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Western Standards of Beauty: An Illustrated Timeline

When Thin Wasn't In

Hard to believe as it seems, thin wasn't always in. There are centuries of documentation of female beauty, and except for ours, the trend is fairly consistent: beautiful women are shapely, soft, and rounded. What a contrast is that idea to our current ideal - the waif-like figure introduced by Twiggy and popularized by the likes of Kate Moss!

This timeline is an illustrated journey through the last 600 years, from the portraits of the European Renaissance to red-carpet photos of modern celebrities. Take time to study each picture as you scroll. What would our society today say to these women about their bodies? And, perhaps more importantly, what would these women have to say to us?

Renaissance - 15th Century

The Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci

The Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci

Elizabethan Era - 16th Century

Bianca Cappello (1548-1587) was famed for her great beauty.

Bianca Cappello (1548-1587) was famed for her great beauty.

Rococo - 18th Century

"The Reader," a Fragonard painting from 1776

"The Reader," a Fragonard painting from 1776

The Portrait: Women as Art

Before the invention of the photograph, the only way to capture your likeness was to sit for a portrait. Some of the most respected works of art by the great masters are paintings of women: the da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, Frieda Kahlo's amazing self-portraits.

Modern art has moved away from the realistic portrait, and you hardly ever see one used in home decorating, but for hundreds of years, the female body, in all its voluptuous glory, was the epitome of art - the ultimate subject - beauty itself. These women were curvy, full, and solid. They seem to occupy space in a way foreign to us. We are so intent on making less of ourselves.

Turn of the Century - 1890-1910

Camille Clifford, the Edwardian standard of beauty, and an original Gibson Girl

Camille Clifford, the Edwardian standard of beauty, and an original Gibson Girl

The Jazz Age - 1920's

Nita Naldi, one of the most successful silent film stars of the 1920s

Nita Naldi, one of the most successful silent film stars of the 1920s

Post Depression - 1930's

Bette Davis, an American icon, in the 1930s

Bette Davis, an American icon, in the 1930s

The "New Woman" Emerges

The turn of the century was a pivotal time for women. Magazine covers echoed the shift that was occurring, showing small men against large, powerful women. Feminism was in the air. The famed Gibson Girl drawings were buxom by our standards, s-shaped, and aloof, their hair piled high upon their heads - but for the times, girls like Camille Clifford (one of the original models) were considered slender. Women compensated for their growing intellectual prowess by restraining their bodies in corsets.

The next generation went further, rejecting the modest advances of their predecessors, donning baggy, short dresses and bobbing their hair. These "flappers" flaunted their new-found freedom in a way their mothers would never have dreamed, going dancing, listening to jazz music and smoking cigarettes. Though currently portrayed in film as delicate and petite, flappers were not waifs. Some did bind their breasts down, but not to look thinner, but rather to appear more boyish. They were out to prove that they were every bit as good as their male counterparts, which initially manifested itself as imitation.

Later, women would regain their curves as, feeling more secure in their rights, they began to flaunt their femininity.

The War Years - 1940's

Betty Grable, the most popular pin-up girl of WWII

Betty Grable, the most popular pin-up girl of WWII

Recovery - 1950's

Marilyn Monroe, sometimes called the original sex icon

Marilyn Monroe, sometimes called the original sex icon

Social Upheaval - 1960's

Twiggy, a British-born model, popularized the boyish body.

Twiggy, a British-born model, popularized the boyish body.

Claiming Our Space

Women found sexuality a new source of power. Clothing became skimpier in the 1940's, until World War II broke out. Feeling the "American tradition" threatened, families reverted to more conservative values, but the pin-up remained a staple of popular culture.

The 1960's saw civil rights campaigns, as well as a new wave of feminism, throwing off the domesticity of the 50's. As women sought to distance themselves from the role of wife and mother, the androgynous ideal once again surfaced in Twiggy, a stick-thin model made popular overnight by a single photo shoot.

Sexual Revolution - 1970's

Farrah Fawcett marked a return to the fuller figure.

