Vanity and Body Image

By Google Arts & Culture

The Judgement of Paris (c. 1529) by Doman (Thomas) HeringBode-Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

A history of vanity, ego and body image
It can seem that issues like body image, insecurity and vanity are relatively modern phenomena but in truth they go back as far as humanity. And there are a lot of lessons we can learn from our ancestors.

The Judgement of Paris at Bode Museum

In the original story of the Judgement of Paris, Paris is surrounded by three of the most powerful goddesses of the ancient age – Aphrodite, Hera and Athena – and he must decide which of them is the fairest; a call even Zeus refused to make.


Muscleman Backview (Late 18th century) by Jean-Antoine HoudonBode-Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Muskelmann at Bode Museum

Has Jean-Antoine Houdon discovered the perfect selfie pose with this Muskelmann sculpture? Look at it: hand held high for the perfect angle, chin up, abs stretched, low body-fat. It’s the ideal pose for selfie success. Except that it was modeled almost 250 years ago.


Praying statue of King Amenemhat III (Granodiorit (Amenemhat III),1853–1806 BCE) by Artist unknownNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Praying Statue of Amenemhat III at Neues Museum

Amenemhat III was considered to be a great pharaoh. He was idolised for generations after his death, so it’s not unusual to find statues of him all over Egypt. What’s unusual about this statue, though, is that it doesn’t look much like him. Someone has altered the face to look like them instead...


Luise, Queen of Prussia (1798 - 1798) by Johann Gottfried SchadowAlte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Queen Luise with her sons in Luisenwahl Park at Alte Nationalgalerie

Celebrity culture is huge. Celebs can set trends with a new outfit, a never-before-seen accessory or even an unusual haircut. But not many celebrities are so famous, so loved, that even their bad-skin-day cover-ups set national trends lasting decades. The story of Princess Louise’s neck scarf may or may not be apocryphal, but her popularity and influence was certain.


Emperor Gallienus (253/260) by UnknownAltes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Emperor Gallienus at Altes Museum

John Travolta and his T-Birds had their black leather jackets, the Mods had their heavily-wing-mirrored mopeds and the Julio-Claudian clan of ancient Rome had this strictly enforced bowl haircut. If you’ve ever wondered why so many statues of Roman Emperors look the same, you’re about to find out why.


Emperor Francis I of Austria (1832) by Friedrich von AmerlingAlte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Emperor Franz I of Austria at Alte Nationalgalerie

Everyone wants to reach that stage in life where they are completely comfortable in their own skin – that semi-mythical state of being in which you’re so chill with the truth that filters, photoshop and finstagrams never even cross your mind. Holy Roman Emperor Franz was that guy. It certainly helped that he was one of the most powerful men in the world at the time of this painting, but you can’t help but think that even as a lowly peasant farmer, this would have been his selfie pose.

Credits: Story

Discover more about Vanity and Body Image:
- Less Is More - Nefertiti's Beauty Secret

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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