Although you might not necessarily find it groundbreaking news to find out that women throughout history have altered the way they look according to various factors such as: the newest fashion icon, political changes, and social movements – you would be surprised to know that this social phenomenon is still in full swing. From the 1900s’ Gibson Girl featuring the tight corset and looping figures to the 1960s’ Twiggy’s thin-waisted figure, we’re now in a time of exaggerated behinds and voluptuous bodies.
I personally find it surprising that women are still persistent in sacrificing their figures in order to either look like their favorite celebrity or become “famous” on Instagram. I couldn’t wait to investigate what exactly influenced, and what made a woman beautiful or perfect in the eyes of society.
PS: these views are personal, if you disagree – feel free to comment below!
1. Major Historical Factors
If you look at the way women have dressed throughout history, you’ll notice a clear pattern in regards to the way their body was portrayed at the time. Let’s for example, start off with the 1920s where women’s bodies took a 360 degree turn from voluptuous to thin and androgynous looks which broke the barriers of sexual stereotypes. This was mostly due to the fact that women were taking on jobs whilst they worked during the war to help society. This trend was, however, closely followed by the post-war era of the 50s to the early 60s.
The great wars had just ended and women had replaced their thin figure of the flapper girl during the war, due to the great depression, low rations and therefore no time to care about the way they looked. As soon as the time of celebration erupted, women started to show off their full figures and became what we today consider, sexy. Think Marylin Monroe, only the most sexualized woman in history, by both men and women. This was during one of Hollywood’s most popular eras, due to America’s rich Hollywood industry, and the start of the mediatized icon. Which, only a few years later, gave place to Twiggy, the small, thin-waisted British model.
Women at that point were searching for independence, escaping the norms and replacing their short skirts and low cut shirts by straight trousers and buttoned up vests. This quickly escalated to the early 80s, known as the supermodel era, or the British Vogue cover, which I’m sure you’re all familiar with, featuring Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford etc. where skinny became “a thing”.
When you sit down and look at the major historical events that actually have a direct effect on the way we decide to look, you’ll notice that women have always been somewhat pressured, or forced to look a certain way. Ironically, the society during the pin-up phase started body shaming, but towards skinnier women.
Don’t believe for one minute that this won’t change – just because we’ve grown up at a time where the media is beginning to celebrate diversity, in both body images and race, main events such as economy crashes, war or even technology could have significant impact in the years to come.
2. Role Models Throughout History
Even though I mentioned earlier that our generation today is primarily influenced by mediatized celebrities and influencers, this idealized image is nothing new. The first sexualization of the woman’s body happened as early as in Ancient Egypt, mostly documented through drawings, Ancient Greek through sculptures, and finally via art during the Italian Renaissance era.
This is going back to 1292 BC guys – so you could say that one of the world’s first icons was the Pharaoh’s wife: the gorgeous goddess with endless braids and slender waists. It’s actually very easy to identify main personalities/celebrities according to their era, which is mostly due to fashion. In this sense, fashion doesn’t only include clothes, it could also suggest a type of accessory or hairstyle, as well as makeup.
An example of that statement I like to use is the evolution of Jennifer Aniston in F.r.i.e.n.d.s. With the show lasting over 10 years, you’re clearly able to identify the year each episode was filmed in, according to Rachel’s clothes and hairstyles. Whereas a lot of my age group friends find her most attractive in the earlier episodes of the 90s, younger generations would most likely disagree and think she looks much better in the later ones. Which brings us to the idea of beauty being influenced not only by men’s opinions and understanding of sexualization at the time but also how much men, just as much as women, are influenced by the media as to what is considered beautiful.
3) Where Are We Today
This brings me back to the actual reason why I decided to look into this concept. Who else has been following Rihanna’s “thick” transformation, or Kim Kardashian’s effect on women wanting a bigger butt? I certainly have and I’m sure many of you will know what I’m referring to. And one of the main influences in today’s concept of beauty within the younger generation lies, without a doubt, the some of the most popular music genres such as the new rock’n’roll, hip hop.
“A thick girl is a girl who works out, is shaped in hips, has curves in all the right places and doesn’t have fat” claims San Jose resident Nancy Loya. It’s quite obvious that as well as the music industry’s influence, other role models such as Adele, Scarlett Johansson or even Amber Rose, are helping the younger generation embrace their curves. Saying that, I was also disappointed to find out there wasn’t a decrease in eating disorders, as studies find that eating disorders throughout the world are on the rise. So why aren’t main icons such as Kim Kardashian breaking the norms of body image and helping society accept the way we look?
My opinion is that those younger girls are having difficulties understanding the difference between embracing your curves, and being over or underweight. I believe that the most important aspect of body image is staying healthy, which includes exercising, eating well and having a good lifestyle, but this concept is a hard one to grasp if you’re trying to look as good as photoshopped magazine covers. Then again, women in the 1920s, and most likely throughout history have always been pressured to look a certain way, dress in a specific manner to show off or hide their curves, and finally sexualize themselves. So when I sit down and think about this obvious pattern of body image pressure throughout history, I can’t help but wonder: will this ever come to an end? Will people ever just accept the way they look?
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