“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I’m sure everyone has heard this saying, and it is true. Beauty is hard to define. Across time and culture, what is determined to be “beautiful” is different and has been in fluctuation ever since the idea of beauty first arose. So to hear people talk about the “standard of beauty” is always somewhat amusing to me. Because, when you think about it, there really is no “standard” of beauty….just what each group in a society thinks is the ideal.
I am honestly considering writing a whole series on this. Just researching beauty through time brought up so many different trends, and when I crossed cultures, it got even more complex.
For now I’ll discuss the super thin waif figure model vs. the “real woman” movement.
At some point in the late 1990’s, the general look of models changed. The waif figure began to be seen again for the first time since British model Twiggy popularized the look in the 1960’s. An article I read a couple of years ago pointed out the differences then, as illustrated by this photo of an early 1990’s runway model next to a model from the new millennium.
See the difference? The model on the left has clearly defined curves which she is flaunting. The model on the right has a straighter, more flat and rigid appearance. Both are attractive, but there is a clear difference in their look, and more and more models are trying to be the girl on the right, sometimes taking drastic measures which damage their health like taking drugs, bingeing and purging, over using laxatives, and starving themselves to lose weight. Photoshop has also contributed to the recent rise in body image issues women have been having as well. What the general public does not know is that many ads are photoshopped to the point where the size and shape of the model in the picture is not even close to what the model actually looks like. One of my favorite examples of this is Ralph Lauren ad which extremely photoshopped the model’s waist and arms to the point where she looked inhuman. (Way to create an unattainable look, Ralph Lauren. As if women don’t have enough body image issues from the media.)
In an effort to change society’s trend of praising this body shape and its unwitting support of eating disorders, the “real woman” movement was born. The real woman movement encouraged women to embrace their curves and not feel pressured to be super thin. “Real Women have curves!” they proclaim. I’m sure many of you have seen the images online that have circulated comparing some celebrities of today to Marilyn Monroe and the like. However, despite this movement’s good intentions, it has accidentally created another judgment: women without curves are not “real women”. So what about women who are naturally skinny and not curvy? What about women with health issues which cause them to have trouble putting on and keeping on weight, like Crohn’s disease? Are these women not real women? Hardcore believers of this sentiment would say their body type is not desirable, and this is also a view that is not entirely new. In the 1930’s and 40’s it was encouraged that skinny women actually GAIN weight to have the desirable curves that were seen to be sexually appealing at the time. Just look at some of these old ads for weight gain solutions. (Thanks to Ren for sharing these on her tumblr.)
So who’s right? No one. A woman with curves can be just as beautiful as a woman without curves. The important factor is being healthy. One person’s shape may not be attainable or healthy for another. Staying fit is good, but if you need to starve yourself to fit into that pair of jeans you like, something isn’t right. In the same way, thinner, more petite girls sometimes feel the pressure to augment their appearance so they feel more attractive by doing things like wearing padded bras and pants, or even going the extra step and getting plastic surgery.
I know a lot of models, and they come in all shapes and sizes. I also know a lot of beautiful girls who are not models who come in several shapes and sizes. The moment you let one group’s decision of what is ideal determine how you should look, you begin to lose yourself. You are all real women; curves or no curves. Don’t any of you dare let someone tell you otherwise, or force you to change.