Ideal bodies through the decades

Georgia Dougherty, Pulse editor

The media’s concept of the ideal female and male body constantly changes and is subjective. The changing look of the desired body at different periods shows the evolution in tastes that society goes through throughout history.

THE FEMALE BODY through the years

  1. Ancient Greece (500-300 BC)

The Greeks were much more interested in the ideal male physique, surprisingly. Aristotle called the female form “a deformed male.” Female nudity depicted in sculpture and art was rare compared to males. However, the trend of the female body in Ancient Greece favored plump, full-bodied women.

  1. Italian Renaissance (1400-1700)

The ideal Renaissance body was a stark contrast to our ideal body today. The beauty of this time included full hips, large breasts and a round, voluptuous body. Today, people may have called Renaissance women “fat,” but in their time, their full figures were the height of sexiness.

  1. Victorian England (1837-1901)

The Victorian Era, under the leadership of Queen Victoria, saw the beginning of corsets designed to cinch the waist and create an hourglass figure. Corsets physically restricted their movements, which was meant to flaunt their separation from labor, showcasing their wealth. Long hair was a symbol of status and femininity, so women rarely cut their hair.

  1. Roaring ‘20s (1920s)

The right to vote, jobs from WWI, and speakeasies led to the introduction of the flapper. Flappers favored the androgynous look- flat chested, little to no curves, and a short, boyish haircut. Although women were dressing more comfortably, the ‘20s saw the beginning of a trend toward a thinner and more slender figure.

  1. Golden Age of Hollywood (1930s-1950s)

Stars like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Josephine Baker owned their hourglass figures, with curvy bodies and slim waists. Playboy magazine and Barbie were both created in this decade, echoing a tiny-waisted, large-chested ideal.

  1. Supermodel Era (1980s)

The ‘80s ushered in an era of fitness, such as jogging and aerobics, thanks to Jane Fonda. The ideal woman of this time was muscular, tall, slim and athletic. This was illustrated in supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell, who were leading pop culture through music videos and on the runway.

  1. Heroin Chic (1990s)

The exemplary female body took a turn in the 90s. Kate Moss and Winona Ryder are the most popular examples of the “heroin chic,” waif, ultra-petite and androgynous look. The gaunt and unathletic image was largely a reaction to the Amazonian, uber-fit women of the ‘80s.

  1. Today

One word: BOOTYLICIOUS. Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian contribute to the ever growing booty trend. Today, women are shown as skinny, but healthy, with large breasts and a large butt, but a flat stomach. Lots of women get plastic surgery to achieve this look; however, with the growing body positivity movement, women and men are finally embracing what their momma gave them.

THE MALE BODY through the years

  1. Ancient Greece (500-300 BC)

Male athleticism was the center of Greek culture, with any hint of weakness on the body interpreted as undesirable and effeminate. In art, men were often depicted in the nude to show off musculature and grace of the male form. In short, men had extremely high beauty standards to live up to because Greeks were more focused on the ideal male physique than the female.

  1. Italian Renaissance (1400-1700)

Leonardo Da Vinci‘s drawing of the Vitruvian Man laid out how the ideal male body should look. Again, men had high standards. There was no fat or skinny; men were supposed to embody perfect proportions. Their bodies were also supposed to represent the connection between heaven and Earth- easy right?

  1. The Gilded Age (1800-1900s)

The Gilded Age is similar to the “dad bod” trend happening today. Fat men were in because weight meant wealth. If you were overweight, it signified how you had enough money to avoid manual labor and to eat. There were even Fat Men’s Clubs across the country, where you had to be at least 200 pounds to join- fat men were seriously fashionable.

  1. Hollywood (1920s)

Shortly after the age of Fat Men’s Clubs, slim figures became all the rage. Men were being put in front of the camera in Hollywood and directors preferred actors with leaner frames. Men also had physically demanding roles, then, such as sword fighting and horseback riding, so slimming down was necessary for their jobs.

  1. The Executive Look (1950-’60s)

Post war and depression, men were less focused on looking strong and more focused on looking big. Suit jackets and overcoats had large boxy shoulders and a looser fit to emphasize broad shoulders, a tall build and trim waist. Stylish men like Sean Connery were becoming fashionable with their clean, buttoned-up style.

  1. Androgyny (1970s)

From the corporate trend emerged an androgynous counter culture. David Bowie and Mick Jagger played with looks that were both masculine and feminine. Rockstars with long hair and skinny bodies set the trend in bell bottoms, jumpsuits, and high waisted pants.

  1. Muscle Men (1980s)

A stark contrast to the ‘70s, ‘80s men hit the gym to reach a more hyper-masculine, gym-built body. Bodybuilding went mainstream and action stars like like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger rocked huge muscles. The ‘80s embraced a wave of heightened masculinity.

  1. Today

A lean yet still muscular look is in style today, as shown by actors Zac Efron and Liam Hemsworth. The athletic and cut look that men are supposed to encapsulate may be the cause of rising male body image issues. However, the “dad bod” is on the rise. People are starting to appreciate the middle-aged man body. Regardless, the ideal male body will continue to transform, and who knows what will be in favor next.

Sources: and