Farrah Fawcett marked a return to the fuller figure.

Prosperity - 1980's

Cindy Crawford, one of the first supermodels.

Cindy Crawford, one of the first supermodels.

Scroll to Continue

Globalization - 1990's

Kate Moss, a cocaine abuser and the it-model of the 90's

Kate Moss, a cocaine abuser and the it-model of the 90's

From Liberation to Objectification

The Sexual Revolution brought breasts and hips back into the picture, before the fitness craze of the 1980's swept the West. Struggling to find bodies that might fit with their identities as liberated women, a generation was born obsessed with having "buns of steel" and "rock-hard abs."

Body-building gave way to weight-losing with the rise of heroin chic. The new "power" women used to define themselves was the power to resist: the discipline to deprive oneself. Waif-like icon Kate Moss led the movement as Calvin Klein spokesmodel. When her drug use was uncovered, she was quickly disavowed by the company and the fashion industry alike, but was a working model once again within six months.

Present - 2000's Onward

Keira Knightly

Keira Knightly

Nicole Richie & Lindsay Lohan

Nicole Richie & Lindsay Lohan

Renee Zellweger

Renee Zellweger

Cameron Diaz

Cameron Diaz

Where We're Left

...with worth determined by weight, compulsively counting calories and pounds, deconstructing ourselves into imperfect parts. We trumpet our gains in the professional and political sphere, while we pare away our bodies as penance.

Finishing my work on this piece, I scroll through the pictures one more time, pausing at the knowing smile of Mona Lisa. Countless songs and poems have wondered at what secret she keeps behind her smirking lips. Her smile is so much a part of her. It seems to come from the very core of her identity. She feels that sense of entitlement so elusive to the diet-obsessed mass of mothers, daughters, and sisters, forever afraid of wanting too much, eating too much being too much. I wonder, if she lived here and now, would she be just another one of us, perpetually putting herself down, or is her power so deep-rooted she would manage to rise above it? I'd like to think we all have that power, ingrained in us somewhere... that deep down inside, we possess that kernal of knowledge that has the potential to free us, if we could only access it; the knowledge that we are art, by our very nature.

600 Years of Women In Art

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Ralph Schwartz from Idaho Falls, Idaho on July 20, 2015:

Amen...stick figures are for children's art projects

mike on March 23, 2013:

Sophia Vergara, Kat Dennings, Kim Kardashian, Christina Hendricks.

Grace Marguerite Williams from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on January 04, 2013:

Excellent and informative hub.

martellawintek on December 04, 2012:

hello again dennis if your still in need of them i think this is there web address

and details ,ring them for help & advice ,just say martella newins told you to ring him

CV on November 14, 2012:

Thank-you for this inspiring hub page. It is helping me very much with my research paper on the sexualization of girls, especially since I am trying to deal with the historical standpoint of "beauty" and how it has changed throughout the ages...I appreciate your writing, which is very well done and thorough without becoming overdone. You portray the Western ideal beauty throughout time very well, although there are many other images as well. Thanks! :)

male commentator on July 15, 2012:

from a man's viewpoint, I don't agree that the idealized female figure has become thin, but celebrities have made thinness fashionable from time to time. Indeed, the fashion industry has confused the subject.

I doubt that men have felt very differently in the past, and I am sure that Twiggy, whether her popularity as a fashion statement, was only a minority taste among men; indeed a small minority might have preferred her form. As far as men are concerned, the Cindy Crawford or Farrah Fawcett bodies never went out of fashion. There has to be a valid medium between fat and skinny.

reagu from Los Angeles on May 24, 2012:

I like it. Though, if you speak to most guys, they'd prefer someone like Katy Perry (who is not thin) over someone like Paris Hilton (who is thin).

Beck on April 21, 2012:

This was really great, i appreciate all the hardwork you did. Although i don't think Linsay lohan and nicole richie were seen as sex symbols, and if they were not for long before they were pegged as too skinny. And your video is amazing

Maddie Ruud (author) from Oakland, CA on April 05, 2012:


This Hub is about standards of beauty. Cultural standards of beauty, not my own. I am a huge advocate of health at any size. But you don't see the same amount of media pressure for naturally thin girls to gain weight that you see on naturally larger girls to lose it. Period.

