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Home General Health BODY SIZE changing through the decades

BODY SIZE changing through the decades

The mid-1950s

The 1950s was the era of the Hourglass. The model body in the 1950s was the slim waist, wide hips and big bust type; this was symbolized by the voluptuous celebrity actresses of the time like Elizabeth Taylor (36-21-36), Marylin Munroe (35-22-35), and Grace Kelly (34-24-35).  Following the conclusion of World War II, the men who returned home reclaimed their jobs, and as women returned to their homes, they desired to regain their femininity. As society tried to move on from the war, separation of gender roles returned, and part of women’s roles was to look good for their husbands or get better suitors; this brought about an obsession with how women looked, and they turned to the use of corsets and girdles to enhance their curves to conform to the trendy hourglass figure. Ads targeting skinny women were popular at the time as many companies were selling them weight gain pills. Several pin-ups were launched like the Playboy magazine and Barbie as society came to idolize the soft woman with well-defined sexuality.

The mid-1960s

The 1960s was an age of revolution where many forms of activism arose, and many societal ideals changed. It was the decade that ushered in feminism and the hippie movement. Many women escaped the domestic bubble to pursue education as well as careers in the corporate world. The ideal body shifted from the ultra-feminine or curvaceous trend of the 50s; many young women now favoured a super-thin, streamlined and girly body type. Famous models like Lesley Lawson, popularly known as Twiggy (31-23-32) and Jean Shrimpton (33-22-35), were the new ideal. Jackie Kennedy (33-24-33) was also an important fashion icon. Women became obsessed with staying thin, and their fashion choices were dictated by the widely accepted silhouette, which was straight, grooved and A-line.

The mid-1970s

The obsession with the Twiggy girl shape carried on into the 1970s. The feminist and hippie movements were in full force, and more and more women were breaking free from the social paradigm of the soft, curvy housewife. These social ideals shaped women’s lifestyles. Anorexia Nervosa started gaining recognition in this decade as many women took to extreme food-cutting habits and diet pills to keep their slender statures. A study in the 2012 journal Current Psychiatry reports that the incidence of extreme Anorexia Nervosa leading to hospitalization rose significantly in the 60s and 70s until it reached a plateau [1].

Actress Karen Carpenter lost her life after to Anorexia related complications after many years of extreme dieting regimes to lose weight. Some of the fashion icons that embodied this decade’s silhouette were Bianca Jagger, Farrah Fawcett, and Jacquelin Bisset.

The mid-1980s 

The 80s ushered in the age of the supermodel. The emphasis on thin bodies continued, but athleticism and fitness were added to what was considered the perfect shape for women. Lean muscles on a toned body were desirable for women, yet they still had to keep under a certain weight. Fitness training and aerobics became a norm for women. Eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa also increased in this decade as the media fixation on women’s bodies was stronger than ever. New Supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Brooke Shields began to rise. The pressure on women to emulate these supermodels was higher than ever in this decade.

The mid-1990s

The thin body phenomenon also persisted through the 1990s. However, there was some divergence in the choices of body type for women as the trends were influenced by several models at the time. Baywatch star Pamela Anderson was an icon of women who were thin-bodied but had large breasts. Fashion also significantly featured the Kate Moss body type, called the “waif” look – a youthful look characterized by an ultra-thin and bony appearance.

Meanwhile, the slim-thick, athletic look of supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Elle Macpherson was still in vogue as well. At this time, having large buttocks and thick thighs were always considered as being overweight. Only skinny girls were considered as hot.

Anorexia Nervosa became an even bigger issue in this era. A study in Current Psychiatry reports that Anorexia Nervosa was responsible for the highest rate of mortality among all mental disorders during the 90s [2],

The mid-2000s

The diversification of ideal body types increased in popularity in the 2000s. Although the culture of depicting women’ s sexuality by the media kept growing, more women were learning to embrace their body types, and this paved the way for other body types apart from the long-enduring ultra-thin to find a place in mainstream media. The media also celebrated female artists like Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez with their curvy bodies. Popular TV show Keeping up with the Kardashians also started airing in 2007, and the Kardashian sisters’ bodies also became a common talking point in the beauty world, and they frequently featured in celebrity magazines; there widely appreciated curvy body also helped bring the classical hourglass body back to mainstream media. This decade saw a wave of cosmetic surgery as many women desired to have bigger breasts, butts and thighs, and also flat stomach.

Another ideal body was the sporty type with a more masculine look, tight pelvis and shoulders, but large breasts made famous by Serena Williams and other athletes. There was also the supermodel barbie type with thin bodies, long legs, but big breasts like Angelina Jolie and Tyra Banks.

The mid-2010s

The diversification of the ideal body type, which began in the 2000s, continued in this decade. The curvaceous woman of the 1950s is now entirely accepted again. More and more women were encouraged to be happy with how their body really looks like. However, there was still a massive obsession with celebrities and their bodies and the depiction of ideal body types in the media and fashion. The advent of social media has really helped real women to celebrate various body types, although social media also creates a negative image of some body types. Women of various body types still showcase their bodies and find appreciation on social media as it allows for different trends in fashion to easily grow online.

In 2015, Robin Lawley was the first plus-size model to appear in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue [3].

In 2016, toy manufacturing company Mattel launched a line of Barbie dolls depicting various body types. Christian Soriano also featured five plus-size models during his New York Fashion Week show.

In 2017, Project Runway included models up to size 22 for the first time in their history. The main ideal body categories in this decade can be identified as follows:

  • The Katie Moss “waif” look
  • Classic Hourglass like Kim Kardashian and Christina Hendricks
  • Athletic tight bodies like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova
  • Thin body but large breasts like Angelina Jolie and Katy Perry
  • Curvy and big butts like Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez
  • Tall, with long thin legs like Giselle Bundchen and Heidi Klum

It’s become much easier to transform into an ideal body type of choice in this decade with advancements in diet and fitness sciences. The use of weight pills is also rampant in this decade, and cosmetic surgery is now a common option.

Future, Natural look.

The ideal body shape has always been changing over the decades, and it is majorly influenced by events and trends in fashion at a particular point in time. Different types of body types have been in vogue over the years, and some cancelled ones have made a comeback, like the hourglass figure. Social media is a significant factor for the ideal body types of the future; it has allowed the bodies of everyday people to be idealised, rather than the supermodels alone. Curvy women can keep posting pictures of themselves online to much acclaim, ensuring that they stay in vogue.

Moreover, as more and more women start feeling good about their bodies, idealisation may fizzle out when everybody type has representation in the media, and every woman can express her body online to people who appreciate her.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3409365/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3409365/

[3] https://edition.cnn.com/2015/02/05/entertainment/feat-sports-illustrated-plus-size-models/index.html

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