But some things have remained the same.
No matter the year or decade, there’s always been the notion of an ideal body for women. Women have been told that if they want to fit in, find a mate, or be considered attractive, they should attempt to mold themselves to whatever the prevailing beauty standards of the time are. And until recently, women of color were left out of the conversation entirely.
2. 1910s: The Gibson Girl dominates.
Named after illustrator Charles Gibson and in part a holdover from Victorian constriction, the look was all about sloping backs and corseted waists. Does it look painful? It LOOKS FUCKING PAINFUL.
3. 1920s: The flapper comes out.
Maybe after a decade spent all cinched and pinched in corsets, it was understandable that women wanted to dress in loose drop-waist silky things, no? The ideal body had a flat chest and no hips — and was generally more boyish than feminine. The ’20s was the decade that women gained the right to vote, and the flapper uniform reflected the new freedoms that women had.
4. The 1930s: Curves come into their own.
And we’re back! In part in response to the Depression, the ’30s were all about bodacious babes like Mae West (pictured left) and Jean Harlow. According to celeb magazine Photoplay, the prevailing look was “warmly curved” and “roundly turned” and the decade’s most exemplary figure belonged to a Mexican starlet named Dolores del Rio (pictured right) who was lauded for having all the curves.
5. 1940s: Strength is in.
In part because women were taking a greater role in the workforce during and after World War II, the preferred body was “healthy” and actually not too skinny. The weight gain market thrived, as women were told they should look strong and powerful, and the silhouette of the day reflected that: Clothes featured boxy, masculine shoulder pads and cinched waists. Actresses like Betty Grable (pictured above), who was known as “the girl with the million-dollar legs,” epitomized this look.
6. 1950s: But wait, curves are back again.
Did we tell you to look powerful? JUST KIDDING! The 1950s were all about a return to curvy, soft, ultrafeminine figures. Women were expected to be back in the home again, and looked to bombshell babes like Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and Dorothy Dandridge for examples. To augment what might not naturally be there, department stores sold hip and butt padding. See, booty worship has been around forever.
7. 1960s: Here come the waifs (part one).
The sexual revolution of the ’60s challenged previously held ideals of attractiveness and body type. Instead of curvy, voluptuous women, the prevailing image was that of a doll-faced, hipless girl. Women like Twiggy, Jean Seberg, and Jane Birkin (pictured from left to right) dominated, and modeled the tiny baby-doll dresses and A-line shifts that were popular. If you weren’t necessarily naturally that thin, there were ways to get there, namely loads and loads of amphetamines, which doctors prescribed for weight loss. WHOOPS.
8. The 1970s: Skinny and lean.
Posters of Farrah Fawcett basically dominated teenage boys’ bedrooms in the ’70s. And Beverly Johnson became the first African-American supermodel to grace the cover of Vogue. The look was long and lean and a little bit athletic. And since the decade’s clothes were dominated by synthetic fabrics and polyester, women were expected to be pretty thin to look good.
9. The 1980s: Let’s get physical.
The ’80s were epitomized by the rise of the supermodel (see: Christie Brinkley, Kathy Ireland, and Iman) and the scourge of fitness crazes like aerobics and Jazzercize and (UGH) jogging. As cultural attitudes shifted toward health and well-being (and gyms and fitness centers began springing up like crazy), women were expected to be toned and athletic, but also very thin. And leggy. Very, very leggy.
10. The 1990s: Here come the waifs (part two).
Grunge music and culture helped usher in the era of the super thin and lanky “heroin chic” body. Kate Moss dominated runways and magazine covers in the ’90s, but there was also fair amount of backlash to her waif look. The antidote? Sir Mix-A-Lot’s paean to big butts, “Baby Got Back,” which celebrated big booties.
11. The 2000s: Sporty and athletic.
Women of the 2000s were supposed to be strong and powerful — able to look good in a bikini but also maybe beat you in arm wrestling too. Sexy, powerful, and also sleek and lithe, the 2000s ideal was a reaction against the ’90s waif. She was still pretty thin, though.
12. The 2010s: Booty, booty everywhere.
Well hello there, booty. Women’s bodies are supposed to be curvy, curvy, curvy while still maintaining rock-hard, perfectly flat abs. If you can’t get it through working out and dieting (all kinds of crazy diets), then it’s perfectly OK to try plastic surgery, too.
13. The lesson? Body ideals are inconsistent, ever-shifting, and generally unrealistic for the majority of women.
AKA a deeply annoying thing that you should give major side-eye to.
14. H/T Greatist
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