Lizzy on March 29, 2012:

And also, for the record, i think twiggy is absolutely adorable and became proof that small chested, petite girls can be attractive too.

Lizzy on March 29, 2012:

don't you people ever realize that some girls are just naturally thin? im a size zero and 110 pounds. that doesn't mean i choose to be this slender nor is it unhealthy. im perfectly healthy and it pisses me off when ignorant people define me as "anorexic". in case you didn't know, anorexia is a mental illness, it has nothing to do with your bmi. i understand that all people should embrace all kinds of body types and accept them as beautiful. therefore specific comments above are hurtful to the non-curvy girls. im not a boy.i don't have a "boyish, sickly" figure.if you curvy girls don't like being called fat or defined and judged by your body weight, why would you ignorantly judge and make fun of another kind of image? im beautiful the way i am, and i embrace my tall willowy figure. sometimes i cannot believe the hypocrocy and judgement of the people who supposedly feel so judged and ridiculed themselves.

ChezBelle from Kansas on March 14, 2012:

I searched beautiful historical timeliness and stumbles across this. I loved it and the u-tube video you attached was stunning. This is an article I plan to use with students in the future! Great work here!

Dub on March 08, 2012:

The only problem is I'm pretty sure nobody thinks Kiera Knightley, Lindsay Lohab, Renee Zellweger or Nicole Richie are all that beautiful. And Cameron Diaz is pretty healthy. Not just a skinny little stick.

Shasta Matova from USA on February 23, 2012:

This is a really interesting study. I've seen photos of even bigger women in art. It certainly is interesting how we women have conformed to varying beauty standards, or if not conformed, at least felt guilty about.

Daisy Kane from Upstate New York on February 22, 2012:

Thank you so much for writing this. I myself have been struggling with my weight almost all of my life, and it's all because I was raised to believe skinny was the right standard of beauty. Luckily as I grew older, I learned to embrace my curves and appreciate my body for what it is.

I'm actually currently working on blog that discusses women with curves and body image and I want to say your story inspired me alot.

Maddie Ruud (author) from Oakland, CA on February 01, 2012:

Dr. RJ,

Yes, the paintings may not have accurately depicted their real-life models, but they still show us the standard of beauty... what women were aspiring to... in the same way that airbrushed images in the media today don't reflect the average woman, but rather the unrealistic standard of beauty.

DR. RJ Nicholas on January 30, 2012:

Ugh, It is so frustrating when I see people confusing paintings and current notions of famous people as examples of beauty. Paparazzo photos may indeed show us who is beautiful in our time but paintings were not done like that. They were paid for by wealthy people with strong expectations of altering them to make their patrons look better.

daniella on January 29, 2012:

Wonderful. Just spectacular and very inspiring. We all sturggle as females with something like this. We must understand to love each other and ourselves and start building rather than tearing down one another. I would know. I personally think I was born in the wrong era. Haha! I have a very..lets say "50ish" body type (hence hourglass figure, long legs)and am naturarkky "curvy". I HATE the way some "women" these days try too look like a 12 year old boy. And what makes me angreier is that I and many other firls tried too look like that! It's a waste of time and happiness. We have to learn to accept ourselves and our beautiful bodies! I think that tha picuture of Marylin is the most gorgeous. Its so natural and womanly and healthy...then Underneath it is THAT monstrosity. Don't get me wrong...all women are individuals and perfect in their own way. But I cant help but thinking that the "waif" look is so ludacris and unwanted. Yet apperantly, its glorified today. Persoanlly, I find (as a 16 year old girl in my generation) women like Soohia Loren, Marylin Monroe, Bettie Page, Bettie Grable and heck, even Betie Boop to be wonderfully gorgeous. Also the "flapper" petite yet curvy look and the Gibson girl look of the turn of the centruy. THAT'S when females were respectable and lovely. Not today's Paris Hiltons, Madonnas and Lindsey Lohans. I am sad to b part of the human race sometimes. And the rest of the times I LOVE it!

