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Lauren Bryant
Research & Creative Activity magazine

Last modified: Monday, October 19, 2009

'Research & Creative Activity' magazine takes a look at beauty

Oct. 19, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- What is beauty? Is it really only in the eye of the beholder? How do we decide what is beautiful, and what is not?

The fall 2009 issue of Indiana University's award-winning Research & Creative Activity magazine reflects on the art and artifice of beauty, from makeover shows to music to what makes Cindy Crawford attractive.

In an opening story, cultural studies expert Brenda Weber, an assistant professor in the Department of Gender Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington, looks at America's obsession with appearance, as manifested in makeover shows on television. Having viewed more than 2,500 hours of makeover TV, Weber says these 21st century shows are really versions of the oldest stories we know.

"The resurrection is a makeover story," Weber says. "Ovid tells stories about transformation and change. Pygmalion is a makeover story. We have been telling makeover stories since 5,000 B.C."

Cultural and media studies expert Radhika Parameswaran, an associate professor in the School of Journalism at IU Bloomington, studies the makeover phenomenon of skin-whitening, especially the aggressive promotion of skin-whitening products in India. A globalized "beauty culture" is affecting India, according to Parameswaran. Traditional norms of beauty are being redefined in terms of Western associations with success, empowerment and the attractiveness of light-colored skin. Whitening is also a theme in "Beauty and the Bleach," a story on the work of researcher Bruce Matis at the IU School of Dentistry at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, a national expert on the techniques and effects of whitening our teeth.

In other stories, IU scientist Heather Rupp of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction in Bloomington discusses her research on how hormones affect the human brain when it comes to sexual attraction and decision-making. IU Bloomington professor of psychology and cognitive scientist Thomas Busey talks about why we consider some human faces more attractive than others. (Hint: Cindy Crawford is remarkably well-spaced).

A variety of art, from unique furniture designs to digital prints, adorns the issue. Featured artists include Peg Brand, associate professor of philosophy at IUPUI; Tina Newberry, professor of fine arts at IU Bloomington; Rowland Ricketts, assistant professor of textiles at IU Bloomington; Cory Robinson, assistant professor of furniture design at the Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI; and Marilyn Whitesell, an associate professor of fine arts and graphic design at IU Southeast.

Brand's paintings are included in a story that features her thoughts on forging a new feminist aesthetics. Chancellor's Professor of African art history Patrick McNaughton, at IU Bloomington, also weighs in on aesthetics as a social and strategic tool.

William Jones, clinical professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington, questions our contrary relationship with natural beauty, as evidenced in human treatment of lake shorelines, while Jacobs School of Music Professor Thomas Robertello draws out deep connections between visual art and musical performance. Finally Judith Brown, assistant professor of English at IU Bloomington, dissects the symbolic meanings of glamour, while Kate Rowold, professor of fashion design and culture at IU Bloomington, reveals the elements of glamorous style.

Research & Creative Activity magazine is published semiannually by IU's Office of the Vice Provost for Research. The current issue may be downloaded at