Growing up in the 1990’s and 2000’s, I, like all other young girls, have been surrounded by body image issues my entire life. Once we realize at a young age that our bodies are always under a microscope and that we are constantly being judged, we learn to care about what we look like a bit more than we should. Thanks to the endless pressure we feel to be perfect, we tend to fixate on the shape and size of our bodies, and some even take extreme measures to achieve the image that we desire.
I’ve often heard the claims that models and female celebrities shape our opinions of what the “perfect” body is, and I think we must admit that we do allow our society to influence our beliefs. But I’ve always wondered, where did this all begin? For how long have we as women wanted to change ourselves just to be visually acceptable by the society that surrounds us? For how long have we taken extreme or even dangerous measures to be considered “perfect”?
Our modern society believes that the thinner women are, the better looking they are. But society demanding that women have a certain body figure is not a new concept. Backtracking a few years, we similarly saw women believe that they had to be pin-thin in order to be beautiful in the 1960’s with Twiggy’s international rise to fame. Prior to that, we watched women yearn for big breasts and slim legs in the 1940’s and 1950’s. These demands were present even in the 1920’s when women thought their bodies had to be thin and straight (no curves) to fit the “flapper girl” look. It seems that the 20th and early 21st centuries have been plagued by popular opinions of what the female figure should look like. But guess what? It’s gone on far longer than that
Let’s look back about two hundred years ago in the Victorian era. Victorian women were extremely different from modern women in almost every way: Their attire was always elegant, their etiquette was expected to be perfect, and they accepted the fact that they came second to men. But what has remained consistent over these many years is that women have always tried to be “perfect” in other people’s eyes. Women of Victorian times did not view thinness as beautiful, but instead they valued curves. Being a little plumper was a sign of wealth: It was a sign that their family never went hungry and that the man of their house was not failing as a provider. So, in order to appear rich to society, women strived to have a little extra on the hips. But naturally, just like we saw in the 20th century, women took it one step further and allowed to society to convince them that their curves had to be in a certain shape: the hourglass.
Because the hourglass figure (broad shoulders and hips with a tiny waist) was viewed as the “perfect” body of the time, women would take any measure to achieve that look. Instead of letting their fashion accentuate their natural hourglass figure like Marilyn Monroe did in the 1950‘s, Victorian women took a different approach: the corset.
Corsets were often a two-person project because one woman would put the corset on, and another would tie it. All corsets had to be tied relatively tightly in order to shape the body into the hourglass figure, but unfortunately some women were so desperate to achieve the “perfect” look that their corsets were tied dangerously tight. So tight, that it would constrict their ribcages and cause them to struggle to breathe, or in some cases it would prevent their bodies from digesting food properly (an internal problem that could have killed them). So while they may have been successful in achieving the “perfect” body, these women were sacrificing their health.
Sounds a bit extreme, doesn’t it? Hurting themselves just to be “perfect”? A little over the top if you ask me. . . But, are women today much better? Is this where it all began?
While today our ideas of the “perfect” body may not be plump figures squeezed into a certain shape, people today will do anything to be thin. It’s like we traded in corsets for eating disorders and girls who are dangerously obsessed with working out. These terrible extremes are what women today will do because they have this idea that being “perfect” is better than being healthy.
Thankfully, not every girl today has an eating disorder, just as not every Victorian woman would tie her corset too tightly; but I think that even if a small percentage of women find it necessary to hurt themselves in order to be “perfect”, then a change in society is needed. Some Victorian women would eat then squeeze their shape, while some women today may binge and purge. They may be two different scenarios, but it’s all the same story.
It’s sad, isn’t it? Sometimes we let reality too far out of our reach and we allow the opinions of others to come first. But why do we do this? ... Why do we care?
The mind of society is powerful, and it always has been. Who knows where all this really began. Women’s insecurities have been driven by society’s views for at least two hundred years-- I’m going to guess that it even dates back much further than that.
When it comes to these fashions and extremes, I’ve come to realize that the world is ever-changing, but some things never change.
When will we as a society realize that nobody’s perfect? It’s been long enough.. I’d say it’s about time.
Author: Lauren Duffy
Photography: Girlish Writings (XG_M)