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Body types aren’t trends: undressing the emerging culture of body trends

CW: eating disorder

Body trends. How many times have you scrolled through Instagram and seen a new aesthetic heralded as the new definition of #bodygoals? Thick thighs, thigh gaps, bikini-bridges, peachy bums: all have been the rage at some point in time – only to be abandoned and undesirable overnight. 

Women’s bodies have long been treated as malleable objects by the media. Over the centuries the “perfect body” has taken upon nearly every form imaginable, growing and shrinking alongside the influences and pressures of time. 

Obviously, women’s bodies themselves are not actually transforming every five minutes. So why do we subject something as subjective and as personal as our own body shapes to such arbitrary and cruel beauty standards? Can we really compare waistlines to the latest red lip? 

To better understand this ever-swinging pendulum, let’s look at some of the most defining trends and famous faces that have shaped the standards of the Western world. 

In the early 1900s, a slender and slim figure was popularised by the illustrations of the “Gibson Girl” with her large bust and cinched-in-waist, such bodies were the height of femininity. Flappers roared into the 20s ditching corsets for an even thinner, waifish, straight figure. 

However, the Wall Street Crash and WWII shattered this desire for thinness. In a time of austerity, a fuller figure was celebrated, paving the way for the Christian Dior’s ultra-feminine “New Woman”, and Marilyn Monroe’s curvy hourglass figure. Hip and bum pads, and even weight gaining supplements were sold to the thousands, as consumerism meant that high fashion’s ideals became part of mainstream desires 

By the 1960s, curvy was out and models like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton represented the new trend for an ultra-slim, androgynous figure. The waifish figure was meant to represent the freeing of the girdle in women’s rights as the contraceptive pill was introduced. In reality, one feminine ideal was simply replaced with another equally restricting one, and worrying new habits were encouraged, such as extreme dieting and even the prescription of amphetamines for accelerated weight loss. Considering Tik-Tok’s latest craze for “weightloss” drops, it is clear that this toxic mentality is still just as prevalent today as it was 60 years ago.

Diet and exercise became a huge focus in the 1970s and 80s as aerobics queen Jane Fonda’s workout video, and dawn of the supermodel era, marked the rise of the “fit”, athletic, toned body. This era also saw an upswing in anorexia, thought by some experts to be caused by a widespread obsession with exercise, and a reaction to the global rise in obesity. Clearly the binary between ‘skinny’ and ‘large’ as attractive and unattractive was firmly cemented in the cultural mindset. No longer just on the catwalks or magazines, models like Naomi Campbell, Brooke Sheilds and Cindy Crawford reached overwhelming levels of celebrity – comparable to today’s “influencers”, bringing with them an even wider standardisation of beauty.  

But the fit look didn’t last long, the 90s and early noughties jumped to another extreme with “heroin chic”. Deathly pale skin, long slender legs, and a protruding ribcage were all the rage as Kate Moss gave Twiggy a run for being “the skinniest model of all time”. Size 0 models and actresses dominated our screens, with celebs like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears fuelling this obsession with thinness. Just a few years later in the 2000s, Giselle Bundchen ‘brought sexy back’ according to Vogue. Quickly tanned, washboard abs, became back in fashion – but with a slimmer figure than was idealised in the 80s.  

Fast forward to now, it seems that our beauty standards are more confusing than ever.  It’s all about having Kardashian style curves (but only in the right places), an impossibly small waist, a paper-thin stomach, and long lean legs. Although there has been a huge push in social media for body diversity, it has undeniably skyrocketed beauty standards to dizzyingly unattainable new heights. Even influencers and celebrities don’t resemble the masterfully altered and crafted photographs of themselves; I guarantee that the Instagram model with your ideal body has a whole host of their own insecurities that aren’t displayed on their feed. 

So, it is clear that the very notion of a body “trending” is totally ludicrous. Beauty is clearly a fickle and unforgiving spectrum, and yes is sometimes influenced by historical or political events, but generally totally random. What is perceived as beautiful is at best a historical accident. Often, most of these standards are generated by drawings, films, and heavily altered images – not sparked by real people.

In other words, body trends are NOT reality, but are instead pure fantasy. 

Flaws and imperfections are human, and the everchanging rate at which beauty standards evolve highlights that they really are just temporary, meaningless cultural constructs. We give too much power to these ideals. Isn’t it time to challenge these constructs, to change how our perceptions of our own beauty and self-worth are shaped? Isn’t it so much sexier to love your own body rather than crave someone else’s? 

So, the next time you see a new Instagram hashtag about the latest #summerbody, I urge you to defy the commodification of women’s bodies and make the brave choice to love yourself each and every day.

Image: Wolf Craft via Me Pixels