Behind The Mask: EStetson

While reading Jonathan Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room” I focused on the contrast between Celia’s perceived beauty and the reality behind her looks. Everything she represents is artificially applied and I imagined seeing her after the removal of her ‘image’ not as ugly or repulsive, but as grey. I saw her as void of all colour and life and that the makeup she applies is not only her appearance but her entire self (The image on the right represents this). Swift brutally criticizes the remains of her labour and the description of the contents of her dressing room illustrates just how much preparation goes into her appearance. The lines below illustrate the contrast between her finished and “perfected” appearance with her natural state:

“When Celia in her glory shows, / If Strephon would but stop his nose/ (Who now so impiously blasphemes/ Her ointments, daubs, and paints and creams,/ Her washes, slops, and every clout/ With which he makes so foul a rout),/ He soon would learn to think like me/ And bless his ravished sight to see/ Such order from confusion sprung,/ Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.

His reference to the ointments and creams and more specifically “paints” she uses to perfect her image makes me think about the literal application of painting on your appearance. This led me to combine what was originally two individual pieces I had painted into one. I added the vibrant, colourful eyes and lips on top of the monochromatic greyscale painting of the girl to illustrate the literal effect of painting on beauty. The outward appearance of Celia is a mask in a literal sense as well as figuratively. The makeup she applies covers every contour of her face, acting as a mask to hide her natural features. It also becomes a representation of her worth as she is only judged by her outward appearance in the poem. Overall, Swift’s poem paints a picture of beauty as a mask, underneath revealing only a grey shadow of a woman.


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