Throughout history, the image of the “perfect” female body has been a topic of ongoing discussion, with the ideal figure having its various changes and transformations over the course of time.
“Full-figured” women were considered to be the most attractive during the Renaissance era, as their appearances were associated with wealth. In the Victorian era, corsets and dangerously small waistlines became the ideal. Meanwhile, in the “flapper” era of the 1920s, popular culture seemed far more interested in promoting flat chests and boyish figures among women.
Later in the mid-20th century, Marilyn Monroe became an icon for women with her long legs and curvy figure. However, for the next several decades that followed the time of Marilyn Monroe, there was a major focus on a thin figure and smaller curves.
It seems as though the image of the ideal female figure has changed continuously, and I believe that we are currently going through another change. Although a slender figure is still promoted in popular culture as the ideal body type, we can take note of examples of a more diverse range of body types in the cultural mainstream.
For example, the body types of women such as Kim Kardashian, Sophia Vergara, and Ashley Graham are all examples of women who are outside of the strictly slender figure that are portrayed on the front pages of magazines. Recently, more women with curves have gained popularity in pop culture and are influencing the public’s perception of what it means to “look like a woman.”
Graham just recently became the first plus-size model featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Reacting to the cover on her Instagram account, Graham said, “This cover is for every woman who felt like she wasn’t beautiful enough because of her size. You can do and achieve anything you put your mind to.”
MMA fighter and champion Ronda Rousey was featured on one of the SI covers along with Graham. Her athletic body has been a source of extensive criticism from people who say that her body is too “masculine” to ever be perceived as feminine. What Sports Illustrated accomplished through these covers speaks volumes about the changes being made in the way we view beauty ideals for women.
The magazine’s assistant managing editor MJ Day explained, “Beauty is not cookie cutter. Beauty is not ‘one size fits all.’ Beauty is all around us and that became especially obvious to me while shooting and editing this year’s issue.”
The popular culture’s ideal woman is consistently changing, and perhaps for the better, but change doesn’t always arrive when needed; something the Mattel company had to learn the hard way.
After fifty-seven years, toy company Mattel decided to revamp Barbie’s body shape. For fifty-seven years, Barbie’s iconic blue eyes, long blonde hair, and unattainable measurements have been an unrealistic physical standard presented for young girls. The new Barbie toys include different body shapes such as petite, tall, and curvy. In addition to the new shapes are the different feet sizes, hair textures, and skin tones.
It’s reported that Mattel’s sales plummeted 20% from 2012 to 2014, a time of universal body positivity, which begs the question if Mattel’s new line was based on a “moral” decision or strictly profit-oriented.
Although I can imagine that most young girls don’t play with Barbie and aspire to look exactly the way she does as a result, it’s still delightful for girls to see themselves and the world around them reflected in a doll. From childhood, girls can learn that the world around them is not just black and white and “skinny,” but that our world is a diverse place with people of different shapes and skin tones.
In an interview with NBC, Barbie Global Brand General Manager Evelyn Mazzocco explained, “Society felt that a brand like Barbie needs to be more in touch with the times and needs to be a reflection of the worlds that girls are living in today.”
Through these subtle changes happening in the commercial beauty industry, the hope is that there will be a ripple effect on society and people will change the way they view beauty and talk about body image.
Whether or not a woman has a “thigh gap” or is naturally thin or curvy should not dictate how beautiful we consider her. Furthermore, we should stop considering the physical to be a women’s leading attribute, but, rather, her intelligence, aspirations, and her actions.
Hopefully the criticisms that women continually face about their bodies will diminish and the judgments that women make about their own physical differences dwindle.
The solution lies in learning to love ourselves and our bodies and stop comparing ourselves to each other.
The “body positivity movement” can be inclusive of all body types. We can be supportive and positive about body image regardless of what popular media is portraying as beautiful at the moment.
Each era has its one ideal body shape. Even though women have always come in different shapes and sizes, usually one shape has tended to be portrayed as superior. Those trends associated with body image have posed a significant problem, because expecting a woman to change her body to conform to a trend is unrealistic and often unattainable.
The breakthrough being made in popular culture today is astounding, in the sense that we are now seeing more diverse depictions of beauty. Now more than ever we see that beauty can extend far beyond one color and one shape.