Photo courtesy of Tumblr

Is There an Ideal Body Image?

Marilyn Monroe is the most widely known beauty icon in America. Her curves, her style, her charm, and her unforgettable “Happy Birthday Mr. President” are known by one an all. Despite being arguaby the most well known beauty icon, Monroe would not be found as beautiful and alluring in the 2000s as she was in the 1950s. Since the 1950s, the ideal image of the female body has changed. Today, society’s ideal woman is slim, with long legs, a large bust, and an impressive behind. America’s journey from the hourglass ideal of the 1950s to that of today is one of fashion, gender liberation, and a growing media that pastes the image of celebrities everywhere.

The 1950s were influenced by designers like Christian Dior, who introduced silhouettes that moved away from the androgynous loose style of 1920s flapper and back toward the curvy ideals of the 19th century. The hourglass figure was in, and skinny girls were encouraged to gain weight. Ads ran in the paper advising girls to eat more to gain male attention. Marilyn Monroe had appearance after appearance, and contemporaries like pin-up girl Sophia Loren cemented beauty in the 1950s as a full hourglass figure.

Photo courtesy of Uilke / Flickr

Photo courtesy of Uilke / Flickr

A cultural revolution happened in the 1960s that changed America, including American ideas about female beauty. Where 1950s beauty was opulent and highly stylized and geared toward attracting men, the 1960s brought a counter-movement against the materialism and misogyny underlying these ideals from the previous decade. Thin, long legged models like Twiggy rose to instant star status, and fashion innovations like mini-skirts, hot pants, bold patterns and shift dresses became popular. More revealing styles were worn by women as a declaration of ownership of their own bodies, and their own values.

The 1970s continued this trend of willowy women, but added more patterns and more diversity to what you could wear. Most styles were created to compliment a long and lean frame. The 1980s introduced shoulder pads and a new element to the thin look when Jane Fonda became the first celebrity to release a workout tape. Now the ideal was to be slim and toned. Fit was the new beautiful. During these two decades anorexia became increasingly prominent.

The 1990s saw the rise of the grunge look, which included the look of “heroin chic.” Kate Moss was the portrait of beauty: long thin limbs, jutting hipbones, petite, and extremely skinny. The 2000s kept this ideal body type, exemplified by celebrities like Courtney Cox and Paris Hilton. Which brings us to today, where society has combined several of the ideal body images from past decades. Women can look to Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner as models of ideal body types: busty, with a curvy backside and wide hips, while maintaining a toned stomach, and toned arms and legs.

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The 2010s have been most notable for bringing curves back in style, between icons like the Kardashians and the rise of plus-size modeling. Brands like Aerie and Dove have started campaigns starring women who have “real” figures. While these campaigns are more body positive for many women, they still are not all inclusive, because all body types are real bodies. Throughout the changes in ideal body type, our society has failed to promote one body type without shaming another. Because ideal body type is arbitrary and changes from decade to decade,  there is no way to prove that one body type is ideal without resorting to name calling. “Real women have curves” is just as damaging as calling someone fat. The image of beauty today is increasingly difficult for anybody to achieve, as it is extremely difficult to maintain a “thick in the right places” figure. The pressure to look like the ideal is emotionally and physically harmful, and obscures the fact that the truly ideal body type is healthy.

The media has played a huge role in showing American women what they are supposed to look like. Daily, women are exposed to images of women who are thin, toned, beautiful...and photo-shopped. Most of the images of ideal beauty we have to look at are artificial images, which set up entirely unrealistic and somewhat impossible body standards for a large majority of women. This is what has made the Aerie and Dove campaigns so refreshing. We see one body type so much, we think of that image as the average body, which is not the case. We have gotten in a habit of comparing one body to another, and by looking for an “average,” “normal,” or ideal body type to compare our own bodies to--to see if we are normal-- we have discounted a wonderful variety of beautiful shapes and sizes that are just as valid as any other body type. So, stop comparing, stop body shaming, and start embracing your body, whatever that may look like, because it is normal. It is beautiful.

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