It has been a question on every woman’s mind for generations and generations. What constitutes the ‘dream figure’? Is it to have that flat stomach and desired thigh gap, or is it more desirable to have effortless curves? Is it to have a bronze tan, or to have skin like snow? What is the best figure?
The truth is; it varies. In each decade, it seems to be that there has been a new pin-up, a new desire for a different figure and shape. So which one is the most popular? Will history ever repeat itself? Or will women and men never decide what constitutes the ‘dream body’?
From the 1900s-1910s, all women desired to be tall, with large hips and a large bust, as well as having pale skin. This sent off the message to a woman’s peers that she was wealthy enough to eat well, hence the full figure, and did not have to take part in outdoor labor – hence the pale skin. The perfect woman did not have to go outside; she was the angel of the kitchen, and cooked beautiful meals for her husband. There was also the belief that if a woman had a very curvaceous, ‘womanly’ figure, with a large bust and wide hips, she was more fertile, and maternal, making a perfect wife. The Gibson girl was the creation of Charles Dana Gibson, an illustrator, and was the type of woman who epitomized the ideal feminine beauty of the decade. The Gibson girl had a large bust, wide hips and a flat stomach.
By 1920, women ditched the corsets that pushed up their bust and pulled in their waists, in favor of a more boyish figure. The war was over, and after women had proved that they were more than just cooking and cleaning, they were keen to show it. Their new masculine look made them look equal to men, as well as their bobbed hair. Women in the 1920s wore dresses that didn’t pull in their waist or accentuate their breasts, instead wearing loose dresses that covered any curves and showed off their knees and their legs, highlighting their new ‘scandalous’ image; women were now smoking in public and driving cars, and life was now carefree because the war was finally over. Gloria Swanson was arguably the biggest 1920’s star, and she fitted perfectly with the masculine, cropped-hair, and looser fitting dress – ideal of the 1920’s.
Yet the boyish figure didn’t last long. Mae West, a Hollywood star of the 1930’s brought back the less outrageous desire for women to sport curves, wearing tight fitting dresses that showed off curves and waists. Women started to lose their masculinity, and revert back to their femininity in the 1930’s.
World War 2 was bound to shake up the ongoing battle of what women should aim for in terms of the best figure. During the 40’s gave women plenty of responsibility, with the men away fighting for their country. The idealistic and unattainable curves slipped out of style, and women didn’t want to be portrayed as carefree like they had after World War 1 in the 1920’s. Instead, women were all in search for that slender, yet very healthy, body. Rita Hayworth was the ideal figure, with a body that was not too different from many women’s bodies should be and were; healthy and in shape.
1950’s was a decade that was dedicated to the sex symbols; especially Marilyn Monroe. With their long legs, big busts and perfect hourglass figures, women such as Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell dominated Hollywood, and their effortless glamour and sex appeal made their bodies desirable to all men, and wanted to all women. Women in the 1950’s were starting to have a better understanding of nutrition and exercise, and therefore, despite wanting a curvaceous figure with an hourglass waist, they also wanted long legs and a smooth stomach.
However, this all changed in the year of 1960. The desperate need for an hourglass figure quickly diminished, as women found out that actually to be skinny was what men wanted, and what was most attractive. Women believed that actually the boyish look of the 1920’s was what was the perfect figure, and model Twiggy fit into the category of a tiny frame, long thin legs, angular shapes and to be completely slender. Dieting and calorie counting fell into society, as science developed, and with the development of science came another change in fashions and trends. Maternal was out, and masculinity was truly back in.
With the 1970’s came a very small change in the ideal figure. From 1950 to 1960, the definition of beauty had become a complete opposite. Now, the thinner look seemed to be set to stay. The 1970’s were a time for flower power, for experimentation with drugs, and music, a time for festivals and for road trips. Farah Fawcett was seen as the most beautiful woman of the 70’s, as she sported minimal makeup, flowing hair, an athletic body, and tanned skin. In the 1970’s, women were more natural, and healthy.
With the year of 1980 came the boom of fitness and aerobics videos, and with this new craze came a brand new, admirable body type. Nicknamed ‘hard bodies’, the face of which being Jane Fonda, women aspired to be muscular, completely toned, thin and athletic. Gone was the want for a natural looking healthy body as there had been in the carefree 70’s, as exercise was well and truly becoming something women should be doing daily, not just men.
In the 90’s, Kate Moss took over from Jane Fonda, with her tiny body, not a hint of cellulite and no traces of fat on her skinny limbs and stomach. The tan, that had once been desired, had now worn away, and Kate Moss’ pale skin, like the skin that had been so admired in the beginning of the 90th century, was back, making a full circle. Yet 90 years on, the ideal weight had halved; a large bust and large hips was certainly out of fashion and thin was in. Kate Moss famously said, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, a remark that haunted women during the 90’s.
2000-2010: a new millennium, combined with a new ideal look. Kate Moss’ angular looks and sharp features were replaced with a softer ideal, models such as Alessandra Ambrosio and the rest of the Victoria’s secret angels boasted of long flowing hair, tanned skin, and perfect figures-a large bust, yet a flat stomach, and hips yet thin legs. The beach-girl, summery look seemed to captivate women in those 10 years.
And now…It seems that to be ‘striking’, ‘unusual’, ‘gawky’, and ‘different’ are things to be celebrated. Although in the previous 10 years, the typical beauty was in fact, very typical, now models such as Cara Delevingne have showed that high fashion is the fashion. Shorter hair, bolder looks, and unfortunately, slimmer bodies, with the focus being on size zero models again. But who knows? In 10 years, it will all change again…
By Hope Supple