Fransico on January 29, 2012:

Haha. My BF showed me this web page to tell me I'm not fat. (I wouldn't listen) haha. I'm not so skinny that you can see my bones or too fat to see my stomach bulging out. He describes me as "soft" he can feel my bones, but I'm kinda squishy. (like hugging and cuddling me for that, and I'm warm)

I guess our view of beauty has twisted over the years.

Bek on January 21, 2012:

I thought this post was very interesting. I hate it when people try to portray a stick figure as being the perfect, healthy body shape when obesity rates are climbing.The media should be promoting a healthy wight, and anorexia is not healthy. those women in the 15th and 16th century are beauiful- more beautiful than the bones we see now- and they are not thin and tan.

JPICK on January 11, 2012:

Kind of ridiculous to post only the pictures of "modern" actresses/models who support your conclusion. You aren't showing curvy Kim Kardashian, or even Kate Winslet. Beyonce is fit, but definitely not in the wafer-thin category you're rambling about.

reg on December 13, 2011:

I have always enjoyed women of all body types, skin tones and cultures. I am aware also, that through the years, body type aesthetics change with men's attitudes toward women. I think it's time that women define what is "beautiful". For me, I think that waif like looking women are too girly, that is, girlish and not womanly. My favorite body type is thick and curvy with toned, sculpted legs (colored women). As for not mentioning other cultures, Western usually means "white". In 50 years or so, the beauty aesthetic will change when Western means "brown" or multicultural. At any rate, it would be evidence of a more evolved human mind when women are making decisions about beauty and sexuality.

Starr on December 06, 2011:


hannah on December 06, 2011:

I'm not sure why some people have commented demanding to know why there aren't more Indian/Latina/Black women featured here, and I'm not sure why the writer has repeatedly used the word ''unfairly'' in her justification of why they are lacking.

These are ''Western'' standards. Western society has only very relatively recently been multi-ethnic. It's completely normal for the women to be all white here.

Really enjoyed reading this!

jas on November 30, 2011:

Not one black woman:(... SHAME

Maria Mathew on November 09, 2011:

Excellent article!...Loved it!

adeen on October 02, 2011:

i love this article because I am concerned about a friend of mine who doesn't eat much because she wants to be really skinny, a size zero. I think it is better that a woman is curvy and has a full figure like Beyonce, JLO, and Kim Kardashian. Being too skinny is not good and I can't believe how much girls and women out there stive to achieve the ideal ''thin'' size. They would starve themseleves(Like my friend does)or throw up after eating. What type of message is that ideal sending to women? I think it is sending a bad message and a curvy and full figure should come back in style as the ideal body type of a woman. And this is from me,and my figure is kind of like Beyonce's, only a little bit thinner. All those pictures and portaits show what a woman's figure should really look like:full and curvy not stick thin. And your article made an definite point!

Kathy Adkins on October 01, 2011:

Thanks Maddie! Still trying to find some more pictures of ancient beauty. Once I get this set up, I'm pretty sure I may need some help with the link.

Thanks much!

Maddie Ruud (author) from Oakland, CA on September 28, 2011:

Kathy, feel free to email me through the contact link on my profile if you need help figuring out how to link.

Kathy Adkins on September 28, 2011:

Maddie, Appreciate that! I wanted to use your pictures and some of your timeline, but won't do the "copy & paste" thing. I will try to figure out how to do the link back to your site, as you have great info. However, I'm pretty new to this & my 67yr old brain is still trying to sort thru all this online business...LOL!

Maddie Ruud (author) from Oakland, CA on September 27, 2011:

@Kathy Adkins,

You are welcome to quote me or link back to this site, as long as you're not just copying and pasting the whole thing (which would violate my copyright).

Glad you enjoyed it.

