Kristina L. Berns

Mrs. Bowman

English 10

3 Dec. 2002

The Ideal Woman Throughout the Years



          Throughout the century, the ideal image of a woman has changed dramatically.  What is worse, what girls do to achieve this image can be physically and mentally damaging.  The image has changed: from Marilyn Monroe in the 1950’s, who was voluptuous and a size 14 to Kate Moss in the 1990’s, who was 5’9, and weighed a mere 100 pounds (Lague1).
           In order to be properly informed about how a woman’s image has changed, one must begin prior to the 1800’s.  During the 1700’s, the ideal woman was at least 170 pounds.  Any woman that was not of this size was deemed too thin and was usually not popular with the opposite sex.  Many believed that a heavier woman was healthier, and heavier woman were better able to perform sexually (Brugberg-Jacobs 3).  Being overweight during these times also showed that a person acquired wealth and could afford to eat large amounts.
          In modern times, women feel it necessary to be tan.  That was not so until about this last century.  Prior to the1800’s, many felt that women of stature should spend as little time outdoors as possible.  Only laborers, or serfs often had tan skin.  Women preferred to have pale skin because it showed that they spent little time outdoors laboring.  Also, women were expected to have small, dainty hands and feet.  Woman who did not were thought to be masculine  (Bumberg-Jacobs 4).
          During the 1800’s, mothers and daughters a like cinched themselves into corsets  (Brumberg-Jacobs 17).  Corsets were a type of bodysuit that were laced up in the back.  The purpose of a corset was to enhance a woman’s breasts and hips, while at the same time making her waist as small as physically possible.  Women began wearing corsets at a very young age.  Girls began wearing corsets before adolescence to pass through their childhood safely.  During a girl’s adolescence, they wore a corset to blossom with unresisted development.  By wearing a corset in these delicate stages, it was believed that she would arrive into womanhood with a perfect figure. Although the corset enhanced a woman’s figure, it had many dangers  (Brumberg-Jacob 97).  The corset was responsible for withered muscles, broken ribs, and atrophied organs. Despite this, women continued to wear corsets until about the 1920’s.
          During the early 1900’s, women were introduced to the "Gibson Girl" look.  She was considered to be an ideal beauty.  She had a swayed back and an hourglass figure of accentuated hips and breasts, which was made by a tight corset.  For the first time, the skirt length was shortened.  Women exposed their ankles, and soon legs became one of the focus points on a woman’s body (Bowen-Woodward 13).
          The 1920’s brought many changes in women’s fashion.  Many women began cutting their long hair into bobs.  There was also an introduction of a hairless body.  The new, modern image required a woman to have hairless legs and underarms.  To achieve this, women began to shave and use other sorts of depilatories.  Cosmetics also became acceptable among young women.  Makeup such as powder, lipstick, and eyebrow pencils were very common among young women.  Cosmetics were formally deemed inappropriate for ‘nice’ young women  (Bowen-Jacobs 27).
          During the 1920’s, the skirt was shortened even more.  It was now acceptable for a girl’s ankles, calves, and even a glimpse of thigh to be showing.  A new dress called the Flapper was also introduced.  The Flapper was loose fitting and did not require a corset.  In fact, no breasts or hips were required during the entire era.  Binding bras were introduced to women who had larger breasts and wished to have a flatter chest.  A new-boyish-no-hips look became very popular.  During this time, home scales were introduced.  Many women began to worry about their weight, and slimming (now called dieting) became popular among women.
          The 1930’s and 1940’s did not bring many changes to what the ideal woman was supposed to look like.  Fashions, of course, changed but not dramatically.  There was one event that brought a change to many beaches.  The first two-piece swimming suits were introduced to young girls.  The suits were modest, but still considered provocative by some adults.
          The ideal woman’s image changed dramatically in the 1950’s, mainly due to the fame of one woman: Marilyn Monroe.  She was an actress, a sex symbol, and had a very voluptuous body.  She had full hips, round, pointed breasts, and a cinched waist.  She also had long legs that were shown by her short dresses.  At the time, she was considered to be a perfect size 14 (Bowen-Woodward13).
          Although Marilyn Monroe was definitely not like any models today, being severely overweight was still taboo.  Being ‘fat’ was considered to be a physiological problem.  Young girls who were overweight were offered ‘slenderizing’ to solve this problem.  Acne was also considered to be a physiological problem.  Many companies began selling skin products that promised girls clear skin and popularity.  During the 1950’s, there was also an explosion of special clothing, designed mainly for teens.  Because many girls wanted to be voluptuous like Marilyn Monroe, the most common sizes were between 10 and 16 (Brumberg-Jacobs 35).
          The 1960’s brought a change in the opposite direction for a woman’s image.  In 1966, a British teenager named Twiggy appeared on the cover of a popular magazine.  Twiggy received her nickname from classmates because they considered her too skinny.  They had reason to believe this, Twiggy was 5’7 and weighed a mere 92 pounds!  Twiggy’s body was the opposite of voluptuous Marilyn Monroe.  Twiggy had a flat chest, no hips, and what was called a boyish figure.  Twiggy’s first appearance brought many mixed thoughts.  Many girls felt an obligation to diet when they first saw her.  Doctors noticed that upon her appearance, there was a minor wave of eating disorders (Bowen-Woodward 13).
 Besides Twiggy’s appearance on the runway, there were more changes that effected women during the 1960’s.  Skirts were thought to be out-dated and replaced by blue jeans.  Prior to the 1960’s, jeans were thought to be inappropriate for young ladies to wear.  Traditional blouses were also out-dated; blouses were replaced with form fitting, revealing T-shirts (Brumberg Jacobs 97).
          In the 1970’s, women’s image changed again, but this time less dramatically.  A woman was to be very thin, but have breasts and some hips.  A 1976 survey showed that an estimated 1% of all college and high school girls had bulimia or anorexia (Schneider 8).  Bra tops and low slung shorts also became popular.  These sort of fashions required a very thin body, and showed America’s increase tolerance for extremely thin bodies.  These more provocative fashions came with Women’s Civil Rights movement and the release of the Birth Control Pill  (Bowen- Woodward 13).
          The 1980’s is usually marked to the beginning of Fat-Phobia.  It was also the beginning of the term "thunder thighs."  Men envisioned women with perfectly-sculpted thighs, and women who were considered overweight by peers were usually harassed.  For example, a 16 year old girl was kicked off her school’s marching band in 1984 for being too fat.  She was 5’4, and weighed only 124 (Brumberg-Jacobs 126).  In reality, for her to be considered even moderately overweight she would have to weigh at least 157 pounds.
          During the 1980s and modern day America, many men and women forget about what happens to girls during puberty.  Women have certain fat deposits on their body different from men. Women have these fat deposits for reasons such as childbirth.   It is normal for a woman to have excess fat on their breasts, thighs, abdomen, buttocks, and backs of arms.  In short, society tells girls that the natural curves that they receive during puberty are ugly and unnatural  (Bowen-Woodward 14).
          The problems during the 1980’s have only worsened into modern day America.  Many popular models are more than 39% below their recommended body weight, which is a symptom of anorexia.  Kate Moss, a model in the 1990’s, is often credited for introducing the "waif" look (Schneider 8). There is a reason for models’ thinness.  The clothing designers often design fashions that require an extremely thin body.  Most clothing is very provocative, with low rise jeans, tight shirts, and barely-there swimwear are popular among young.
          Getting and maintaining the ideal image is not easy.  The most popular way to control your image is dieting.  Although some forms of diets necessary, many girls who are not overweight begin dieting at a young age.  Surveys show that 50% of nine year old girls have dieted because they think they are overweight, and as many as 4% of high school and college girls have bulimia or anorexia.  Other surveys show that 50% of all women are dissatisfied with their bodies and are on permanent weight control diets, while 80% of all women have dieted at least once in their life (Schneider  8).
          Another popular way for women to get the body or look that they always dreamed of is plastic surgery.  Women who believe they are overweight often get tummy tucks or liposauction.  Some models and actresses like Pamela Andersen, have made breasts implants extremely popular among young women.  Women who believe that they are beginning to show their age can also get face lifts to make them look younger.  Another popular surgery that many young women are trying is buttocks implants.  Most psychologists say that once a girl gets her first surgery, she feels empowered because she has the power to change her own body.  Most girls have trouble stopping, and this way of thinking is not healthy mentally or physically  (Agresti 38).
          In conclusion, it is easy to see that America’s ideal image of a woman has changed dramatically.  Young women of all ages have made, or will make desperate attempts to look like the models they see on TV and in magazines.  However, many do not realize that no matter how hard they try they will not ever be able to be Kate Moss or Cindy Crawford.  The fact is that only 2% of all people are born with model DNA.  This means that many girls will live their life never satisfied with their own body (Beland 97).  Having examined out past ideals, we can only imagine what will be the ideal female figure of the future.


