From Cleopatra to Marilyn Monroe to Cardi B and Awkwafina – clearly, beauty and what defines it has gone through various phases as the sands of time have fallen.
The ideal female body type has undergone countless iterations throughout history. Just look at old Renaissance-era paintings, and you’ll notice that back then, artists preferred featuring ladies who were a bit curvier and had a little motr meat on their bones. Flash forward to the late 90s and early 2000s, and suddenly thin was in – so much so, that the term “heroin chic” was even coined to describe someone who was so thin and emaciated looking that it almost appeared as if they were suffering some sort of horrific addiction. Did people find that look attractive? Yes. Apparently, they did.
Thankfully today, the world has adopted a much more body-positive way of looking at beauty. Gone are the days when promoting eating disorders was considered to be in vogue. Sorry Tumblr, that’s one trend that can stay in the graveyard of Web 1.0!
Just look at sexy plus-sized stars like Lizzo and Tess Holiday! Sure, some people will always insist on models and celebrities being slim and slender, but fortunately for young impressionable women everywhere who already have enough on their plates to deal with, being pencil-thin is no longer considered be the only way to be attractive.
The so-called “perfect” female body type also varies wildly depending on the locale. Throughout the world, there are numerous different beauty standards for women. Culture and societal standards of beauty range drastically from one nation to another. You can’t expect someone from Japan, for example, to hold the same beauty standards as someone who is from someplace like Ethiopia or Lithuania. Granted, the internet has made it so that more homogeneous ways of looking at beauty are beginning to become more pervasive, but even so, there is still a fairly diverse scope of beauty standards that can be discovered when traversing the globe.
If you’re a fan of beautiful women – and really, who isn’t – then join Facts Verse as we take a closer look at how the ‘perfect female body type’ has evolved over time. We’ll take a little journey back to ancient times to see what our ancestors considered to be beautiful before zooming through the millennia to highlight how those standards have changed alongside the cornucopia of other advancements that humankind has made over the years.
Women who lived back in ancient Egypt were given a ton of freedoms that they wouldn’t enjoy again for thousands of years. Similarly to today, Ancient Egyptian society was very sex-positive. Premarital sex was commonplace and nothing to be ashamed of. Women could own property without asking their husband’s permission, and they were also permitted to initiate divorce without getting publicly shamed. Hell, women could even hold lofty, regal titles like Pharaoh! Obviously, the ancient Egyptians had a lot a going for them. Sure, they had the pyramids, but they also had style!
During this era of antiquity, Egyptian women often rocked braided hair. Braids were meant to symmetrically frame the face. They would also wear thick black kohl around their eyes to increase contrast and draw focus. Beautiful women were typically depicted as being slender with high waists and narrow shoulders, but in some ancient Egyptian art, you’ll note that women were often shown as being lovably curvaceous as well.
Aristotle once referred to the female form as being like ‘a deformed male’. Yeah….we’ll just let that one sink in for a second.
Anyway, ancient Greece was a fairly male-centric and misogynistic realm. The ancient Greeks were more interested in idolizing the male physique than the female one. That meant that the men of this era, rather than the women, were the ones who had to live up to impossibly high beauty standards tied to notions of bodily perfection.
What made this particularly cringy was the fact that women ended up getting body-shamed on the regular for not looking more like their male counterparts.
As anyone knows who has ever been to an art museum, nudity was fairly commonplace in ancient Greek society. Even so, sculptures and paintings of women were often covered up with ancient forms censorships – i.e. grape leaves and motifs.
It’s generally believed that the first notable female nude sculpture in Classical Greek society was Aphrodite of Cnidus. That particular artistic expression shows us that the Ancient Greeks valued women that were full-figured and plump. Apparently though, when it came to men, size didn’t matter much back then. Or maybe, they just hadn’t invented the eggplant emoji yet. Who knows.
Since ancient times, Chinese society has been relentlessly patriarchal. As such, women’s rights have historically been seriously impeded throughout Chinese history. Their roles within society have also largely been limited to nurturing and domestic ones.
During the Han Dynasty era of Chinese history, female beauty standards were meant to celebrate dainty, delicate, slim bodies that radiated with an inner glow. Women were supposed to have pale complexions, long jet-black hair, lush red lips, china-white teeth, and a graceful stride. On top of all that, it was expected for women’s feet to be small. This is precisely wherethe painful and damaging practice of feet binding came from. These standards would remain an integral part of Chinese representations of beauty for many hundreds of years to come.
Back during the 15 to 18th centuries, Italy was a very Catholic and patriarchal society. Women were supposed to be the very embodiment of purity and virtue. Out and about, they were often kept separate from men. This divide often even extended to the home.
A woman’s value was affixed to her relationship with men, be it God, her husband, or her father. A woman’s behavior and looks were considered to be a direct reflection of her husband’s social status.
As far as physical beauty went, Women back during this period in Italian history were especially lauded if they had a more rounded body. This meant features like large breasts, and big hips were greatly sought after.
