Who Is to Blame for Our Insane Beauty Standards?
Are Beauty Standards In The United States Insane?
Are beauty standards in the United States insane? The answer depends on who is
asked. I believe the answer is an unequivocal, "yes!" I started researching this topic
eager to place blame on one particular source. I discovered the reasons why the
perception of beauty has changed over the past 100 years is complex. The "who"
behind the change is multi-faceted. I will be evaluating where these changing standards originated and how girls are receiving these perceptions today.
We will take a historical journey through time beginning with the early 1900's.
History often repeats itself and is the best teacher. Together, we will arrive at the complex and perplexing answers.
Times were changing in the early 1900's. Motor Cars and Airplanes were on the horizon. Children were attending schools. The phonograph was invented. Poorer families worked in the fields and factories. Wealthier families had households of servants to clean and polish silver. Wealthier families also had cooks to prepare large quantities of food served in several elaborate courses. The women in these households wore fine clothes. Beauty at this time was being defined by the finer things in life. One of these was plumpness. A well rounded woman was appreciated. She had the luxury of eating well and larger hips which came with the carrying of children. Skinny women were looked at, and rightfully so at that time, as poor and underprivileged. None of the women in this era had a large number of people or magazines to compare their body image to. Magazines were for the wealthy and the literate. The illiterate were preoccupied with earning a day's wage, they weren't privy to magazines. Photos in magazines were primitive compared to today's standards and circulation was curtailed due to the limited modes of transportation. Women mainly had each other for comparison and wealth ruled.
The roaring twenties had a thriving economy which influenced beauty in this decade. Women were not going to be stifled any longer. Flappers ruled! World War 1 was behind them. This generation of women were not going to be held back. They smoked, they drank and they flirted. They were slender, carefree and stylish with the well-known hairstyle, the "Bob.'' Gone were the corsets of previous generations and a subservient attitude. These women were out to have fun. Their clothes have had a major impact on fashion today. Easy to wear and risqué. Smooth financial sailing had the most impact on beauty in this generation. Ease of living, defined it.
Radio became Golden in the 30's, but picture magazines sold the show. There were hundreds of magazines launched in the 30's, all-fighting for the attention of the female consumer. Hollywood was a rising influence and helped set the stage for beauty standards. Sound familiar? The 30's woman was bombarded with images of what beauty was supposed to be. Beauty was not about the natural look in the 30's, it was all about makeup and curls! Max Factor and Elizabeth Arden were household names back then and they still are! Every woman had plenty of curlers, setting lotions, styling wands and hair bonnets. Finger nails and toe nails had to be painted. Clothes were colorful and florals were the rage. Curves in a woman's body were celebrated and skinniness was out. Economically, the country was a mess. It was the era of the Great Depression. Maybe make up and fancy hair was a mask for pain and despair. A woman's curves showed she wasn't starving. Hollywood portrayed a nice facade for a hurting generation.
Soft, sexy and perfect was the standard for women of the 1940's. Men were goingoff to fight WW2 and a woman was to look spectacular for her hero. Male and female roles were highly defined. Man fought the war, women took care of the house. She wasn't ever to be caught without her red lipstick. A woman was to look sexy for her man.Beauty products were readily available for her to buy. Fashion at this time was also defined by the spoils of the war. Material was rationed, which meant hem lines were shorter. A slightly military look was evident in dresses and jackets. Enter, Christian Dior. He came on the scene as the war was ending. Hem lines lengthened, waists were cinched in, blouses were feminine again. European designers and good advertising were quickly evident!
The 1950's brought more of the 40's for women with additional pressure to conform to a slender, small waisted figure. Hollywood had new glamour Queens, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren. Sex appeal was in and sex appeal sells. These three women had hourglass figures. The widest waist of the three a mere 24 inches! If a women's waist couldn't be cinched to that, she didn't measure up! That saying applied to self-confidence too! Beauy equaled slenderness and sex appeal!
You say you want a revolution? Well, you know, we all want to change the world.The Sixties woman was a non-conformist! Paper Dresses, white boots, tie dye clothes,1920's retro and heavy makeup. Most anything went. Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton made the modeling scene from England. Skinny, skinny, skinny was the norm for models in this decade! Twiggy said she always ate, but she looked half starved! Anything British was popular. The world was being redefined and that included the definition of beauty.