Works Cited



Agresti, Aimee. "Addicted to Perfection."  Mademoiselle  Jan. 2001:   38-40.

Bowen-Woodward, Kathy, P.H.D, Coping with a Negative Body-Image.

New York:  The Rosen Publishing Group INC.  1989.
Brumberg Jacobs, Joan.  The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls.
New York:  Random House, INC, 1997.
Lague, Louise.  "How Thin is Too Thin?"  Time 1993. Electric Library.

Schneider, Karen S.  "Mission Impossible."  Time 1996. Electric Library.


Bibliography




Agresti, Aimee. "Addicted to Perfection."  Mademoiselle  Jan. 2001:   38-40.

Barrett, Jane.  "Model Twiggy Returns to the Catwalk."  Reuters Entertainment

28 Sep. 2002. Electric Library.
Beland, Nicole.  "You Are Not Fat."  Teen Oct. 2001: 98.

Bowen-Woodward, Kathy, P.H.D, Coping with a Negative Body-Image.

New York: The Rosen Publishing Group INC.  1989.
Brumberg Jacobs, Joan.  The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls.
New York: Random House, INC, 1997.
Gorrel, Carin. "Finding Fault."  Psychology Today Oct. 2000:  24.

Lague, Louise.  "How Thin is Too Thin?"  Time 1993. Electric Library

n.p. When Thin is Too Thin: Eating Disorders  (Online)

Available http://www.iastate.edu/~residence_info/dining/nutrition/Eatdis.htm.

Pal, Shamlmali.  "Who Says You Have to be a Size 6 to be Happy?"  Teen  Feb. 2000: 103.

Schneider, Karen S.  "Mission Impossible."  Time 1996. Electric Library.

Thompson, Colleen.  The Thin Ideal. (Online)

Available http://home.erin.utoronto.ca/~tkaren/thinideal.htm.

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