Friday, September 02, 2011

Depressed beauties

To me, depression in a woman makes her more attractive.

Below are some examples of photos illustrating depression, from journalism and advertising.




The women are probably all professional models and not really depressed, but that's beside the point; they're asked to look depressed. And that adds its own strange allure.

Why? For one thing, they're not smiling. Nothing wrong with smiling if it stems from a real emotion, but that isn't behind most of the smiles you see. Usually a smile is a mask. At most, a signal: I'm not going to hurt you. Relax, feel good, buy.

More important, a woman whose face speaks depression is looking inward -- rare in our culture, and not encouraged outside of psychotherapy. She is more in touch not only with sadness, but with the human condition, than the obsessively "positive" role models we see in most adverts.




Depression can be a dreadful experience. But like so much that feels bad, it can help develop humane values, showing the futility of so much that our culture offers us promising to make us happy. Even a partial detachment from the illusive quest for fun and excitement is a step in the right direction. Sometimes depression turns us toward the world of spiritual experience, which ultimately transcends all worldly pain.

I suppose all these ladies would still be lovely laughing their heads off. But I am more drawn to them in their isolation and hurt, as they struggle to build character to fit them for the tempests of this world. A special beauty is in that.



David said...

Interesting post, Rick...I need to think about this some more, but it strikes me that depression may frequently be more a matter of narcissism than of contemplativeness.

What if the women pictured had been asked to look *thoughtful* rather than depressed? I wonder if they would still come across as appealingly.

Sebastian said...

Your post reminded me of a beautiful song, Samba Da Bencao, which opens thus:

E melhor ser alegre que ser triste
Alegria e a melhor coisa que existe
E assim como a luz no coracao
Mas pra fazer um samba com beleza
E preciso um bocado de tristeza
Senao nao se faz um samba nao

Fazer samba nao e contar piada
E quem faz samba assim nao e de nada
O bom samba e uma forma de oracao
Porque o samba e a tristeza que balanca
E a tristeza tem sempre uma esperanca
De um dia nao ser mais triste nao

Which in English means:

It's better to be happy than sad
Happiness is the best thing there is
It is like a light in the heart
But to make a samba with beauty
It's needed a bit of sadness
If not the samba can't be made

To make a samba is not like telling a joke
And who makes samba like this is worth nothing
The good samba is a kind of prayer
Because samba is the sadness that sways
And sadness is always hopeful
Of one day not being sad any more

For my part, melancholia and sadness, I agree. Depression is narcissism and/or weakness and does not appeal to me.

Check out the samba by Vinicius de Moraes. said...

I enjoyed this post. I think part of the appeal of these women is that they inspire a certain nobility in a man, the desire to be helpful, to be useful, and to rescue. In other words, they allow some romantic impulse to be the "Knight in Shining Armor." In real life, I've found this not quite so true, as depression is often a real vortex of despair that depresses those around the main victim.

Rick Darby said...

Depression in itself is neither narcissism nor contemplation. It is a pervasive sadness usually associated with dysfunctional biochemistry. I meant to suggest that it is not necessarily an unmitigated evil, that it can contribute to the growth of inner resources, which can be reflected in a woman's appearance.

Sebastian, part of what makes the Portuguese fado so affecting is its tint of sadness. I had not realized that is also true of samba. Thanks for pointing it out.

Rick Darby said...


I think part of the appeal of these women is that they inspire a certain nobility in a man, the desire to be helpful, to be useful, and to rescue.

That had not occurred to me, but I think you are spot-on. Women are often said to have a natural urge to nurture and protect, but I suspect many men relish the protective role. They hardly get much opportunity to act on it in our culture, though.

Yes, when someone is depressed, it's a downer for people in his environment and usually drives them away. That only increases the feelings of isolation and emptiness in the sufferer. A vicious circle.

David said...

One more thought on this: the facial expression that says "depression" is not that far from the one that says "sullenness"...sullenness not being, to me at least and I suspect to most people, very attractive.

Rick Darby said...


Facial expressions are an inexact language. The look of sexual pleasure could be mistaken for pain.

A picture of depression -- which is what all these photos were meant to illustrate -- could be read as ill humor, irritability, withdrawal. Those are in fact some of the common symptoms of depression.

Of course it is not attractive if you assume the depressed person is narcissistic. But the depressive is genuinely hurting. While some use their pain to manipulate other people, the pain is actually there. It's not put on for effect.

If depression in others is a turn-off for you, well, you're in the great majority. I'm not saying I enjoy being around someone who is severely depressed, but I empathize with the person. If it's a good-looking woman, that adds another dimension to her appeal. Obviously mine is a minority view.

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