They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Every person knows what drives them wild to some degree, but sometimes their tastes can be influenced by others. And when the media or a large section of society have decided that one style is the look you’re supposed to have, it’s hard not to feel the pressure to conform.
But where this gets particularly dangerous is when it’s decided that a certain body type is “the one.” The idea is that if you don’t fit this particular shape, there’s something wrong with you — and you need to make yourself that shape right away. Concerns about body image have served as the catalyst for a lot of eating disorders, which can prove fatal if untreated.
The tragedy is that the same media and societal forces that enforce these standards are incredibly fickle about them. A body type can be in vogue one decade and all but forgotten the next.
The key, then, is self-love. If you’re comfortable about who are and love the skin you’re in, these ever-shifting beauty standards become essentially irrelevant.
And just to drive that home, let’s chart just how they’ve been shifting. We’ll take a look at what each decade from 1910 to the present day considers the “perfect” body type.
1. The Gibson Girl, 1910s.
Based on illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson, the Gibson Girl was supposed to represent the active “new woman” of the time. While the images had the benefit of promoting the inclusion of women in the public sphere, they also emphasized the kind of tiny waist that one could only achieve by wearing a corset.
2. The Flapper, 1920s.
The flappers of the roaring 20s made their mark by refusing to be excluded from the same raucous social activities as their male counterparts, and tended to opt for more comfortable, shorter hairstyles. Yet, to be a flapper was to have small hips and a small bust, which often meant chest binding.
3. The Soft Siren, 1930s.
The onset of the Great Depression really toned down the fashions of the area, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t an “ideal” body type for this decade. To be a soft siren, you were supposed to have a small waist,slightly curvy hips and a small bust. But apparently, really big shoulders were all the rage.
4. The Star-Spangled Girl, 1940s.
On one hand, it’s good to embrace a more realistic, curvy body type, like this decade tended to. However, this created a whole new problem of giving women the impression they weren’t curvy enough, thus body shaming in the opposite direction.
5. The Hourglass Figure, 1950s.
This era emphasized large busts and hips, but the tiny waist makes its uncomfortable return. Our old friend the corset saw something of a resurgence around this time too.
6. The Twiggy, 1960.
Popularized by the fashion model of the same name, this look emphasized a petite and skinny body shape, as well as a “doll-like” face and short hair. Her signature look was a bane for those who weren’t naturally skinny, but she was also a pioneer of androgynous styles, so even this era had its benefits.
7. The Disco Queen, 1970s.
This decade was supposedly more focused on natural beauty and moved away from the super-slim ’60s. Still, as body types went, you were expected to be “naturally skinny.” So if that wasn’t your natural shape, I guess the implication was you were out of luck.
8. The Supermodel, 1980s.
The name may be a coincidence, but to be among their ranks, you were expected to be tall and to have some muscle tone. The emphasis on fitness apparently came from the popularity of aerobics at the time.
9. The Waif, 1990s.
Also called “Heroin Chic,” the prevailing style of the ’90s was all about very skinny women with pale skin and dark circles under their eyes. It fit in with the grunge aesthetic of the time, but the tendency towards emaciation left a lot to be desired.
10. The Sporting Type, 2000s.
There were a few “ideal” types around this time, but the toned look of the supermodel made something of a comeback after the fall of the heroin chic look. While supermodels were often cautioned against looking too muscular, by this time being buff was an “in” thing.
11. The Bootylicious, 2010s.
“Baby Got Back” may be over 20 years old, but now seems to be the best time to have a lot of booty. Still, even Sir-Mix-A-Lot wanted an “itty bitty waist,” so it’s hard to win this bizarre arms race even now.
12. So, what do we learn from all this?
All of these beauty standards are fleeting things. With a makeup or hair style, there’s fairly low risk in trying to fit what’s in fashion at the moment. But trying to fit your body into whatever shape will be appealing for what is a surprisingly short period of time really isn’t worth the struggle or the potential cost to your health.
You don’t need to look like everyone else to be beautiful.