Gwen on September 26, 2011:

How interesting. As a girl who has pathetically fallen victim to the modern age's demands over weight and perfection, this article relates a lot to me and might end up helping me in my recently undertaken enterprise to become more like the Mona Lisa.

Kathy adkins on September 26, 2011:

Love this article & would love to use some of the information for my website. Would give you credit! Any problem with this?

july on August 11, 2011:

this really helps me in my research... i would like to use some of your articles, i will make sure to give credits.. thank you

FA on August 09, 2011:

thank you for the info. i might use some of the photos for my uni-related assignment n gonna give credit to this site ;)

ellyn on February 20, 2011:


Hellie on January 20, 2011:

At the end of the day the most attractive body is a healthy body. If your naturally thin or have boobs and hips doesn't matter.

I find it interesting that you mention the modern obsession of dieting when women have obsessed over their figure and tried to control it since then beginning of these photos. The goal was just slightly different. Women gorged themselves in the 18th century to prove they could afford to and probably suffered the health complications that came with that.

LIz on November 18, 2010:

who is the chello player ?

Jennifer on September 30, 2010:

I love how people think being large used to be the standard of beauty. I understand the concept and why that seems to be a reasnable conclusion (after all it was a sign of affluence). But what people who don't study art history don't realize is that certain paintings where made specifically to be erotic. The average painting was done by a starving artist who was under commission by someone rich (hence the 'affluent' full-bodied figure). When you compare those paintings to the intentionally erotic ones that weren't made for profit you realize the erotic ones show far skinnier women.

Now obviously waif is in compared to yesteryear. But what so many deluded overweight women don't realize is that being fat has never been considered attractive. When you truly study art history you realize that all the women in the intentionally erotic paintings are AVERAGE weight by today's standards. Obviously I'm excluding the ridiculously exaggerated ancient fertility sculptures.

People seem to think the 'waif' body is considered a standard of beauty but it isn't. I'm one of those waif girls and trust me more people are disgusted by my body then attracted.

The only reason why waif-esque women are considered a standard of beauty has nothing to do with their weight being deemed beautiful. It has to do with the fact that fashion designers like anorexic looking girls. They have no curves so their bodies don't distract you from the clothes, they are intended to be walking coat hangers, and it also makes fittings a lot easier as everything is the same size and you don't have to do as much tailoring in the breasts and hips.

Ask a man who the most sexually attractive woman in the world is and chances are he isn't going to say Kate Moss or someone with her body type. Chances are he's going to say Scarlet Johansson or someone with a similar frame.

Artpassion69 on September 01, 2010:

An awesome hub.... LOVED IT!!

ginger on May 08, 2010:

thank you very much for this! i'm using some of the info in it (don't worry, im gonna cite it. And i kno i don't own it!) in a report i have to do (vanity through the ages and how it affects our well-being). Anyway, this has been really helpful.

I actually like the 1940s. the 80s R too neon for me. I totally get wat u mean by the skinnyness. Its just sad. Sickening really. However, i don't think that Kierra Knightly is too skinny in that pic. She looks toned & fit to me. & tho Kate Moss is way to thin (& a cocaine chick to boot!) I think the thin look fits her. It doesn't look like she's trying to hard or that shes unhealthy that way. It looks like she just is that way. Tho i kno that's actually not true and shes messed up. Twiggy's thinness scares me though....

Nic on April 26, 2010:

@Jon Juneau

Comparing men to chimpanzees would be flattering, considering they act less intelligent and influence the way women have looked and desired to look throughout the ages..and they always will. Unfortunately.

starla on April 07, 2010:

Women who were softer and curvier, with round stomachs and behinds, in the middle ages all the way through the reneaisance and maybe beyond, were considered attractive because they were well-fed. Their weight corresponded directly with their wealth. Maybe that is the same reason why thin (not skinny, but slender) muscular bodies are in fashion now. Women who don't have a lot of excess body fat, who are toned and take the time and money to go to the gym, are probably seen as successful to most people. Also, food that is now mass produced, cheap, and easy for the poor, lower classes to obtain is also the unhealthiest, resulting in obesity.

