Renaissance to Runway: Body Shapes Over the Ages

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 the Annals 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.
To view the real body sizes of iconic women, click here.




Photo credit: shimmysugar/Flickr (Jolie) Joaquin Martinez Rosado/Flickr (Mona Lisa)

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