Thursday, July 19, 2012
Vintage vs Body Image
A few of these images have been doing the rounds lately - adverts for weight gain products for women with taglines such as "Skinny Girls are not Glamour Girls". They've been used to support the idea that 50, 60, 70 years ago the "feminine ideal" was pleasantly plump, in contrast to the "unhealthily thin"* ideal of today. There's somehow this perception that in the 40s and 50s there was no pressure on women to be slim, that big was beautiful - the oft-parroted "Marilyn Monroe was a size 16"** line. I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but I'm afraid that's simply not the case.
These weight gain products are evenly balanced with weight loss pills and potions, tables of ideal statistics and diets so strict that I gave up after three days. Read those correct measurements and tell me again that a 25-26" waist for my height isn't considered slim by modern standards. It annoys me when people use vintage to call for a return to the body ideals of 50+ years ago, apparently as a way of justifying being overweight, and completely ignoring the fuller (no pun intended) picture.
On closer inspection, even these ads promoting weight gain aren't exactly the chubby-champions they seem at first glance - take these "curvy girls" - not exactly voluptuous, are they?
The ads are amusing just because they're the absolute antithesis of every "bikini body" article in every modern magazine. But that's all: They're not proof that in bygone eras the "ideal" was especially more realistic than now (though the curves were softer and the hourglass more pronounced than in the more firmly toned, athletic ideal today), or that there was any less pressure to conform to a body ideal than there is now - it's just that in modern society the average size has shifted further and further away from that ideal.
What there was, on the other hand, was help in the form of foundation garments. Occasionally outside observers to the world of vintage enquire how we can reconcile feminist ideals with wearing of corsets and other "uncomfortable" foundation garments designed to mould the body to be more appealing to men. But the way I see it, a corset or girdle is the easy way - far easier (for me) than spending hours at the gym or denying myself chocolate. Thanks to the corset I can eat cake and still achieve a 24" waist. That's what I call liberating.
I'm going to go ahead and publish this now - it's not the most eloquent prose I've ever written, but I think it says most of what I wanted to say. But what do you think? Please do share your thoughts in the comments - I'd love to hear your reactions.
* I've deliberately put that in quotes because I actually don't think the fashion industry and media do necessarily champion an excessively thin ideal. Yes there are some models (on the catwalk, probably) whose BMI is clearly below the healthy range, but for the most part, flicking through fashion magazines I see perfectly healthy looking, slender figures.
** In the 1940s and 50s, a standard size 16 was a 34" bust, 26-28" waist and 37" hips. Marilyn's recorded waist size varied from a teeny 22" (probably with the help of foundation garments) to about 28".
Posted by Charlotte at 11:12 AM