Animation director Anna Ginsburg has created a short film for CNN in honour of International Women’s Day, examining the evolution of beauty through the ages. Starting from ancient sculpture and morphing seamlessly from figure to figure into modern day symbols such as Madonna and Kim Kardashian, the animation shows how our perceptions have changed. The constant throughout, Anna says, is the pressure on women to conform to body shape ideals, an idea that inspired the film and came from a deeply personal experience.
“My little sister has anorexia,” Anna says. “She has been hospitalised for the last year and fed using a tube. She’s had the illness since she was 12, she is now 20. Witnessing her suffering over the last eight years has made me think a lot about western ideals of beauty and the increasing extremity of the objectification of women in our culture. I know anorexia evolves into something with control at its heart rather than body image. However the mental heath crisis in young people reflects something about our society and its core values.”
With this in mind, Anna set out to create a film that served as a love letter to every female body. “Your body has been the definition of perfection at some point,” she states. “We are all in the same boat, exposed to unattainable and often dangerous ideals of beauty everyday.”
Stylistically it is disparate from Anna’s staple animated documentary, which uses interview recordings as their starting point. This film, she explains, is the first time it’s worked the other way round, with the imagery guiding the sound. The soundtrack is a composition by Father, who have synced the music to the timings of Anna’s visuals. Aesthetically, the palette is simple blue painterly illustration, maintaining a uniformity across the female forms as they transform. “I used the full tonal range of a single shade of blue,” says Anna. “Blue was originally associated with femininity through ancient art and religious iconography, it is only relatively recently that it has been a male colour.”
Throughout the film, the female body is constantly shrinking, expanding and stretching, and towards the end the female form is seen through technology, “becoming painfully and dangerously distorted”. It signs off with a message to reject the unattainable and often dangerous ideals imposed on women: “There is no standard template for beauty, so let us celebrate the diversity of the female form.”
“I hope it shows the pace at which ‘the ideal’ body type changes and inspires people to reject these ideals or see them in context of all that has come before,” Anna says. “Women are told to love themselves all the time in a society with values which makes this extremely hard to do. I don’t expect the film to inspire self-love; I simply hope it awakens an awareness in both women and men of the ever-changing pressures on women, and that trying to keep up can lead to immeasurable suffering. I hope it makes women feel less alone. I want to provide people with a tiny armour to the extreme objectification of women we are all surrounded by everyday.
What is Beauty? is produced by Strange Beast with CNN’s producer Sarah-Grace Mankarious as part of the broadcaster’s series on beauty.