Women were also considered to be particularly attractive if they possessed features like pale skin, strong cheekbones, high foreheads, strawberry blond hair, and dark brown eyes.
This era of English history was so named because it was related to the length of time of Queen Victoria’s reign. Victoria was, without question, the most influential female figure of her time. She was a young queen who got married and had children at very young age as well.
Family and motherhood were greatly prized in Victorian society. This no doubt was a direct result of the fact that the Queen embodied these values.
As far as fashion went, styles were highly influenced by women’s motherly role in Victorian society. Females often wore tight corsets that were as constricting as possible. This helped created the classic ‘hourglass’ figure that you’re probably pretty familiar with.
If you’ve ever worn a corset before, then you know already just how restrictive they can be. They restrain their wearer’s range of motions significantly, but this only further exhibited the idea that women were meant to be kept separate from physical labor. That was a man’s job after all.
Women in Victorian England also commonly wore their hair long. This was yet another symbol of their femininity.
The Roaring 20s
In 1920, women in the US were finally given the right to vote. This landmark decision set the tone of the entire decade. The ’20s were all about freedom. The world had just gone through quite the traumatic affair with the first world war, and the industrial revolution meant that just about every aspect of society was in a state of flux.
Women who had sought out employment during World War I desired to keep working after discovering just how empowering holding down a job and being independent could be. Prohibition led to illicit speakeasies popping up all over the place. Jazz, big band, foxtrot, and waltz music meant that everyone had a lot to tap their toes to. Then you had the rise of talkies and dances like the Charleston. All of these elements convened to give rise to flapper culture.
It was incredibly popular for women to embrace a more androgynous look. They downplayed their waists and wore bras that flattened their chests. Simply put, boyish, curve-free beauty was all the rage in the 1920s.
Hollywood’s Golden Age
The Golden Age Of Hollywood is usually defined as the era between the 1930s and ’50s. Throughout this period, the restrictive Hays Code was in full effect. This censorship model established strict moral parameters that defined what was considered to be appropriate and inappropriate in films. The code effectively limited what sorts of roles were available to women. For the first time in history, tt created an almost universal idealized version of what women were supposed to be. Throughout the world, the same beauty standards could be seen in just about every corner of the globe.
Around this time film, stars like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor flaunted slimmer waistlines and curvier bodies.
The women’s liberation movement of the 1960s led to more women entering the workplace. It also gave them access to things like birth control, which resulted in a much more sex-positive culture. This was also the time that saw a great rise in feminism and feminist authors.
Swinging London greatly influenced the western world during this decade. It helped popularize fashion trends like A-Line shapes and miniskirts. Perhaps the best example of this kind of fashion was modeled by English model, actress, and singer Twiggy whose slim frame became the model of the ideal female body type at the time. In a little under a decade, out went full and curvy, and in came tall and thin.
Jane Fonda was the epitome of female beauty in the 80s. She helped create an aerobics fad that made women everywhere want to become fit. Supermodel stars like Jerry Hall, Brooke Shields, and Cindy Crawford became the templates of female beauty standards for the decade. They were all slim, tall, cut, and voluptuous. Unfortunately, this era also a steady increase in people dealing with eating disorders.
Speaking of eating disorders, the 1990s weren’t only known for slap bracelets, pogs, and grunge music. Abandoning the materialism and fitness fads of the 80s, models like Kate Moss helped usher in a new era of beauty standards that glorified an aesthetic that embraced women who looked tall, thin, withdrawn, and pasty pale. Incidentally, heroin use became a significant problem during this time – so much so that former President Bill Clinton even commented on the trend in a speech that he delivered in 1997.
The Postmodern Era
Women of the modern era have been lambasted with every kind of beauty standard and attractiveness requirement imaginable. Ladies are still generally expected to be skinny – although, as we discussed in the intro, that expectation is beginning to fade somewhat – but they’re also encouraged to be healthy.
Large breasts and apple-shaped butts are still in vogue, but women are also normally expected to have flat stomachs. To meet these impossible-to-reach beauty goals, many women of the modern era have resorted to going under the knife in an attempt to look more like an Instagram filter.
Botox, breast augmentation, butt lifts, and a hoard of new cosmetic procedures have created a lucrative market that’s based solely on vanity and exploiting insecurities. Some studies have even shown that the rise of selfies has been a significant reason why plastic surgery has experienced such a boom in recent years. Fortunately, body positivity is something that is discussed heavily these days. Hopefully, in a few years, female beauty standards will be a lot less damaging to a young, impressionable person’s psyche.
With that, we’ll go ahead and wrap up this video. But before you move on to watching another one of our facts-packed videos, take a moment to share some of your thoughts on female beauty standards in the comments.
Which era do you think was the healthiest for women in terms of beauty standards? And do you think that society is moving in the right or wrong direction currently when it comes to the way beauty is depicted?