Body image has been something that has affected not only women but men, since the beginning of time. Vanity is probably one of the hardest of all to break when it comes to how a person wants to be viewed by others, or how they wish to view themselves. Throughout time, the world has placed definition upon what beauty is.
Shakespeare himself wrote his thoughts about beauty in “Love’s Labour Lost”, saying; “Beauty is bought by judgment of the eye”. Benjamin Franklin also said something similar when writing about beauty. He said; “Beauty, like supreme dominion, is but supported by opinion”. But it was Margaret Wolfe Hungerford who coined the most famous saying of them all when she said; “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. How much of this is true?
Looking at beauty throughout the changing times, we see that there have been many different appearances that fell under society’s definition of beauty standards. In ancient times, a woman was thought to be beautiful if she had more of a voluptuous figure. Even women who had a body that went beyond voluptuous and was perhaps more on the obese side, were considered to be greatly attractive. Why?
In ancient times during the peak of the civilizations of Mesopotamia and Babylon, the goddess was an important figure for the people. It wasn’t a time when religion was based upon monotheism with only a male God and male angels. In fact, there had been an entire pantheon for many cultures, where they all worshiped families of gods and goddesses. The goddess was a representation of fertility, love, beauty, and abundance. When making figurines or sculptures of their goddess, they would often depict her as being overweight.
This was a symbol of reproduction.
After a woman has had many children, her belly often protrudes, rounding out and hanging over. The breasts also become engorged with milk. They become enlarged, and rounded. While breast-feeding, the milk empties and the breasts sag down a bit. A little later on, the body seems to appear as a woman with a rounded belly and large sagging breasts. To men, any woman that had a body as such even before having children, showed signs of potential fertility. They believed that she would produce many children because her body was built to carry many children in that state.
In the Greco Roman period, the goddess changed form. With figures like Athena and Aphrodite, they started to take on a different appearance. They became more muscular looking to show that as goddesses, they had strength like any male. Similar to the earlier goddesses, the statues were made with hips that were widened, and the bellies slightly protruded. This represented fertility and creation just the same. However, they also had muscle which showed that even though they were able to produce children well, that they were fit, and strong to take on any battle or task needed.
As time went by, the middle ages had changed fashion quite a bit. The term “civilized” had become relevant. As the Roman Catholic Church became a great influence all over the world, women were asked to dress differently. They followed the strict dress codes of covering up their chests and neck areas. They also wore very long dresses with layers of skirts underneath. Both men and women wore a schert, kirtles, chemise, and under tunics. Women also were forbidden to show their hair and had to keep it pinned up underneath of escoffions, hooded-gables, or a headdress that were a huge part of medieval fashion.
Queen Elizabeth I, had changed fashion just a little by making things a little bit bigger and flashier. Looking at some of her portraits, you’ll see that her collars were sometimes bigger than her dresses. Hair also got bigger, and headdresses smaller.
When looking at other places in the world, hair was treated much like an ornament. The tang dynasty in China had some of the most elaborate hairstyles.
The renaissance period had redefined beauty as well. The bigger the better!. Women started to show a little more of their cleavage and would often overly decorate themselves with dresses that sometimes they couldn’t even fit through the door. Marie Antoinette would wear dresses that would boost up her cleavage, with a corset that would make her waist extremely tiny. The bottom of the dress would be extremely large with embroidery and beautiful patterns. She would often make her face porcelain white with powders, and she used bright red lipsticks. Her hair would often be done up in a decorative fashion that was something like a centerpiece. There were even times when she had a hairstylist that came and decorated her hair to look much like a ship. The Georgian period was also very similar to that of the renaissance.
It wasn’t until the Victorian ages came about, that the “stiff” fashion like that of the medieval times had come back around. It was very much like a combination of the medieval and renaissance periods where society started introducing shirts that buttoned up to the neck again, and with tight corsets to trim their waists. A petticoat was added underneath to give the illusion of an hourglass figure and a large rump. The Gibson hairstyle was all the rage!
With hair that was big, but not quite as big as Marie-Antoinette’s, and a more civilized fashion that covered the women up like the medieval times, it seemed like they had found a new way to dress that compromise with both of those time periods.
Traveling through time a little bit further, the 1950’s and 60’s presented women with a whole new look. They often wore pencil or poodle skirts that came well below the knee, and a blouse that also covered them up well. Hair became more simple then. Trousers were even introduced for everyday wear, when it came to women’s fashion.
After the Vietnam war, things became a little bit more free. In the 1970’s women started to wear more colorful attire, adding pants, and shirts without a bra underneath for sex appeal. Doing away with the bra was not only for fashion, but it was used as a statement. Women were tired of having to follow societies guidelines. There had been an entire protest around that time where women burned their bras to show that they weren’t going to be suppressed anymore. Before that, they hadn’t even been given their rights to work, or vote until 1920. It had only been a few decades later that they decided that they didn’t have to be strapped down with uncomfortable undergarments either. This was more of a statement that women had the right to freedom. For the women that didn’t burn their bras, they simply went without one. When the 1970s came after the Vietnam war, the style was still trending around the world. Figures like Farrah Fawcett promoted the trend in Hollywood. For celebrities, they used it to induce the idea of sex appeal rather than freedom.
Hairstyles changed too. For women the trend was to keep their hair was either chin length or shoulder length, with feathered layers in it.
In the 1980’s, women had taken on a new style that combined a little bit of the previous two decades. Clothing had a little bit more of a masculine twist to it. Women wore jeans and any type of shirt that they really felt comfortable in. It was a decade full of a mixture of styles including that of the punk scene. For many, hair was worn large with teased curls. The bob was also a popular hair style.
