Kyla Duffy (UQ MPhil): Disgust, Lust, and Excess: Cosmetics and the 'Bad' Women of Roman Literature

Anti-cosmetic sentiment was a prevalent feature of many pieces of Roman literature across a variety of genres including satire, comedy, poetry, love elegy, and moralising works. In the minds and opinions of many Roman authors cosmetics were a dangerous symbol, representative of deception, vanity, luxuria, excess, financial decadence, and sexual immorality. Cosmetics were perceived to be reflective of the inherent weakness of the female sex and their supposed ability to be easily corrupted. This paper will explore the anti-cosmetic sentiment that is apparent in Imperial period literature in order to understand the impact it had on the public presentation of Roman women. In doing so this paper aims to highlight the tension that existed between Roman ideals and the reality of everyday practices, and the resulting effect this had on representations of elite women in portraiture.