Take me down to Funky town. The 1970's was about funk. Music played a huge role in beauty for the 70's woman. Skinny women wearing glittery eye shadow and revealing halter tops were seen on the disco dance floor and the look carried into the streets. Some designers counteracted the disco style by designing long, earthy clothes in colors of army green and drab brown. These designers were trying to capture an intelligent look among woman, education for women was becoming more mainstream. Minimal face makeup was worn, natural healthy skin was expected to shine. Emphasis was on skinny. The words Anorexia Nervosa first appeared due to Singer, Karen Carpenter. She later died from the disease. In the 70's a weight of more than 120 was considered to be heavy. Many in the music industry were rail thin. Cher was a popular example. Young women were bombarded with skinny models wherever they turned. Skinny was the word for any woman growing up in the 70's.
Women in the 1980's were educated. Fashion reflected this. Women dressing for success was mainstream. Fashion accessories sales soared. Shoulder pads made women look bigger and stronger. If women weren't dressing for success they were dressed in casual skintight leggings and an oversized shirt. Madonna led the way with skintight leggings, but she topped it with clothing that left little to the imagination. No oversize shirts for her, skinny and skin were in. Hair was puffed up and out in what's recognized today as 80's hair! Cultural times were becoming more defining for the looks of the 80's women.
The 1990's brought an incredible old idea into the mainstream of modern society. Welcome body art. Expressions of individualism ruled the 90's. This applied to hair, makeup, clothes fashion and now art on one's body! Tattoos and piercings became modern place. Thin was still in but credit must be given to at least some members of sociey. Kate Moss was criticized for being too thin. Her tiny frame accentuated in Calvin Klein underwear advertisements. Advertisements were cheeky in this time period, no pun intended! Skin was visible and lots of it. Advertisers on TV and magazines focused on the body and they made sure the viewers saw it! Sex sold and the definition of sexy was thin. Clothing styles were anything from preppy, to business professional, to grunge to jeans and exercise wear became popular because of the overt emphasis on the body. The 90's woman was bombarded with images all trying to define beauty from everywhere!
Last 15 years
The woman of today has freedom! Heck, she can go to the grocery store with her pajama bottoms on! This isn't entirely accurate, the pajama bottoms and sweats have given way to yoga pants! Business attire is appropriate at some work places, but even business' are relaxing their dress codes. Southern ladies tend to dress up and are more made up than their Northern sisters. All women are busy though. No time to style hair? No problem, throw it up in a messy bun, secure it with a clip! Fat hanging out? Muffin tops are common, just not on the big screen or in magazines! Social Media continues to bombard women with thin images. Thin stomachs, thin thighs with a "thigh gap," thin straight noses. Since we are discussing straight, let's not forget straight pearly whites either! If a woman in today's world is unhappy with her looks, she has another freedom, the freedom to go under the surgeon's knife!
We've Come A Long Way Baby!
Wow, what a walk! We've come a long way baby! Today's beauty standards are insane! As I stated at the beginning of this journey, we would arrive at the complex and perplexing answer to "Who is to blame?" together. Have you answered for yourself yet? If you haven't, here are final thoughts to give you pause to think! Years have brought changes. Inventions, wars, end of wars, stock market crashes, women's rights, global influence, increased communication, changing educational standards, radio, television, Hollywood, movie stars, racial disparity, politics, greed.....All of the above have influenced and helped to define society's definition of beauty in one shape or form. You may have noticed, beauty has not been specifically defined in this paper yet. Beauty is more than skin deep. True beauty comes from within. Society may be wrong to allow the definition of beauty to be transcribed. We, as individuals can change that and collectively work together. It needs to start with ourselves. Accepting and loving ourselves as we are. Our bodies should be healthy. Isn't this just common sense? A healthy body is not usually size 00! Makeup, as in anything, moderation should be key. Why should women line the pockets of greedy men who own beauty corporations? And, speaking of men? Isn't it interesting that the ideal body type for men is big, muscular and strong? While a women's body is supposed to be thin? Could it be there's more going on than meets the eye? Perhaps, society is attempting to define gender roles by defining beauty? Fashion and beauty are also popularity contests, never ending popularity contests! Drop out of the contest and get a life. It's now time to define beauty, once for all. Look in the mirror. Do you see it? Beauty defined.