THE HISTORY OF THE 'IDEAL' WOMAN AND WHERE THAT LEFT US

Whether you are thin or thick, tall or short, confident or not, regardless of your ethnicity, it’s unquestionable that our society has an obsession with body shapes and sizes. We learn that we are supposed to look a certain way through subliminal messages in images on television, magazines, social media, advertising, etc. This obsession fuels societal pressures to appear a certain way and to have a certain body type, particularly among young women, stemming from a cultural construct of the "ideal" body which has in turn changed over time -

19th Century

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Women’s fashion becomes popular in the USA. Makeup was associated with prostitution, cosmetics were homemade, and too much concern with physical beauty was considered vain. In fashion marketing, engravings would be hand colored and women were never depicted by themselves.

1920s

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The flapper girl reflects the shift toward the Western world desiring a more slim physique. Women became the central targets of the booming advertising industry. Ads equated beauty with love and social status, they also used imagery that encouraged women subconsciously to compare themselves to models. Beauty advertisements established regimes as a goal and even mandatory duty to all womenkind. As slender women's bodies started to appear in magazines. In the mid-1920s, an epidemic of eating disorders also occurred among young women, according to some studies

1960s

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With sexual revolution of the 1960s came a substantial reversal of the ‘50s idealized image. Female body became increasingly exposed and subject to scrutiny. Images of women became slimmer and average women were encouraged to strive for this. Twiggy, a major supermodel of the 1960s, embodied many of these seismic shifts in idealized body types - minimal chest, a slight frame, short hair, and a boyish look.

1980s

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While the thin ideal persisted, there was now also an increased emphasis on fitness. Toned but not overly muscular bodies were prized, and aerobic exercise shows and videotapes became a widespread trend – dieting was no longer the only way that women were expected to keep a perfect figure. Media depictions of women in the '80s tended toward even more slenderness and greater height. 

16th Century

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“The Three Graces”by Peter Paul Rubens (1635) showcases how women were often depicted during the Renaissance era: curvy, full-figured bodies. Having a fuller body was associated wealth and prosperity as the general population struggled with food shortages and famine since before the 16th century. Artist continued to portray the “ideal” women as curvy and voluptuous all the way through the 17th and 18th centuries.

1910s

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The Gibson Girl, a creation of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, was a synthesis of prevailing beauty ideals at the turn of the century. This ideal was depicted as tall and hourglass-shaped bodies. To achieve this ideal, corsets became popular undergarment among women in the Western world.

1950s

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