Angelina Jolie said something interesting once-she lost a lot of weight and cited one of the reasons as the fact that she sees a lot of poverty doing her humanitarian work, and feels guilty and overconsumptuous eating what the average American eats. I find this beautiful, but I do not find Lindsay Lohan's starved body beautiful. Maybe intention with diet says more about beauty standards than actual body type?

I'm thin. I've always been very thin. I grew up being called stick, anorexic, any name you can think of. I wish there was more acceptance for naturally thin girls in society. Outside of Hollywood and L.A., thin is not really in at all. I know most people would disagree with me because of what they see on tv and in magazines, but I promise you-the average american despises "skinny bitches." i speak from experience.

I think society really needs to learn how to embrace all healthy body types. I'm naturally thin, i'm also active, and I try to eat healthy. A bigger boned person with the same diet and lifestyle as me might weigh 20 pounds more than me. That doesn't make either of us less attractive. America needs to get over body issues and focus more on health.

zeb on April 05, 2010:

I think rrr has a very good point. One thing I noticed when in art museums is that the paintings that were art pieces rather than rich people portraits it seems the facial features prized then still are today, particularly in 17th century art. Also in the 17th century art the women don't seem fat nor thin, but seem to range the gamut of what might be considered average in modern day city populations where people walk more, with the emphasis placed on youth and elegance.

The emaciated look is/was strange as the majority of men tend to find curvy borderline toned women as the ideal. Science has shown the waist to hip ratio to be what makes a womans body seem attractive by men.

you notice the fashion industry tends to be dictated by gay guys and women? Why they promote the bean pole look is beyond me and most straight men I know.

Whaat? on April 05, 2010:

I'm naturally thin with curves where I need them. I get hate all of the time. Its nice to know for most of history women like me were unattractive and guys finally wised up. Most guys found Lindsey Lohan more attractive before she got really thin, but she was never fat. Keira Knightly has the body of a pre-teen boy- but she also has an amazing face. However, curvy doesn't mean sloppy or frumpy. In the modern age guys like active women who can be partners, not obese the woman who is always snacking in the office.

@ rrr, Interesting point.

30sgirl on January 27, 2010:

Thanks so much for posting this, it really inspires me to accept my body type for how it is and not try to conform to the idea of the "now" beauty. I, personally, am shorter with a "softer" type of body. I used to think I was fat, but lately I've been reading up a lot on this type of thing and I've decided that I like my body the way it is. I hope this hub inspires other women as well.

Dmitchell on December 07, 2009:

Wow this was a wonderful post! We were just talking about this in my Cultural Anthropology class go figure!

Joilene Rasmussen from Ovid on October 25, 2009:

I found this a very inspirational hub. Thank you.

rrrr on October 17, 2009:

Just thought I'd like to point out that the 'curvier' women painted back in the Renaissance was due to the fact that the richer upper classes had more money to pay the artists for their portraits, as artists didn't have the time or steady income to sit around and draw whatever they feel like and then sell it. Those portraits weren't drawn out of inspiration, they were drawn for profit, and they don't necessarily reflect the artist's views on beauty or whatever, they just painted what they had to. And thus, since the upper classes back then always had the money to pay and the luxury to sit around and get a little chub, you have portraits of the curvier, luckier ladies back in those days.

Of course, I'm not trying to out way your argument, because I like your points, just thought I should share that.

jade on October 02, 2009:

this is so interesting. im doing my 1st year beauty management degree and was just browsing the internet for different opinions on where the idea of enhancing or changing ones apperance became 'popular' i have found that is has gone right back to egypitian times which again toyed with the idea that a woman should be 'skinny' to be beautiful. i would love to hear your opinions on this. x

LEWJ on September 23, 2009:

A well-illustrated timeline with informative historical snippets.

The title is perfectly selected. Western standards have always tended toward white and still do, but discretion is awarded by the title here.

