I can remember being told in my middle school history class that way, way back in the middle ages, when class divides were huge(r than they are today, apparently), it was fashionable to be curvy because it showed that you had more than enough to eat. Weight was a class statement, a physical demonstration of how wealthy you were–and probably how healthy you were–in comparison to the leaner, poorer peasants and servants doing much of the manual labor.
“No sex appeal to that bean pole!”
I really did think that that fad had gone out of style with the feudal system, but then I saw this post on the blog Loose Garments with vintage advertisements encouraging women to buy products to gain weight: http://loosegarments.com/2012/01/25/surreal-vintage-ads-our-obsession-with-controlling-womens-bodies/
It got me thinking how much style has changed over the generations, and how much the desired shape of women’s bodies has changed.
The Victorian-era, turn-of-the-century woman wore corsets and sought an S-shaped curve to her body. We can just imagine the torture she had to go through to get her waist that tiny, especially compared to her bust size. Her posterior also looks a little too small for her frame, which means that either the bust is a little emphasized or the rear end made a little more subtle.
We can marvel at the sacrifice women made and how crazy they must have been to even go near those corsets. But when you think about how much time, money, and comfort women have sacrificed for style over the years, it’s not so shocking. It’s also not shocking that there’s room to speculate about tampering with the form of this woman to make her more appealing, given the amount of tampering that advertisements undergo today.
According to PLUS Model Magazine, the majority of plus size models are between the sizes of 6 and 14, while more than half of women wear a size 14 and up.
The mother in Hairspray may have been skeptical that Jackie Kennedy ratted her hair to make it bigger–“How else would it look that way?” her daughter asks; “I believe her hair is naturally stiff,” the mother responds–but we all know better, right? Really, we often forget that though women from different decades can look so different, their bodies haven’t changed. Each woman’s body is different, certainly, but women in the early 1900s did not just magically have skinnier waists, 1920s women smaller busts, 1980s women bigger shoulders–it’s all about what’s fashionable, and therefore emphasized. To put it shortly, our bodies just don’t look fashionable by themselves. Everybody “knows” that our society today emphasizes being thin, but it seems like we often forget that desirable body shape, like big jewelry or poodle skirts, changes over time.
From Plus Model Magazine–this spread of nude “plus-size” (often average weight) models made news recently.
Way back in the day, the fashion of weight was associated with health—though their definitions of health and our definitions of health are much different, of course. But maybe we should try to get back to that. If we, as a society, quit responding to 000 models (I mean, really, their jeans probably couldn’t fit my little sister), companies will stop using them in advertisements and on the runway. And if we as a society quit buying drop-weight-fast products and getting ourselves nipped and tucked, maybe the excitement surrounding that would disappear too. You can say whatever you like about self-expression, but ask the girls who got made fun of for being flat-chested or having labia that are “too large” why they’re getting breast implants or labia reductions, and you’ll see we’ve got bigger problems to think about than protecting free expression.
The answer, of course, is not to regulate these things more harshly, but rather to eradicate the stigma and the source of the problem. What if no woman felt that her breasts were too small or too big? What if no woman ever felt like she had to lose weight for any other reason than to improve her health? What if modeling companies stopped seeing models as mannequins, lifeless forms to drape clothing on, and instead used real women whose bodies add life and curve and reality to clothing?
Think about it.