Fragment of painted limestone tomb-relief showing Djehutyhotep’s sister taken from Djehutyhotep‚Äôs tomb. Fragment dates to the 12th Dynasty, during the reign of Senwosret III. Image from the British Museum.

I’ve always been particularly fascinated by the portrayal of women in Ancient Egypt. Every single Egyptian woman illustrated in tombs or statues is always extremely slim and slender, youthful, and with a beautiful full black wig. This tomb-relief showing Djehutyhotep’s sister is no different. It’s very likely that not all women were truly like this, and that this portrayal is simply an Ancient Egyptian female ideal – but why?

The Ancient Egyptians had many different gods and goddesses. The most prevalent Egyptian goddess was Isis. Isis herself was always shown as slim and youthful. She was renowned for her beauty and perfection. It is therefore speculated that Egyptian women were shown as slender to portray a connection between them and this important goddess. Egyptian women were often referred to as ‘Daughters of Isis’ which also shows this connection.

Moreover, the Ancient Egyptians thought very lowly of their foreign neighbours. Texts written by the Egyptians frequently talked of how foreign men and women were similar to animals which I think strongly conveys how Egyptians thought they were better than foreigners. A very famous image of a woman from the foreign land of Punt shows the woman as morbidly obese. This illustrates through art the differences between the ‘perfect’ Egyptians that mimic Isis in appearance, and the ‘imperfect’ foreigners.

I find it particularly interesting that the female ideal of a slim, youthful woman still remains present in our culture today! Women are pressured constantly to be stick thin, and to follow a whole range of fad diets to look like celebrities. I’m shocked that in over 3500 years, our opinion on what a female ‘should’ look like has not changed at all.

For more on Ancient Egyptian women check out Women in the Ancient World and BBC Ancient Egyptian Women.

-Alex Burrows
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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