I think Mylinda Arons says it well; north, south, east, west, black, white, red, yellow, then, now, later---you can't go wrong with "hips and boobs"!

bspider on August 29, 2009:

Very interesting and informative. Thanks.

Rebecca Graf from Wisconsin on August 08, 2009:

Wonderful tribute. It's a shame that we place so much on physical beauty and not what is inside.

Maddie Ruud (author) from Oakland, CA on May 14, 2009:


This was actually addressed further up the comments. This timeline is illustrating a Western standard of beauty, which traditionally (and wrongly) has been primarily white.

KANSHEFLE on May 02, 2009:

Why are all of the women white? There are scores of beautiful women that are black, latina, asian, indian, etc. (Most of them are much more attractive than renee zellwegger...) This page is informative, but is premised on an essentialist notion of beauty = white.

Leeza on March 25, 2009:

I found this very interesting. And just goes to show beauty really does come in all shapes and sizes!

Resee on February 18, 2009:

It makes me sad that there's not a black, latino, or any other kind of minority in this mix of "standard beauties".

Evie on February 10, 2009:

I like my body with all it's little flaws. And so does my boy friend. We agree that the 'Idealistic Thin' is WAY to thin.

ThePioneer21 from Liverpool on February 03, 2009:

This is a fantastic hub, I love looking at the changes of body shapes as well as the material aspect of these changes. I have to agree with Ladybot, I think the influences of Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce have had a very important role in the body shape women strive to have today. Even though these women admittedly spend huge amounts of time on their apperance, they have managed to convey that a healthy body can still be feminine-making the most of their curves that many modern women try to eradicate.

The body-shape fashions that this hub talks about are fascinating, yet depressing. From the first picture, right down to the last, we see females following a fashion to make themselves more like men. I say bring femininity back- one of the most powerful forces on the planet!

Maddie Ruud (author) from Oakland, CA on November 19, 2008:

Hi Harley:

I'm not sure where you got the idea that I am condemning a thinner body type. If you look at my other hubs on body image, you can see that I am a proponent of body acceptance--for people of all shapes and sizes. In this hub, I am merely pointing out that the current obsession with the waif-like female figure that is so damaging to so many women hasn't always been so popular, and shouldn't be the only standard of beauty by which we measure ourselves and those around us.

Thanks for reading!

harley on November 19, 2008:

So you are saying that thin women aren't equal to full-figured women? Not everyone is born with a curvy, thick body, and the slender-figured girl should be as acclaimed as the fuller-bodied ones. Being thin or thick doesn't make someone beautiful.

shania on October 13, 2008:

bettie davis no 1 so preety

John Juneau from Sierra Nevadas on August 23, 2008:

Personally I am not attracted to large breasts, and I am not wealthy but have no problem eating a good variety of quality food.

Question: Why would anyone compare humans to chimpanzees? How about comparing chimpanzees to cows or pigs?

tbscmc on August 11, 2008:

Good Hub. Rated

desert blondie from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen on August 10, 2008:

Loved the era titles and fascinated by the video! Great hub! Can't believe I'm just now stopping by to see it!

Aya Katz from The Ozarks on July 29, 2008:

Polarization is a natural tendency. Once we discover a telling difference between two things, we tend to want to exaggerate it.

We also have this reaction to children's body types. Since infants tend to have larger heads and eyes relative to body size, we tend to think large-headed, big eyed infants and toddlers are more attractive. However, once they grow up, these individuals are no longer seen as that attractive. Hence the phenomenon of "cute child" -- not so attractive adult.

ladybot on July 29, 2008:

As much as I appreciate any article reflecting and analyzing women in culture and history, I felt that this article only represents the white standard of beauty. You failed to mention the early 2000s when Jennifer Lopez, a very full figured woman, became increasingly popular. She helped usher in an interest towards voluptuous and curvy women, almost completing a circle back to Venus de Milo. Then came Beyonce. Then came an exceptence and general enthusiasm for full figured women. Then came an unhealthy obsession, and the plastic surgery. It seems that no matter what the fad is for body types, it is always carried to an unhealthy extreme. There also seems to be a very extreme and polarized view on body types: either very thin or extra curvy around the traditional female parts (the hips and breasts). In history, I have yet to see a woman of average measurements considered a standard of beauty. Hopefully, in due time.

