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The Changing Face of Beautiful Bodies

There’s a reason that magazine covers include lines like ‘5 Moves For Michelle Obama Arms’ or ‘The Secret for a Booty Like Beyoncé’. But if, like the rest of us, you’ve ever found yourself wishing for this actress’s waist or that singer’s legs, remember this; the media’s concept of the ideal woman’s body isn’t static. It’s changed a lot over the years, and over the course of our history almost every body type has been deemed ‘the desirable one’. Don’t believe me? Take a look at just a few of the different ‘ideal’ body types from the last century.

1910 – The Gibson Girl

In 1920, corsets ruled the day. Women were expected to have a round, soft body that gathered together in a tiny, pinched waist. A long neck and sloped shoulders were ideal, with big curls to complete the ideal look – and if you didn’t naturally have that long elegant neck, too bad.

1920 – The Flapper

Moving into the 1920’s, the flapper girl came to the fore. Say goodbye to monumental curves, statuesque height and all that effort with complicated updos and curls. Now is the era of flat chested girls with a boyish figure and narrow hips. Legs were the sexy element of the day, and short skirts were guaranteed to show a flash of garter when doing the shimmy. To top it off? Short, boyish haircuts and a perfectly streamlined, petite silhouette.

1930 – The Soft Siren

But don’t worry, the waist makes a comeback in the 1930’s! Small curves are now encouraged, with hemlines following the stock market crash and taking a dip. Small busts were still desired though, with curves being desired more on the hips.

1940 – The Star-Spangled Girl

The soft 30’s look didn’t last long, and thanks to World War 2, broad, boxy and aggressive military shoulders became the look du jour. The 40’s were all about angles, with bras taking on a pointy look (think ‘torpedo’ and ‘bullet’, which were real styles) and the general mood swinging toward a taller, long-limbed and distinctively square silhouette.

1950 – The Hourglass

To rebel against the squares, the 50’s brought the age of the hourglass – with curves everywhere and a tiny waist to cinch it all in. The ideal body type has now reached Jessica Rabbit proportions, with the ideal woman having big, soft curves for hips and bust. Skinny women were encouraged to take weight-gain supplements or wear padding to achieve this look.

1960 – The Twig

The swinging 60’s brought the pendulum back in the other direction. Thin is in and Jessica Rabbit is out. This new look is fresh-faced, girlish and androgynously trim. In order to transition back to the ‘thin’ look to be desirable, this decade saw a record amount of amphetamines prescribed for weight loss. In one particular ad, the tagline ‘this is no shape for a girl’ appears next to a pear. Feeling the pressure yet?

1970 – The Disco Diva

Disco! Jumpsuits! Bellbottoms! This decade was a non-stop raging party. But the party girl of the day was still pressured to maintain a slim-hipped, flat-stomached body. The only difference from the previous decade? Curves are slowly starting to make a comeback if only to look good in all of that spandex.

1980 – The Supermodel

Amazonia supermodels reign supreme in the 80’s. Now, the tall, leggy women have their time to shine. But as well as long legs, the 80’s see a huge shift towards a fitness-focused society thanks to the pioneer Jane Fonda. So now, muscles are acceptable and even desirable on women. It’s both empowering and discouraging – one more beauty standard to add to the list.

1990 – The Waif

Honey, we shrunk the supermodel. Kate Moss ushers in the era of the waif, also know as ‘heroin chic’ for the gaunt look of such super thin women. It’s the complete opposite of the previous decade, where being slim to the point of illness is what is considered attractive. Oddly, slouchy jeans, oversized sweaters and unisex fragrances were the fashion choice of the day. At the end of the decade, the modern day corset – Spanx – was born.

2000 – The Buff Beauty

In the 2000’s, sexy is brought back in a big way. Gone is the gaunt, pale heroin chic and in comes the era of visible abs and airbrushed tans. Muscly midriffs spark the rise of crop tops and low riders jeans, and if you didn’t have the figure to pull it off, you could always opt for the latest technological advancement –spray on abs!

2010 – The Booty Babe

Finally, we come closer to the present day, and the word of the day is ‘bootylicious’. Celebrities sporting full, plump booties results in a wave of women squatting as if their lives depended on it, all in the name of a good bum. Subtlety has left the building, and having hips and bums that are the same width as your shoulders and bust is considered perfect. Towards the end of it, we’re still seeing this, but with a slight shift back towards the hourglass figure.

So what should we take away from this? That body ideal, like everything else in pop culture, is a trend. There is no set ‘ideal’ body shape for women and we spend far too much time chasing after a shopping list of attributes we think society desires. So this summer, embrace the body you’ve got, wear clothes that make you feel good and focus on enjoying yourself. And remember, the media’s idea of beauty is subjective and changes all the time, but confidence is always in style!

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