Ancient Egypt was one of the vainest ancient civilizations and one of the first nations that created perfumes, oils and other beauty treatments. Indeed, the Egyptians placed a very high emphasis on their physical appearance. Keep reading to find out more about the concept of physical beauty in Ancient Egypt.
“N” and “nfr” were adjectives used to describe beautiful people, or beautiful things, in Ancient Egypt. In fact, most Egyptian words (including verbs and nouns) related to the concept of beauty are related to these two terms. For example, the “nfrwt” refers to a young beautiful woman who’s never given birth. Modern historians have also translated it as a “teenager”. The word for male teenager is “nfrw”.
This relationship between beauty and youth is a very significant part of the concept of beauty in Ancient Egypt. Keep reading to learn more.
It may very well be that we have Ancient Egypt to thank for the world’s absurd belief that beauty is synonymous with youth. The depictions of young Egyptian women are considerably different from those of older ones. A youthful, slim silhouette depicted in Egyptian art is believed to be the ideal strived for by the vain nation. It’s a similar story with men, although the representations of aging in Egyptian art are much more subtle in those cases. The Pharaohs were, however, sometimes depicted posthumously as elderly men in order to emphasize their wisdom.
One thing that might sound surprising is that the Egyptians viewed beards and moustaches as “unclean” and men’s faces were usually clean-shaven, which was seen as beautiful. Some of them even wore wigs instead of natural hair which they also shaved off.
Egyptians believed that the most “beautiful” skin on men was red or brown-ish, as depicted in many artworks. Heavyset men were considered less attractive than slim ones, although the most powerful figures were often depicted as strong and with well-toned musculature.
Symmetry was also a very important concept of male (as well as female) beauty in Ancient Egypt.
Women’s body hair was similarly frowned upon, and their wigs were much more elaborate than men’s. Unlike men’s, however, the “beautiful” complexion of women was considered to be golden instead of reddish-brown. This is because reddish-brown colour was considered a “poor woman’s complexion”. Rich women who stayed indoors had a higher chance of preserving their paler, golden complexion. This golden colour was a prominent feature of Egyptian erotic texts.
Unsurprisingly, female beauty was referred to much more often than male in Egyptian art and literature. Female allure, often described as “divine aroma”, is another significant point in Egyptian writings.
The bust of Nefertiti from the Ägyptisches Museum Berlin collection. Source: Wikimedia
Few of us haven’t heard of Nefertiti – one of the greatest queens of Egypt and supposedly one of the most beautiful women of the ancient world. In all the depictions, her face is perfectly symmetrical and is considered to be an ideal of female beauty, even today. While it is quite unfortunate that people today know Nefertiti (whose name literally means “the beautiful woman has arrived”) more for her beauty than what she’s done for the country, this knowledge is a genuine testament of how high the Egyptians valued physical appearance and beauty.