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Beauty

Lopez Defines Sensuality, Without Being Razor Thin

March 03, 2000|BARBARA THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Every culture has its ideal of feminine beauty and sensuality. And every age has its Hollywood star who defies it. A smoldering Sophia Loren challenged a Hollywood standard defined by ingenues Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee. Middle-aged men still sweat at the memory of Pam Grier's "Foxy Brown" movies in the midst of flower-power androgyny. And now, thank goodness, there is Jennifer Lopez.

Before her appearance at the Grammys last month in that revealing green dress, Lopez had long showed off her magnificent body and made news for putting her sexuality "out there." Two years ago, she did a Vanity Fair photo spread wearing nothing more than heels and white underpants. Say what you will about her controversial boyfriend Sean Puffy Combs, Lopez is a refreshing image in a city of actresses with boyish physiques. However calculated the look, she is feminine and sensual.

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Instead of being praised, she is derided for her "big butt," which even supermodel Cindy Crawford has criticized. A reported size 6, Lopez, 29, has been called "full figured," and fashion magazines have gone so far as to categorize her with the portly Camryn Manheim as an alternative to the slim icons Hollywood has been promoting lately.

The current 20- and 30-somethings apparently think skinny is a beauty requirement. Actress and model Elizabeth Hurley, poster girl for Estee Lauder, says Marilyn Monroe was fat. In the January issue of Allure, she said: "I've always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I'd kill myself if I was that fat. I went to see her clothes in the exhibition, and I wanted to take a tape measure and measure what her hips were. (laughter) She was very big."

Monroe or Hurley? Anthropologists tell us it's no contest. Men, they say, instinctively are attracted to physical qualities such as wide hips, thin waists, full breasts and pouty lips because those are all signs that a woman is fertile. Fair enough.

On the other hand, fashion tells us that reed-thin Gwyneth Paltrow is our new Grace Kelly. Cool, unattainable, classic blond--a woman who looks as good in a cashmere turtleneck and man-tailored wool pants as she does in an evening gown by Michael Kors.

Lopez also looks good in turtlenecks, she just wears them differently.

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Baring skin is nothing new in Hollywood. Hurley herself became famous for wearing a revealing Versace dress held tenuously together with safety pins. At last month's Grammys, country star Faith Hill wore a leather number cut down to her belly button. No one batted at eye. So why all the fuss about Lopez?

Perhaps it is because she looked tawdry to some, alluring to others. But more important she is a visual flash point for our cultural conflict between beauty and sexuality--in short, our modern-day reverse puritanism. It's a conflict that plays itself out daily in our TV and movies. TV and movies are almost blatantly sexual in language and acts. Yet most screen characters, outside the TV or movie bedroom, do not convey a real-life sexiness or sensuality.

Other cultures aren't as narrow in their definitions of beauty as ours. They are far more accepting of different body shapes and displays of sensuality. Hollywood, of course, skews perception. Trend-buckers like Lopez help to bring it back to reality.

Because, honestly even if Lopez showed up in a sensible suit, she'd still be hot.

Barbara Thomas can be reached at barbara.thomas@latimes.com.

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