How do we determine what makes a person beautiful? Though it might seem like the standards of beauty we have today must be historically universal, really the opposite is true. The “perfect” female (and male) body has greatly changed over the years, even though the foundation of the female form has stayed the same.
So, next time you feel like your own body might be less than perfect, just remember that “perfection” is an ephemeral ideal, bound to change and transform — looking stunningly different from one generation to the next. If you want a general idea of what your healthy body weight should be, check out this online calculator.
Perceptions surrounding beauty and body types not only vary by culture but have evolved significantly throughout history.
Ancient statues show us artists’ idealized form, which for women featured largish hips, full breasts, and a plump stomach. But the Greeks were defining more than just “beauty” — they were nailing down the math of attractiveness, literally. A few extra pounds were ideal for the average Ancient Greek woman.
The perfect body of that era was more voluptuous than perhaps any other time in history. Paintings from the Renaissance period often focused on women who would be considered fat by today’s standards. However, at that time, extra curves were considered the height of beauty. Having a voluptuous body meant that you were upper class and could afford to eat plenty without having to do strenuous work.
Ahh, the era of the corset. In this time period, women cinched their waists with tight-fitting undergarments to give the perception of the desirable hourglass figure. We now know how dangerous the lasting effects of this were. The organs would essentially need to shift in order to obtain the “ideal shape“. This time period lasted through the reign of Queen Victoria, considered by many as one of the most influential figures of the time. The pale, frail, weak look was all the rage. the waist was the body part emphasized and the woman should never look hearty or strong.
The 1890s brought about the Gibson girl. The Gibson girl wasn’t actually a real person but was based on an illustration by Charles Gibson that defined the beauty of the age. A large bust was preferred, and the trend towards a thinner body began. Evelyn Nesbit, who was considered to be the world’s first supermodel, was the ideal Gibson Girl.
Beauty in the 1920s featured for the first time in history, an androgynous look for women. They wore bras that flattened their chest and clothing that gave them a curve-less, sleek look. The style was still elegant and beautiful but there was something refreshing about the rebellious beauty of the age. Women even shortened their hair, leaving behind the belief that long hair signified desirability.
The Thirties & Forties
Thanks to World War II, boxy military shoulders become the look. Women were recovering from years of a terrible economy, and the ideal body type mirrored that. Nobody wanted to look stick thin because it seemed too close to starving but the figures were typically still skinny. Think tailored lines with modest dresses.
The classic example of this ideal woman’s perfect body is Marilyn Monroe, the Golden Girl of Hollywood. Welcome to the era of the hourglass. In the 1950s, the ideal body type reaches Jessica Rabbit proportions. The hourglass figure was sought after and having a large bust was strongly encouraged. The sex symbols of the ’50s would be considered plus-sized now. Playboy magazine and Barbie were both created in this decade, echoing a tiny-waisted, big booty and a large chest.
The look for this era is fresh-faced and thin. Models like Twiggy represented a new ideal: doll-faced and petite. Young people rebelled against the curvy ideal of the ’50s. Thin was once again, in. This era saw an upswing in eating disorders for many women who strained to maintain the ideal petite figure.
The party girl of the day was still pressured to maintain a flat-stomached body in order to rock the disco club. Skintight jeans and bare midriffs were all the rage. The ’70s saw greater freedom for women, healthy but skinny was considered beautiful. Farrah Faucett and Charlie’s Angels were considered the ideal body types of this era.
The 1980s also ushers in an era of fitness, thanks to a pioneering Jane Fonda. Aerobics takes off, and for the first time, muscles are desirable on women. This time period brought about an exercise-crazed phenomenon. Workout videos were all the rage, encouraging women to be thin, but also healthy and fit with toned, strong bodies. Amazonian supermodels begin to take over the cover of magazines.
The celebrated body of this time period was a woman who looked thin and frail. Model Kate Moss was the “it girl” of the decade. With waif models in vogue, the ’90s presented the thinnest feminine ideal in history. It’s a very opposite ideal compared to the uber-fit woman of the 80s. This was quite possibly the skinniest era for women’s bodies.
Now we enter an era of visible abs and airbrushed tans. Not to mention the impossible photoshopping of women who graced the covers of magazines. Gisele Bundchen is crowned “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” by Rolling Stone magazine. Victoria’s Secret lingerie show was considered to have the most desirable bodies for women. Very skinny, but also very fit and defined.
Today’s “Ideal Body”
Booties and curves are all the rage. With Nikki Minaj and the Kardashians reigning supreme, you are expected to have impossibly big curves with a tiny waist to match. Instagram and social media platforms now promote impossible body standards. Between plastic surgery and Photoshop, young women are constantly being shown unrealistic ideals of beauty. Maybe one day we will become accepting of all beauty types, but we still have a long way to go.