By Claudia Cole
After months in lockdown, the increasing sunshine has us longing for sandy beaches. However, with the pressure to become ‘bikini-body’ ready, it’s understandable if you feel self-conscious during this time of year.
Since the beginning of time, it appears that society has always held a desired body type that many of us feel pressured to live up to. So, as we continue to be blessed with blue skies and warm weather, we want to remind you that no shape is as perfect as our own.
Over the years, the most admired body shapes remain almost impossible to achieve. With the ever-growing rise of mass media throughout the last century, the image of the ‘ideal body’ has undergone many changes. From the sculpted figures of celebs on the red carpet to the heavily edited pictures on social media.
Why Is That?
David Bainbridge, author of Curvology: The Origins and Power of Female Body Shape, explains:
“The body-ideal is in continual flux. We have already seen that female’s body-ideals vary between societies, and that they change over time within individual cultures. Over the years fashions change, as the media openly fuel the obsession with women’s bodies.”
Today, the idea of beauty is taking a positive shift. More people are letting go of body standards, challenging the media’s representation. As featured in our list of inclusive clothing brands, the fashion industry is finally starting to expand its range, offering a variety of suitable sizes.
Despite these positive changes, many of us continue to struggle with our body image. With the increasing use of social media, the pressures of look a certain way remain. We’re now exposed to more unrealistic expectations than ever through social media. As a result, an increasing number of young girls are comparing their bodies to what their mind pictures as perfection.
Author of The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf believes the ‘ideal’ has become entirely unreal and says:
So, how did we wind up here, living under the pressure of looking like someone else? Let’s revisit the past and take a look at how these such ideals have formed over the last 100+ years.
The 1890s - 1910s: Voluptuous Gibson Girls
Created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, The Gibson Girl became the first standard of female beauty and style in the 20th century. The Gibson Image displayed the image of a tall, slender woman with a voluptuous bust and full hips.
This became widely published and imitated over time, eventually brought to life by various models such as Camille Clifford. The look was achieved pinching the waist with a daring tight corset. It was considered a modern style as well as attractive.
The 1920s: Straight & Slim Silhouettes
Emerging out the “Roaring Twenties” came Flappers, a generation of young western women who rejected behavioural norms. Loose, straight dresses and skirts were popular among Flappers, allowing them to flash their ankles and legs. Their appearances usually held the image of what was then considered ‘boyish youth,’ with minimal breast and no corseting. Therefore, a slim figure was seen as ‘body goals’ during this time.
The 1950s: Hollywood Golden Age
Magazines were hugely popular in the 50s, causing many women to become dissatisfied with their body. In efforts to return back to normality after the war, women were strongly encouraged to return to their gender roles. This included taking the time to adjust their image, often taking style and beauty inspiration from famous stars.
Hollywood films helped propel the fuller body types of Marilyn Monroe and Kim Novak. Evolving from the famous cone breasted era of the 40s, a busty and plump hourglass figure was seen as glamourous.
The 1980 -2000s: Fitness & 90s Slender Supermodels
The 1980s saw an increased emphasis on fitness. With aerobics exercises becoming the latest trend, athletically toned body types were most desired. As a result, gym outfits were the face of mainstream fashion with headbands, leggings, and ankle-warmers being iconic staples of the era. The late 80s also saw a rise of classic supermodels such as Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell. Therefore, an interest in lean, toned body types remained favoured.
By the 90s, the ideal body became even more exaggerated. With models such as Kate Moss being the household name of Calvin Klein ads, ultra-slender and angular frames dominated the fashion industry. It became a look otherwise known as ‘heroin chic,’ dangerously fetishizing skinniness.
2010’s Onwards: Influencers & Inclusivity
With reality stars such as Kim Kardashian and social media influencers, the 2010s saw a high number of women trying to achieve precise body features. A desire for a thick bottom became increasingly popular, with heavy lifting and squatting being the latest fitness trend. However, with the ongoing rise of social media, new pressure has emerged to conform to unreal body ideals.
With crazes like the ‘skinny thick’ look, many women are influenced to try and achieve the impossible. The look consists of having large breasts, a small waist, wide hips, a round firm bottom, and long slender legs.
On the other hand, social media has created a space for people to celebrate real body types. The term ‘body positivity’ took Instagram by storm in 2017, with over 4.3 million hashtags. Today, many more people continue to show their bodies, demonstrating that women come in all shapes and sizes. For those who never felt that their appearance was reflected in society, social media has given them a sense of belonging.
Rather than trying to uphold the image of another, let’s try to embrace our own.