How has the idea of a perfect body changed? To what extent have today’s beauty standards changed if compared to the past? The answers to these questions are difficult to give if we consider that the idea of “beauty” in the past one hundred years has been subject to huge changes. Works of art show how the female figure has changed over the years in terms of forms and proportions, thus confirming that beauty is not an absolute concept: it changes and evolves over time, it follows fashions and trends and varies according to places and cultures.
The Gibson Girl
This is how illustrator Charles Dana Gibson conceived female beauty. He started drawing this character at the end of XIX century and completed it at the beginning of XX century. The character was perfectly interpreted by actress Camille Clifford. Thousand women tried to copy this beauty ideal, which remained popular for over two decades and was the first national beauty standard in the US.
Ten years later, fashion was ready to give up the sensuous curves of the Gibson Girls and to embrace a radically different standard: the “Flappers”. Margaret Gorman, the first Miss America award winner, was the Flapper par excellence. Flapper Girls were the fashionable girls of the 20s: true icons of style and revolutionary in their attitude and way of thinking. They listened to jazz music and danced Charleston, they smoked and chatted amiably.
In their being mouthpieces of a peculiar style which contributed to rooting them in collective imagination, Flapper Girls were the first Western women ever to wear their hair in tomboy style. Their look was based on short fringe-decorated dresses, pearl necklaces and feather accessories. They wore classical medium heels and T-straps for quick dances, which they skilfully mastered. Flapper Girls were the first visible sign of women’s emancipation and they actually started the typical movement which still in our days causes the ideal of female beauty to oscillate between prosperous curves and slimness.
The 50s: on the verge between Marilyn and Twiggy
The progressive move to softer female forms which had started in the 30s reached its apex in the next twenty-year period when iconic Marilyn Monroe made her appearance, with her beauty and unbridled charm that are still known to everybody and do not need any presentation. After the age of soft curves came to an end in the fifties, slimness took over again with Lesley Hornby, best known to the public as “Twiggy”.
Born in a suburb of London, she was scouted by Justin de Villeneuve when she was sixteen. He noted her at a hairdresser’s where she was working as a shampoo girl and he first became her fiancé and then her manager. He had understood the she could be the “new face” that the Swinging London of the sixties was waiting for. He launched her under the nickname of “Twiggy”, expressly referencing her unripe teenage slimness. Only one year later, Twiggy’s popularity had peaked to unexpected heights and she was noted by Mary Quant, a famous British fashion designer who decided to base the launch of her mini skirt on Twiggy’s image. That was the start of strict dieting to fulfil an impossible-to-reach ideal of perfection.
The 80s: Elle “the body”
In the Eighties curves made a comeback, but in a brand-new fashion: the requirement was to be super and, most of all, to have very long legs as the time icon: Elle “The Body” MacPherson. This marked the start of the age of fitness and physical shape to be reached at all costs.
Today, it is difficult to identify a true standard of beauty. What we are experiencing is a mix of trends drawing from the past, where the idea of the body is associated to balance and shape, with greater attention being paid to health and harmony.As the few lines above show, beauty is not a static concept and, although we all luckily have our personal tastes, the evolution of beauty over the years is still an amazing trip to take.