Fashion trends come and go: skinny jeans, peplum tops, high-low skirts, jelly sandals, peter-pan tops, military jackets, I could go on forever. These trends are cyclical, lasting from weeks to months until replaced and eventually returned to again. Trend cycles go beyond clothing, affecting sayings, social events, hairstyles, and makeup. But the trend cycle that nobody seems to talk about is the trend cycle of the ‘ideal’ body, which has a decades-long cycle length. In the past few years, an emphasis has also been put on ‘ideal’ male bodies and the mental and physical consequences. However, I will be focusing on female bodies and the ‘trends’ surrounding them that have caused the same (if not more) psychological and physical effects for a much longer amount of time.
In the renaissance, a fuller body type was considered ideal as it showed that you could afford to eat well. This is reflected prominently in art, which showed women to have fuller bodies, ample bosoms, and soft features. This later turned into a focus on the hourglass shape, which was achieved using corsets. Though women were still encouraged to have fuller features, they were also encouraged to have a slender waist which was almost unnatural compared to the rest of their bodies.
In the 1920s, the flapper dress became popular, as did many low-waist styles. These styles were considered more flattering on a very thin, curve-less body type; therefore, women strived to have extremely skinny bodies and hide their curves. Curvy body types were considered less desirable, a distinct contrast to previous trends in which women were encouraged to be curvy.
In the 1950s, the fuller body type resurged in popularity. Similar to the Victorian era, the ideal body type was curvy with a slim waist. This can be seen in the starlets of the time, like Marilyn Monroe (seen above), who were praised for their hourglass figures.
In the 1960s, the curve-less body trend of the 1920s returned, encouraging women to be strikingly thin. The ‘ideal’ body of the 1960s was so slender that it was described as pre-pubescent. This young look and thinness can be seen in popular figures of the time, such as Twiggy (seen above).
In the 1980s, a new body trend emerged: the athletic body. There was so much of an exercise craze that the word “aerobics” is synonymous with the 1980s. Due to the focus on exercise, women were encouraged to look toned but not muscular, and skinny but not unhealthy. Additionally, a tall body type was considered ‘in-style’ as many taller women were athletically built and had fat distributions which followed this ‘ideal’ body type.
In the 1990s, the curve-less bodies of the 1920s and 1960s came back at an even more unhealthy extreme. The focus on thinness spread into every area of pop culture, making it impossible to escape their fat-phobic message of what a woman’s body “should look like.” Kate Moss (seen above) famously said in the 90s that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” This sentiment was shared among many and shaped many young girls’ relationships with food.
Furthermore, celebrities were not the only people spreading this message of ‘thinness.’ Hollywood also endorsed and encouraged this body type. I recently re-watched a 90’s era movie called ‘Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.’ While rewatching, I noticed that in every scene, there was some reference to weight loss, dieting, and how “fat” one of the characters was. I was shocked by how engrained and constant the fatphobic messages were in the film.
The early 2000s continued the trend of extremely thin bodies, although the ‘ideal’ body expanded to include flat stomachs and large breasts. Women were additionally encouraged to have smaller bottoms and toned bodies. This was especially present in pop culture, as women in movies talked negatively about ‘weight going to their butt’ and ‘their breasts getting smaller.’
While the early 2010s continued the trends of the 2000s, the later 2010s shifted focus to a different body type: the extremely curvy figure. Similar to the 1950s, women were encouraged to have ample curves and a tiny waist. Unlike in the 1950s, women were encouraged to achieve this look through plastic surgery and extreme exercise. Pop culture figures such as the Kardashians are implicated as the leading cause of this change, undergoing severe plastic surgery and exercising intensely to achieve their extreme curves and sculpted features while claiming it was all natural. This led to many girls getting implants and exercising to an extreme in the hopes of building a large butt and extremely thin waist similar to the ones they see in the media.
The extremely curvy trend of the later 2010s has continued into the 2020s; however, many have noted that the 90s and 2000s body types are re-emerging in popularity. This prediction is based entirely on the new focus on thinner bodies. This is particularly noticeable in the ever-changing bodies of the Kardashians, which appear to be getting thinner as they remove implants, get liposuction, and encourage extreme exercise. With increasing micro-trends and a shifting social sphere surrounding diet culture and body acceptance, we can only wait and see what the ‘ideal’ body type will be.
I vividly remember feeling affected by these cycling trends of women’s bodies throughout my formative years. When it was popular, I had the ideal body type of the 2000s, but when I hit High School, this standard changed. I would look in the mirror and feel disappointed in my body, wishing my body fit what was currently trending. I felt even more disappointed in society that these trends made young women like me feel isolated and different. Though I learned to accept what I was born with, I still have moments where I feel disappointed that my body does not fit an “ideal” body type – that I do not have a proportionately curvy body, or whatever the trend happens to be at that time.
I wrote this article to show the wild fluctuations between ‘ideal’ body types. These mixed messages of what our bodies should look like only cause confusion, unhealthy habits, and negative body image in women. The constantly changing ‘ideal’ body is a toxic standard to hold oneself to. I hope that by reading this article, you can realize how unimportant having an ‘ideal’ body is and that you are perfect just the way you are. Comparing yourself to those with ‘ideal’ body types will only cause unhappiness as that standard constantly changes.