The “Ideal” Female Body: From The 1910s To Now

Today’s desired look for most young American women can be summed up in the words of Big Sean: “ass ass ass.” Since the Kardashians took over the tabloids in 2007, fitness studios across the nation have evolved to tone our glutes and grow our posteriors.

It is largely believed that the desired female body is dictated by nature–you know, men want someone who can bring them, healthy babies, so…big boobs! curvy hips! But let’s take a quick look through the past century and see what the American mainstream has deemed attractive over time. Turns out the “ideal” female body has changed nearly every decade along with the stars and styles of the times. Who knows–maybe you really were born in the wrong generation.

1910s, The Gibson Girl

We complain about unrealistic beauty standards today but the 1910’s “Gibson Girl” that rose to fame was not even a real person. The dream girl of illustrator Charles Gibson graced the pages of LIFE magazine and Harper’s like the Giselle of her generation. She had an impossibly small waist a figure described as being figure-eight-esque with large breasts and hips separated by her suffocating-looking corset. Her body was based on (then exaggerated) from model Camille Clifford. The tall singer even belted the lyrics “Wear a blank expression/and a monumental curl/And walk with a bend in your back/Then they will call you a Gibson Girl.”

1920s, The Flapper

As is often seen in fashion, the flapper look is a clear rejection of the exaggerated curves of the previous decade. This ideal is considered boyish–with a boxy figure, narrow hips and a flat chest. The flapper radiated youthful energy and wore a shorter knee-length hemline which could be flirtily raised to expose her garter during the “shimmy.” The first Miss America, Margaret Gorman, was crowned in 1921 and illustrated the era’s ideal at 5’1 108 pounds.

1930s, Soft Siren

Hemlines returned to their previous longer length and with them came slightly more distinct waist–accentuated by the popular draped dress style.  However, with the invention of the new bra cup sizing, a slightly larger bust came back into vogue. It was declared that Dolores Del Rio, a dark-haired actress, had “the best figure in Hollywood.”

1940s, Rosie The Riveter

The return of an illustrated ideal. With the majority of men heading to fight in World War II, broad shoulders, a tall statue of an overall more masculine silhouettes came into style. Women wore pants (in the mainstream) for the first time ever as the female role in the workforce expanded and the nation urged women to aid in the war effort at home. Hair was shortened and the desire to exaggerated hips and bust subsided while women aimed to appear (and be) more efficient and practical.

1950s, The Hourglass

After the rise in angularity during the war-era, the full-figured woman came back into vogue. Welcome to the age of plenty. Weight-gain supplements were popular as women aimed to build their busts and hips. Elizabeth Taylor, Barbie and Playboy magazine brought the tiny-waisted yet curvy ideal to the mainstream and styles of the times such as sweetheart necklines and full skirts echoed this desired look.

1960s, Skinny Mini

One word. Twiggy. The tiny Brit has been crediting with forever altering the high-fashion and modeling industries with her doll-face and super petite frame. The clothing of the day reflected this new standard as shift dresses with loose waists and looks which flattered flatter chests and slim hips exploded in popularity. This swing from full-figured to slim is almost identical to the flip-flop from the Gibson girl to the flapper. With women aiming to shed inches around their waist-lines and flatten their bellies–Weight Watchers (founded in 1963) began.

1970s, Disco Diva

Slim stayed in–but not quite as extreme. The ideal disco diva was tall, slender and slightly busty. The athletic and big-haired Farrah Fawcett ruled the walls of every teenage boy’s bedroom with her iconic poster and 34B bust size. The ’70s chick was tall and lean–especially in the torso as synthetic fabrics like polyester and spandex were embraced by clothing producers and are far more revealing–but she also had some curves to shake on the dance floor.

1980s, SuperModel

Jane Fonda aerobics and jogging took off and for the first time, defined muscles were the feminine ideal. Fashions such as miniskirts and shoulder pads accentuated the want to be tall and toned as scrunchies and leg warmers also flew off the shelves. Tall, long-legged women like Elle MacPherson (nicknamed “The Body”–seriously) and Naomi Campbell rocked the runway and ruled the booming music video industry.

1990s, Heroin Chic

Thin was officially in. But like, super thin with bleary eyes and a cigarette between your pale fingers. Low-rise pants and crop tops became popular–and with them visible hip-bones and flat tummies with belly-button piercings. The ideal female figure included a visible ribcage and plenty of dark smudged eyeliner. Heroin use soared during the decade–hence the term “heroin chic.” Flat chests and ultra-thin limbs were back in as Kate Moss, Brittany Murphy and Natalie Portman dominated the tabloids.

2000s, Fit Girl

Britney Spears, Christina Agulera and P!nk flaunted their abs on the red carpet while Gisele Bundchen and Tyra Banks strutted their toned stuff as iconic angels. Spray tans and the desire to look athletic as hell took over–bye bye emaciated cigarette smokers. Brands such as Hollister and Abercrombie capitalized on this sun-kissed style and tracksuits as everyday wear, thanks to Juicy, became all the rage. The effects of this era can still be seen today in our fitness-obsessed culture.

2010s, Bootylicious

The “ideal” female figure has come full-circle–to the Gibson Girl. The hip-to-waist ratio must be extreme with a flat tummy and a trim waist. But the ideal backside must be, again in the words of Big Sean–colossal. To reach this often-contrasting medium, many women have turned to plastic surgery and the demand for procedures such as butt augmentation have sky-rocketed in recent years.

Celebrities such as Beyonce and the Kardashians are crediting with bringing this look to the mainstream as athletic-wear has only continued to dominate mainstream fashion with brands such as LuLu lemon and sneakers as everyday wear have taken over. Trends that have pushed this look included skin-tight dresses, pants and skirts and super-long hair to accentuate one’s feminity along with their curves.

However, everyone is different and for many, their body type is one of these “ideals.” If your bod does not happen to be “in” right now–no worries, just wait a few years for the next trend to come around. That is all these “ideals” are–just trends determined by the stars, movies, and fashion of the moment.

The mainstream look does not dictate all that is attractive or “how you should look” at all. Everyone is different and that is okay. No single body-type has reigned supreme since the beginning of time, but you know what has? Being happy with yourself.

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