The History of Body Image

At A Bikini A Day, we strive to make everyone feel comfortable in who they are, and show them that the ‘perfect body image’ is nothing but a fabrication – there is no such thing. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But that is often a lot harder to accept than it sounds, and comparisons to catwalks and billboards continue to tell the rest of the world what ‘perfection’ is. It’s vacuous, as is perhaps most obvious when seeing how vastly the ideal image has altered throughout history. It is evident even when looking back this past couple of decades – from the first ‘supermodels’, curvaceous women such as Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell who were being lusted after by men and women alike; to the sickly-looking skeletons of the early 2000s; and to now, when we’re basically just trying to do away with the term in general (other than a shapely butt, of course 😉 ).

We decided to look back at image in America in the last hundred or so years to show you just how fluid it is, with each decade basically reverting to its predecessor – and to highlight that ‘perfection’ is, pretty much, a fabrication.

The Gibson Girl, 1900s and 1910s

The 1900s were a time of excitement. A new century had just been welcomed, and technological advances were spearheading Americans like never before. Women, however, were still lusted after for their femininity – and the illustrator, Charles Dana Gibson described the epitome of perceived beauty. His ‘Gibson Girl’ was one with the perfect hourglass figure: a large bust with wide hips, but a narrow waist. She was also tall, referring back to previous tastes for the slender, giving a tall ‘S’ shape to the most attractive of women. Gibson believed his composition was an amalgamation of ‘thousands of American girls’, an accessibility we LOVE.

The Flapper, 1920s

The recent re-release of The Great Gatsby has spearheaded the Flapper returning to our fashion psyche. Immensely different to her Gibson Girl predecessor, the Flapper was the antithesis of all things feminine. She had short hair and a boyish figure, with loose clothing hiding any curves a girl may have. They were, however, incredibly scandalous – both due to their heightened sense of boyish fun and its accompanying liberation, and their dramatically shorter skirts. Theirs was a time of freedom and wow, they enjoyed it.

The Siren, 1930s

Another reversal in fashion, the 1930s brought a move away from the 1920s flapper. Once more, she was curvaceous, and her hips and waist were significantly emphasised. New cup sizes were introduced, encouraging just a hint of breast. The Siren wore tight dresses to flaunt herself: seduction was implicit.

The Ava Gardner, 1940s

World War 2 brought an end to the carefree attitudes of the previous two centuries. Women did not have as much time or energy to cultivate their curves and show off their bodies, so the look became one of slenderness – and health. The latter was important, and good skin was beginning to be noticed. Fashion paid homage to the husbands on the front, and boxed shoulders became the thing of the moment. This taller, commanding shape translated into physique: again reflecting the growing responsibility and so masculinity of the war.

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The Marilyn Monroe, 1950s

The end of the seriousness of the war brought with it a return, once more, to frivolity, fun and curves. Glamor was serious business: both Playboy and Barbie came into existence and the sex symbol was born. Marilyn appeared with her busty hourglass figure and long legs, her playful nature redefining the generation and bringing femininity into a new sphere: women were in control.

The Twiggy, 1960s

The aptly-named Twiggy was the definition of 1960’s attractive. She was small, slender, boyish- like a twig, really. Girlishness was the thing in terms of looking young, innocent and androgynous. Clothing was less restrictive and became more petite, reflecting the desired small woman. Weight Watchers began in 1963, emphasising how important it was to be thin and lack curves. It was a replay of the Gibson to Flapper move, just with far shorter skirts and sometimes even shorter hair (often mere inches long: shorter than the boys!).

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The Diva, 1970s

The party girl was born. The 1970s brought with it bell bottoms and spandex; it introduced far more revealing clothing. With it, the pressure to have a ‘good’ body was strong, and women were pressured to have thin hips and flat stomachs. Athletic looks came to the fore, and it was important to be toned. Make up was also minimal – natural was best, distinct from the intense face painting of the 1960s. Flowing hair – Farah Fawcett style – was the look to go for.

The Supermodel, 1980s

The era of all eras, in which women were known for their bodies, rather than being compliment by them. Bodies defined a whole culture. These women – Elle Macpherson, Claudia Schiffer and co – were all Amazonian. Tall, toned, busty and the right amount of healthy curve. Fitness was also big, with the evolution of aerobics and jogging forcing leggings on women around the world. So women should be thin, but thin and toned. They had a standard to live up to, but it was one where healthy = sexy.

The Waif, 1990s

Again, we see another move and turn away from the previous decade. Kate Moss introduced ‘heroin chic’, and healthy physiques went out the window. Instead, women were all skin and bone, clothes horses on which to drape outfits and little else. They were little androgynous pixies, resembling the 1960s twiggy – but with a far less exuberant and healthy vibe. Big, baggy clothes were employed to emphasise skinniness. The grunge scene was what it was about, and being pale and gaunt was the way to show you knew what you were doing. Or not, as the case may be…

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The Buff-thing, 2000s

Sexy was brought back, and the Victoria’s Secret Angels were femininity. Abs, breasts and legs galore, this was a return to the 80s – but on a slightly less Amazonian structure. Think spray tan and personal trainers, mixed with tantalising hair and sky high heels. That was the 2000s.

Bootylicious, 2010s

We have to hand it to her, Kimmy K did great for bringing booty back. Beyonce and her posse definitely had a say too – the butt is unanimous. Girls the world over are squatting away; men are more comfortable in their quest for the perfect, round backside. To be honest, little else seems to matter – the butt is where it’s at (maybe not to Kardashian-esque heights, though).

So, what is the ideal body image? The last 100 years have brought with them a zig zag of ideals, one decade’s perfection being the opposite to the last, and back again. Beautiful bodies are a misnomer; they don’t exist ‘by definition’. But they do to us. What do we define them as? A beautiful body is one which reflects happiness and health, that shines with confidence and really does sing of a girl being comfortable in who she is. That is what we love, and that is what we’re pushing for from now on.

2 Comments

  1. MF Reply

    I absolutely love the healthy body image constantly promoted by tash and dev. truly healthy, gorgeous and most importantly, inspiring role models. for someone who has struggled with body image, you two are reversing the damage that has been done by society and are proof that exercise, eating and living are the answers. cheers to that! XX

  2. Great article! The kardashians DEFINITELY take BOOTYLICIOUS to the extreme.

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