From fat to thin, curves to straight, toned to soft, short to tall: the ideal western female body shape has gone through all variations of shape and size. Just like fashion, these trends have been in and out. Over centuries, these beauty standards have caused mental health problems, and in some cases damaging long-lasting effects to the body. Have we finally come to realise in 2022 the ridiculous nature of these unattainable, everchanging ideal body shapes?
First let’s break down how the idealised body shape has changed throughout time. In the medieval period, it was common for people to detract attention away from their bodies. Women were supposed to be meek and modest in their style, covering their hair and wearing loose clothing.
During industrialisation, the preference for small hands was common, with increasing numbers of women working in factories. A small waist, prominent shoulders and the dreaded corsets were also conspicuous. Corsets caused serious health problems for the women who wore them. They restricted women’s ability to breathe and compressed the abdominal organs. This led to poor digestion and even permanent deformity.
The 1920s flapper saw a move away from this conservativism, with women’s bodies instead becoming more sexualised. The flapper archetype was flat-chested, streamlined, straight and thin.
WWII influenced the rise of broad shoulders and angular bodies. Cone-like breasts were endorsed by lingerie with names like the ‘bullet’ and ‘torpedo’.
Weight gain pills were even given to some women to gain greater curves
This was tipped upside down by the ultra-feminine look in the 1950s of the American housewives. The ‘hourglass’ figure was enshrined by big hips and a fuller bust. Marilyn Monroe portrayed this ‘pin-up’ model and weight gain pills were even given to some women to gain greater curves.
This weight was suctioned in the 1960s ‘androgyny’ look, where weight loss and a tiny waist was idolised. This saw a huge increase in the diet industry, with women having to make drastic changes from the hourglass to more twig-like figure.
The 1970s started a fitness fixation. A more toned, slender, and healthier body look was trendy and coincided with the idealisation of the ‘working woman’ lifestyle. Jane Fonda epitomised the 1980s supermodel look. Being tall, athletic, and toned was key.
Again, this was completely contrasted in the 1990s where ultra-thin once again became the ideal. The waifish figure of angular bone structure, pale complexion and slim bodies was portrayed by supermodels like Kate Moss.
The millennium saw a surge in the ‘yoga body’. The ideal body was tall, with a thigh gap and flat stomach. This was captured by the Victoria Secret models, who gained global fame after their annual launch in the late 1990s.
The 2010s idealised ‘bootylicious’ bodies, emphasising large breasts, a tiny waist, large hips and a round butt with long legs. However, this ‘thick-skinny’ look was near impossible to attain for most, without expensive and often dangerous procedures. The ‘Brazilian Butt Lift’ has the highest mortality rate out of all cosmetic procedures, with one in five thousand fatalities. This look was embodied by celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj.
These poster girls have had a profound effect on the way we conceptualise ourselves and others
But why do we feel the need to conform to these standards? As highlighted throughout the decades, celebrities captured and re-enforced these body type ideals. These poster girls have had a profound effect on the way we conceptualise ourselves and others.
Indisputably, the rise of social media and selfie culture has also added pressure. It’s provided a greater environment for negative self-image and comparison to others online.
The precarious nature of different body types also means the recycling of these ideals, highlighted by the Kardashians’ return from curves to skinny. However, this is not always a negative. The rise in popularity of corsets again, has turned an object which was once symbolic of oppression into a statement of choice.
Recently, the beauty industry has been witness to a greater effort to be inclusive, encouraging more confidence and self-love. Designers Becca Mc Charen Tran and Christian Siriano have who sought to include different sizes, races, and gender identities. Plastic surgeon Hagen Schumacher predicts a move towards more ‘natural beauty’ and a more conscious effort for a healthier lifestyle than merely looking good.
However, lockdown seems to have facilitated as back-track in encouraging natural beauty. The term ‘Zoom Boom’ describes the rise in the number of plastic surgeries during lockdown. In 2020, the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons reported an increase of 70% in requests for virtual consultations. Dr Jill Owen of the British Psychological Society suggests this is due to an increase of perceptual distortion. More people were looking at themselves on screens for longer causing us to scrutinise our features more and magnify faults.
The bodies we naturally exist in are much more than a trend
We need to realise that the bodies we naturally exist in are much more than a trend. Each body is unique- we are not all made to look the same. Only when we realise this, can we end the cycle of striving for unattainable, ever-changing idealised body shapes.
For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.