When the 1990’s came about, it was all about vibrant colors and “less is more”. For everyday streetwear, fashion had more of a laid-back appeal. Hair became styled a little bit more on the sleeker side, or many still rocked the big curly hair that they had worn back in the 1980’s.
It became a very slow evolution from there on out until after the new millennia.
Looking at beauty today, fashion really defines what beauty is all about. We see the clothing is becoming less and less. Fashion has taken on more of a futuristic look, and hair has adopted a lot of vibrant colors.
But what about beauty itself?
For women, style and fashion are what make them feel beautiful. But when we look at the idea of what society deems as being beautiful, we look at the different body images, hair colors, etc. that society has adopted as being beautiful throughout the changing trends of time.
Looking at the middle ages up until the Victorian period, women that were in the middle of being thin and a tad bit curvy, were ones that were considered to be exceptionally pretty. They weren’t overweight, but they weren’t bony either. Men liked this on women because it showed that they were modest eaters and well mannered. However, they weren’t overly thin, which also gave men the idea that they were fertile and of child bearing ability.
The voluptuous figure came back in society’s definition of beauty, throughout the Renaissance until the Victorian age. Women wore the extremely large skirts of the Renaissance, or the puffy petticoats of the Victorian period to give the illusion that they had hourglass shapes. They also wore a corset that boosted up the breasts, and made it look as if they had voluptuous breasts as well. It seems as if men found the curvier figures more attractive. Even the blonde bombshells of Hollywood from the 1930’s into the 1950’s, had more of a voluptuous shape.
When passing into the late 1950’s through the 1990’s, The extremely thin physique was considered to be beautiful on women by society. Models throughout those periods of time were often extremely small framed. Some of them even suffered from eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia all in the name of trying to get that extra teeny tiny body.
The new millennia brought in the more curvier figures once again. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian started to promote the hourglass figure once again. This started a huge trend of women all around the world wanting to get Brazilian butt lifts in order to be considered just as beautiful. We see the more voluptuous shape and larger backsides all throughout Hollywood with celebrities like Beyoncé, JLo, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Iggy Azalea, and many of the Kardashian sisters alongside Kim. Men have not kept it much of a secret, that they seem to prefer this body type. Rappers in the hip-hop industry often mention women in their music, that have something similar in shape. But when we look at how things are beginning to change once again, is this really the preferred body type by everyone?
From the beginning of time it seems that the more voluptuous figure was more attractive in the eyes of men, what do women really want for themselves? Do women want to be extremely tiny, where they have to excessively worry about their weight in order to be thin enough? Or do they want to have a little more meat on their bones? Do either body types really define whether a person is truly beautiful or not? Is beauty defined by society or “the beholder”?
I conducted a small survey in a few public places, where I discovered what women really prefer when it comes to their body image. I asked women at the gym, walking around the shopping mall, and at the grocery store. In total I asked about 240 different women. I made sure that I asked the number of women in each place. That’s about 80 women in each one of those places. Here are the results:
At the gym: 60% of the women who were asked, all had said that they preferred a body type where they could have a slender waist, and toned muscles that kept them petite with a little bit more of a backside.
At the Mall: 57% of the women replied that they wanted a body that resembled that of either Kim Kardashian or Beyoncé.
At the Grocery Store: 72% of the women replied that they did not care what their body types look like as long as they were emotionally happy in their life.
Here are the reasons that I chose the three locations that I did, to conduct my survey. The Mall has stores in it with popular trends and fashion. The crowd shopping there consists more of a younger crowd who follow the trends, or women who are trying to keep up with them. At the gym, the women are more knowledgeable that they have to stick with their own body type and work out according to their own unique physiques. While the grocery store has many people of many different ages shopping there, this is the time it consists of more housewives and moms. The three locations gave me more of an idea according to age groups and scenes in society, as to what women see in their own definitions of what the perfect body type is.
My conclusion is, for the majority they care about what society defines as being beautiful because they want to appear as being more beautiful to those who see them. If society says that a certain body type or image is attractive, then that is what most women are going to strive for.
If a person didn’t have to worry about what other people thought of them, they would perhaps want to stay fit according to their own body type. Or, they would just be content with how they look. The overall preferred body image throughout time seems to be that of the more curvy and voluptuous figure. This has been deemed as beautiful, many times throughout many different eras. However, every body is built differently and if a person isn’t voluptuous naturally, that doesn’t mean that they’re not beautiful too. Whether a person is overweight, underweight, in the middle and in between… every person is beautiful according to heaven.
Throughout my research for this small study, I have found that there are so many different factors that defined beauty for society. But it is true also, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder as well. There have been many times that someone may have not found somebody physically attractive at first, spent time getting to know them, and eventually became attracted to them. What they may not have seen in the person at first, started to become beautiful to them as they get closer to the person more and more.
For men, they like all different things. It really has a lot to do with the different preferences out there. Some have told me that they like blondes more than brunettes and vice versa. There are others who have told me that they prefer an overweight woman over a skinny woman. I’ve also had men tell me that they prefer their women lean. I’ve even heard some men say that they like women with muscle. Perhaps it’s true that beauty is found through fashion and trend, in the definitions and standards set by society but that beauty is also in the eye of the beholder as well too. What an amazing thing.
These days though, it seems that many different body types are being promoted as beautiful. I think it’s a beautiful thing that women of all different shapes and sizes are being featured in ads and commercials for fashion. Hopefully this will give everyone the correct outlook, that beauty truly is skin deep. The best body image overall is one that fits you for who you are uniquely, and is at its very best quality of health for your overall well-being. Remember that people can be extremely good looking but ugly on the inside and then it doesn’t really matter how much superficial beauty they have on the outside. Do what’s best always for yourself within, and on the outside. Don’t follow the beauty standards of today, but your own.
My favorite quote of all time was by William Shakespeare himself who said, “This above all things, to thine own self be true”.