For centuries the female body shape has been a trend as changeable as music taste or a seasonal wardrobe. With the rise of feminism came a crisis of femininity which only further exacerbated the need for an ‘ideal woman’. This coupled with the age of the celebrity has born an unhealthy obsession amongst young girls, as the media perpetually endeavours to alter their mind set in a contradictory fashion and often to the detriment of their health and lifestyle.
From the 17th to the early 19th centuries, buxom women (such as Botticelli’s Venus) were seen as desirable as they were believed to be healthier and more suitable for child bearing. The late 19th century brought about a desire for the hourglass figure by Victorians; women were crammed into corsets so tight that their organs shifted, ribs cracked and feinting spells were not uncommon. On the other hand, the 20th century was a mixed bag of ‘perfect’ body shapes ranging from the 1920s’ flapper to the 1950s’ curves of Marilyn Monroe to the svelte, sport driven physique that powered women from the 1960s-1980s.
Today’s ideal is in a constant state of flux. Women are able to pick up a magazine charting one desirability that is housed next to another with entirely different views. Although changeable, there was a certain consistency regarding female body shapes once. Yet now, it’s uncertain what’s expected or believed by wider society. In a model world these social constructs would be cast aside in favour of personal preferences but the perceived view of others is too fundamental to our lifestyles.
Such uncertainty has resulted in large scale global issues with eating disorders, body dysmorphia and even addictions to plastic surgery; anything to make women look at their ‘best’. Social media is also prevalent in the battle of the body shapes. Facebook, for instance, has groups dedicated both to the praise of curvy and skinny women. Each group belittles the attributes of the other to benefit themselves. Why is it necessary to pit women against each other over something as personal as body shape? It appears only to build confidence through bullying and put-downs rather than appreciation of one’s self.
What society should be telling women is that so long as you are healthy, any body shape goes; the media shouldn’t be sending out conflicting messages and eating disorders/ plastic surgery should not be considered quick fix solutions. Girls should be taught body confidence as a matter of primary socialisation. The fact children grow up too fast and surrounded by media saturation means that many of their morals, values and beliefs are fed to them wrongly by those with no right to do so.
However, if women have confidence in themselves this is something they will pass on to their children. Such mass problems like body shape trends should be tackled at a micro level as well as a macro level. Change each individual’s mind set and a societal change will eventually occur. With Governments, celebrities like Gok Wan and companies like Dove backing a plethora of campaigns to promote such causes it’s possible that change is already slowly occurring. It’s a task that will take time, money and effort but a task that is worth doing nonetheless because the results will be priceless.