-shopped, version of themselves. However, unlike the Egyptians who valued youth throughout their entire life, it seems that in our society today, younger ages attempt to look older, whereas older aged women attempt to look younger! You would think after all these years, we could finally accept ourselves for who we are without finding the need to coat our face in a product, but the makeup routine persists! Very well written and very informative.



12:50 pm

Jocelyn Alvarez Bibian

I really like the way you compare Egyptian eye paintings with the way women tend to wear eyeliner today. If we stop and think about all the similarities between society today and the society that existed in Egypt centuries ago, we may realize that, in terms of beauty standards, things have not changed at all. Today there are still these concerns about look younger and beautiful. Considering that you mentioned how the bust of Nefertiti was used to somehow relate beauty with power, we can find similarity with celebrities today, for example. This is a very well written article. I am sure you made many women think more about the value they give to beauty. Good job!



12:50 pm

Trey Whitworth

It’s kind of amusing how much the Egyptians’ fascination with beauty is similar to our own. It kind of “humanizes” the ancient Egyptian people, at least in my eyes. By this, I mean that in regards to history, we tend to think of the people that lived in the past as “just another part of history.” We often don’t think about what personal likes, dislikes, and personality quirks certain historical individuals or even populations as a whole have, beyond how it affected historical events. It often seems like the culture and moral norms of past cultures seem alien to us, the residents of the early 21st century CE. However, perhaps they are more similar to us than we think or care to admit.



12:50 pm

Mia Diaz

I really liked this article! I loved the angle you chose and the parallels you recognized between the Egyptian society and society today. I think it is interesting to read about how even in previous eras people wanted to be depicted forever in time as the most beautiful or most stunning. As you had mentioned in the article the Egyptians ensured their paintings and sculptures depicted them with the utmost beauty. Today people do the same thing with pictures using Photoshop and filters. It interesting to ponder about how the ideals of perfection began and how they continued throughout the centuries. This was a great topic to get people thinking and very well written!



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