We all know how the perception of perfection has changed throughout the years, but we’re sure you’ll be as shocked as we were to see how much truly has changed in the media’s portrayal of beauty. In terms of women’s shape, size, and stature, we are surrounded by messages of what’s in, what’s acceptable, what’s beautiful, and what’s desired. The sad truth is that these perceptions have changed so much that a “perfect woman” years ago wouldn’t even be given a chance by the media professionals in today’s society. Check out this collection from Huffington Post that shares how society’s beauty standards have changed throughout the century, and be sure to share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
Addiction and eating disorder recovery site Rehabs.com worked with digital marketing agency Fractl on a project looking at the origins of Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements, and how the bodies of ideal women have compared to national averages over time. And their findings show that models and movie stars are getting smaller than the average American woman at unprecedented rates.
Though BMI measurements don’t distinguish between fat and muscle, and are thus fairly inaccurate in determining whether someone is obese or not, BMI data from the past makes for interesting comparisons. According to the Center for Disease Control, the BMI of the average American woman has steadily increased over the past half a century, from 24.9 in 1960 to 26.5 in the present day.
In a similar vein, Rehabs.com found that the difference between models’ weights and the weight of the average American woman has grown from 8 percent in 1975 to over 23 percent today. The bottom line? There’s more of a noticeable gap between the bodies of idealized women and everyday people.
Picking up on this disparity, brands like Dove, Debenham’s and H&M have made efforts to include diverse body types in their catalogs and ads. Organizations like The Representation Project are working to educate women and girls about media literacy and how to handle the sexualized images of women we see on television, billboards and the Internet. (Of course, we still have a very long way to go.)
In addition to the work of brands and organizations, looking back on the “ideal” women throughout the past century tells us just how arbitrary any vision of “the perfect body” is. Sex symbols have varied in terms of body shape, height, weight and tone, from the hourglass figure of Mae West to the waif-like Kate Moss. Though the diversity of these icons is limited — they are all white, and none could be accurately described as plus-size — it’s gratifying to see that different body types have been construed as sexy, and likely will be again.
Here’s how the “ideal body” has changed in the past 100+ years:
The Gibson Girl, 1900-1910s
The “Gibson girl” was the creation of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, a type of woman that came to epitomize the ideal feminine beauty at the turn of the century. Gibson described the figure, who was tall with a large bust and wide hips but a narrow waist, as a composite of young women he’d observed. In 1910, he told a reporter for the Sunday Times Magazine: “I’ll tell you how I got what you have called the ‘Gibson Girl.’ I saw her on the streets, I saw her at the theatres, I saw her in the churches. I saw her everywhere and doing everything. I saw her idling on Fifth Avenue and at work behind the counters of the stores.”
The Flapper, 1920s
Flappers were known for their bobbed hair, shortened dresses and “scandalous” behavior such as smoking in public and driving cars. Flappers rarely wore corsets, downplaying their breasts and waists, and often showed their ankles or knees. In 1920, a lecturer named R. Murray-Leslie described flappers as “the social butterfly type… the frivolous, scantily-clad, jazzing flapper, irresponsible and undisciplined, to whom a dance, a new hat, or a man with a car, were of more importance than the fate of nations.”
Mae West, 1930s
Hollywood star Mae West could not have been more different from the flappers. She emphasized her waist and hips, flaunting her figure through close-fitting dresses. West allegedly once said: “Cultivate your curves — they may be dangerous but they won’t be avoided.”
Rita Hayworth, 1940s
During World War II, the ideal moved away from the unattainable curves of Mae West and the carefree attitudes of the flapper. Stars like Rita Hayworth had flawless skin and healthy, slender bodies, a look not too far away from that of the average American woman.
Marilyn Monroe, 1950s
Sex symbols of the 1950s include Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Betty Page, known for their long legs and busty hourglass figures. Pin-up girls like Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot exuded glamour. “The body is meant to be seen, not all covered up,” Monroe once said.
Want to see how much the ‘perfect body’ has changed in recent decades? Click here to be taken to the original story on Huffington Post.