Antiquities, Paintings, Photographs, Film, and Video

An Alternative Beauty Pageant

Tonight is the Miss Universe pageant, in which contestants vied for a title and a Trump Tower apartment by donning swimsuits, evening gowns, and out-there costumes. (Update—Mexico won.)

But beauty queens are just so bland compared to the women that painters, photographers, and sculptors have captured in their work. Here, our nominees for an alternative pageant—one celebrating strength and wisdom over youth and bikinis.

An Old Woman with a Cat
Max Lieberman, 1878

This woman’s hands have seen decades of toil, but are still capable of great tenderness.

An Old Woman with a Cat / Liebermann

Woman, Patzcuaro, Mexico
Paul Strand, 1933

Strand liked to photograph “people who have strength and dignity in their faces.” She has both.

Woman, Patzcuaro, Mexico / Strand

© Aperture Foundation

Head of Athena
Greek, Asia Minor, 160–150 B.C.

Athena lost out to Aphrodite in the world’s first beauty contest, but so what? She still had wisdom and war strategy on her side.

Head of Athena / Greek

Young Italian Woman at a Table
Paul Cézanne, 1895–1900

Her sadness and distant gaze have a melancholy beauty.

Young Italian Woman at a Table / Cézanne

Got a nominee of your own? We’d love to hear about her.

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  1. anonymous
    Posted August 26, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I nominate Rachel for beauty queen, on the basis of her endurance, creativity, and self awareness. Here is her blog:

  2. Mary
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    I have a photograph of my grandma in her 20’s bathing by a lake. she looks so young & carefree. its great to know that the old woman looking at me thru her thick specs still has a twinkle in her eye!

  3. Posted April 21, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you Annelisa. This photos are really more memorable and more expressive than those in the beauty pageant. I love the first photo The Old woman with the black cat, it looks meaningful to me..

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      #ThyCaptionBe: You Look Like Hell

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      Escaping the in-laws or medieval Sea World? It’s actually an extreme punishment for a dress code violation. 

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      The Christian tale of Saint Josaphat is roughly based on the life of the Buddha in a kind of medieval game of telephone, in which the sources for the text passed through Christian circles in the Middle East in the 8th century before appearing in European versions in the 11th century. 

      Here an unsuitably dressed guest—we can see that his tattered clothing and scruffy facial hair have no place at the well-dressed gathering—is cast into the dark, open mouth of a terrifying animal. 

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