Assignment 1 – How has our perception of beauty changed over time?

While researching into my project on insecurities i became really interested in how the perception of beauty in women has changed to drastically over time. Women who were once overweight were seen as wealthy and beautiful as they could afford to look after themselves without being skinny. Whereas today most young women are aiming to be as skinny as possible.

This will mainly be down to the media and how warped our minds are becoming because of the lies we are bing told and the manipulated images we are being presented with.

Here is a really interesting article i came across where is discusses what was seen as beauty all the way back in the 1800’s to society today.

How did we go from idealizing voluptuous Greek goddesses to stick-thin Hollywood hotties?

The last time we saw a full-figured woman idealized and glamorized was in the 15th century. And Marilyn Monroe, Miss Size 16 (today’s size 8), surely does not count, because—although inarguably curvy—she was as teeny as they came back then. 

Look at Botticelli’s Primavera, Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, or Titian’s Venus of Urbino—these 14th- and 15th-century paintings represented the respected—even glorified—image of women of early times: thick thighs, round stomach, modest breasts. All very real and quite the contrast from today’s ideals. Do you think women back then were beating themselves up to be like the image of the Greek goddess Venus? Maybe they would just simply eat more? (Now that sounds like a happy world to me.) 

Let’s fast-forward to the Victorian era and see how the “ideal” woman’s body has changed throughout the years…

In the 1800s…
Pale, plump and perfect, that’s how women were. The full-figured, pear-shaped ladies were the ones the men wooed. A young woman’s main objective was to appear maternal, fertile and nurturing to obtain a man to later raise a family. Marriage was life’s ultimate goal, and corsets, worn to accentuate a woman’s shape, were necessary in achieving the right look to land a man. Ample bosom, a small waist and wide hips were all they needed. 

In the 1900s…
Women said “Out with the corsets!” and slender was in. As women increasingly started playing sports and becoming more active, the slender figure slowly became the ideal figure. Women joined the Olympics, and Eleanor Roosevelt started teaching calisthenics and dance. After World War I, women increasingly became more active outside of the home. At this time, we started seeing weight as a part of science with the study of calories, ideal weight and body mass index. 

In the 1920s…
During the women’s rights movement, rebellion was the trend for women. What followed was a drastic change in how women looked. Enter the flappers, the bad girls of the ’20s. They got rid of shapely corsets for straight waists and boyish figures. The “washboard profile” became popular, as women bounded their breasts flat. Short bob haircuts topped off the chic, boyish look. With that new look also came the right to vote. 

In the 1950s…
Welcome, baby boomers! Marilyn Monroe was the epitome of what women wanted to look like in this era. She singlehandedly brought back curves with her dramatic hourglass figure, but this time, the hourglass was all about sex. Monroe became an icon for men and women when she donned the cover of the first issue of Playboy magazine in 1954.

In the 1960s…
Twiggy hit the London mod scene and brought the shapeless figure back, but even thinner this time around. Meanwhile, regular women were plumper, as seen in today’s cast requirements for Mad Men. Research conducted by D.M. Garner et al in 1980 showed that the average bust-to-waist ratio of actresses from the 1960s and 1970s was significantly smaller than that of actresses from the 1940s and 1950s. According to theAnnals of Internal Medicine, in 1960 about 31 percent of Americans were overweight and 13 percent were obese—these statistics will dramatically increase, as we know today. 

In the 1970s…
Flower children still embraced the idea of slim in the ’70s, along with drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Every woman wanted to look like a Charlie’s angel. From the book The Media and Body Image, surveys conducted in 1973 show that women’s (and men’s) perception of body image have become more and more negative. The pressure to be thin is in full swing now…

In the 1980s…
Women’s magazines like Mademoiselle and Cosmopolitan started emphasizing weight loss, dieting and exercising on their front covers, putting a new pressure on women through a sort of glamour and infatuation with getting toned and fit. It was an era of being slim through exercise, not just dieting. Remember the neon spandex, leotards and sweat bands? 

In the 1990s…
As long as you were thin, you were in. Runway models ruled the no-shape look, while actresses flaunted their big-boobed, skinny-waisted figures and supermodels kept their build strong and toned. It was an age of Madonna, Pamela Anderson and Cindy Crawford.Baywatch bodies and Baby Got Back pervaded the scene and women’s body parts become objects of infatuation. A few years later, the obsession with cosmetic plastic surgery will begin.  

With obesity at its all-time high (approximately 60 percent of the population is obese), the pressure to be thin has not subsided… it may even be at its worst. While pop culture portrays that thin is in, celebrities are a victim of their own making. If you’re thin, you’re not thin enough. “Be who you’re not” seems to be the message. From looking at the past, it appears that the standards of beauty change with the times based on what’s the hardest ideal to obtain. 

When Will Bigger Be Better?
Could full-figured really be the new trend every 250 years? We were bigger in the 1800s; smaller in the 1920s. We were bigger in 1950 and small again in the early ’90s. Now, if we do our math correctly, we’re due for a curvaceous revolution in the year 2100. The breakthrough may not be in our lifetime, but let’s hope for the sake of womankind that it comes, so we don’t waste away into oblivion by then as we strive to be skinnier and skinnier. With bigger bodies as the ideal representation of women, will the world be rid of body prejudice? Probably not, though the tables may just turn away from today’s idealized small frame. 

And then we women will once again be stuck trying to obtain a body we don’t have, because we’ve spent all these years trying to be pin thin. Oh, the vicious cycle of beauty.

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