The Evolution of Beauty Standards Over the Years

The common saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” means that there is no standard of beauty that exists on its own but is created by individual observers. Studies have shown that the perception of “beauty ideal” has changed over the centuries. With the rise of social media, people are becoming more accepting of diversity in age and ethnicity when it pertains to what we consider beautiful.

Despite the evolution of “beauty ideal”, one thing has not changed. Facial symmetry has always been a universal standard measure of attractiveness. The more asymmetrical, the less sexually attractive one is. This is because facial symmetry is closely related to illness and disease. 

While facial symmetry is universally recognized as a measure of attractiveness, the “perfect” female body has changed greatly over the years, even though the female form hasn’t changed.

The next time you feel lousy about your own body, just remember that “perfect” body shape is constantly changing from one generation to the next.

Venus of Willendorf frontview retouched by Matthias Kabel
“Venus of Willendorf” by Matthias Kabel, is licensed under GFDL and CC-BY 2.5

The Paleolithic era

The earliest period of human development ever recorded; it is also called the Old Stone Age. It lasted from 2.6 million years ago to about 12,000 years ago. One of the earliest art forms discovered happened to be a primitive symbol of a “perfect” woman. 

She is not just plump. In fact, she is overweight, featuring oversized breasts, large hips and stomach. It seems to indicate that an overweight woman was a sign of fertility. Women with a large frame was important in those days because they had to do a lot of manual labour than the women now.

Ancient Greece

During this period between 500 to 300 B.C., ideal woman was plump, full-bodied, and had fair complexion. 

In ancient Greece, people worshipped the male form and men faced a much higher standard of beauty than women.

It was during this period when the important “golden ratio” was conceived by Pythagoras. He came up with the ratio for measuring beauty and attractiveness using the golden ratio. Simply put, women’s faces should be two-third as wide as they are long.

From then on, people have discovered that beautiful things in nature as well as human faces tend to appear recurrently in the mathematical ratio of 1.618:1.

Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto - Susanna and the Elders - Google Art Project
“Susanna and the Elders” by Tintoretto

The Renaissance Era

The female ideal of that era were also plump and fleshy. They had thicker arms and legs compared to today’s ideal. An attractive woman during the Renaissance era would be voluptuous and have a full figure. Her bust would appear full and show no signs of rib cage. Her skin would be pale, and hair blond.

Women with delicate facial features were considered attractive. This included having thin eyebrows, large eyes, high forehead, rosy cheeks and small mouth.

Duchess of leinster2
Duchess of Leinster

Victorian Era

In this time period, corsets were very popular. Women wore tight-fitting undergarments to give the perception of an hourglass figure. 

Women who looked pale and frail were very desirable. During that era, there was not much emphasis on how the ideal female form should look. However, women were still generally plump and full-figured. 

Women modeling fashion on Burdine's roof- Miami, Florida (6984431181)
“Women modeling fashion on Burdine’s roof- Miami, Florida”
by State Library and Archives of Florida

The 1920s

Women’s fashion took a drastic change during the turn of the century. The ideal women’s body became more boyish figure. For the first time in history, curvy, voluptuous look was completely out. Women wanted to look thin without curves.

This was the period when modern obsession with weight started. Weighing scales were invented and full-length mirrors were made. Women became more conscious about how they looked as they could see all of their flaws, starting a trend of what we know today as “body obsession”.

Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe

The 1950s to 60s

During the post-war period, the global economy improved and people were generally happier. They indulged in food and drinks, and with the indulgence came a slightly fuller figure. The hourglass figure with ample bosom was considered highly desirable. 

The 1970s to 90s

The 1970s saw a lot more freedom for women. Skinny was in fashion. During this period, supermodels and celebrities became hugely popular. Twiggy was probably the most popular female supermodel icon during this period. She was a symbol for a new kind of woman with a new kind of streamlined, androgynous sex appeal.

In the 1980s, women started to adopt a tanned, tall, thin, and slightly athletic appearance. Hips became significantly smaller, though large breasts still remained as a symbol of femininity.

The 1990s was a time when the ideal female form was the skinniest of all times. Kate Moss was the icon and supermodel of the 90s. Her mantra was ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’. Almost a decade after she made that controversial statement, she told the media that she regretted saying that.

body type

Modern day – 2019 and beyond

We are stepping into an age where social media allows us to share photos and videos of people all over the world. Social media platforms have provided us a more connected world. Scrolling Facebook and Instagram posts allow users to see pictures and contents from all over the world.

It has made all of us more accepting and allowing us to embrace diversity, in particular ethnicity, race and body type. 

One thing to remember is that historical standards of the ideal female form were based on drawings and carvings of a man’s fantasy. In today’s world, Photoshop is giving advertisers the freedom to project their ideal male and female body form to the world, which are often unattainably perfect. 

The most important thing is to eat healthy and exercise regularly. It pays to stay healthy than to pursue the illusion of the perfect body shape that you see on a magazine which was likely photoshopped.

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