Thanks Maddie, for consolidating the female body history and making it accessible to everyone. I hope it inspires women to reconsider and prioritize their body issues accordingly. Love your body and your mind! They're the only things that'll consistantly stay with you until the day you die!

Aya Katz from The Ozarks on July 28, 2008:

The unusually large breasts on human females, as opposed to their chimpanzee counterparts, are due to our tendency toward monogamy. On average, human females have breasts that are much larger than what would be necessary to suckle young. Chimpanzee females have (relative to body size) smaller breasts, display sexual swellings during oestrus and are receptive to all males during ovulation. Because they are willing to share the same mates as other females, the competition is between sperm cells, and this accounts for the relatively larger scrotum of the adult chimpanzee male, compared to human males. Human females, in contrast to their chimp counterparts, compete with each other for choice males. This throws the choice of females back into the male domain; males have chosen the bigger busted females as being more attractive.

The current trend to prefer underweight people as more attractive than overweight people is due to our material culture. This preference crosses gender lines. We don't tend to think overweight men are attractive, either. In ancient times, and even in the relatively recent past, food was hard to come by. If you were overweight, chances were you were both healthy and wealthy. Only the wealthy could eat more than they needed, and only people not marked with disease were able to put on weight. Nowadays the inference goes the other way. Food is plentiful -- in terms of calories. Eating too much can lead to diabetes and other diseases. Only the wealthy can afford to eat high quality food (those containing the right blend of nutrients) that reduces the chances of dangerous weight gains).

So there is a reason for all this "unfairness". But ultimately it is up to the individual whether he or she takes someone else's aesthetic judgments seriously.

Believe me, it's not easy to write this with my chimpanzee son and human daughter feuding in the background.

anishvk from god's own country on July 22, 2008:

really amasing

Shadesbreath from California on July 20, 2008:

Mona Lisa is smiling because she lived in a day where, while the sexes were BOTH stuck with assigned gender roles (a trajectory of tens of thousands of years), she clearly hadn't been taught to hate herself for the cards that she was dealt. To me she's always had the look of a poker player who knows how to win with the hand she's got.

cthomas on July 20, 2008:

I agree with Isabella here, thanks for the article Maddie.

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on July 06, 2008:

Great hub Maddie. I always love that pin up of Betty Grable from World War II. She faced her back to the camera in that shot because she was pregnant and that was not considered sexy back in the forties. Now she would be showing off that beautiful belly.

Dorsi Diaz from The San Francisco Bay Area on July 06, 2008:

Great article and beautiful pictures.

misterpm from Netherlands on June 25, 2008:

Interesting development

dsivadasan on June 18, 2008:

Excellent Hub. I crossed this by browsing and I am glad I did. Thanks for this good information.

In The Doghouse from California on June 16, 2008:


What an incredible Hub, making a way through history with the beautiful women of the world. I love that fact that you have pointed out the different optimum weight of the corresponding time period. Personally, I love the beauty of the Gibson Girl, to me she portrays a beauty of innocence combined with prowess. I also agree that much of a persons body type is hereditary, this need for obsessive weight loss is not healthy in the least. Thanks for your insights on these beautiful women, and women in general.

skatoolaki from Louisiana on May 01, 2008:

A beautiful and very important hub! Thank you so much for sharing the truth that women were not always stick-thin as "beautiful"!

solarshingles from london on April 13, 2008:

I like your hub! Very nice, very interesting and very informative.


Maddie Ruud (author) from Oakland, CA on March 25, 2008:


Good thought.  This is a timeline of Western aesthetics, and so highlights the expectation of the white woman as part of the (unfair) standard.

Jada on March 25, 2008:

Interesting. Where is the Black woman?

piano999 on March 08, 2008:

You are amazing. So glad I found this page. Thanks for putting it together!

johnngd from Sydney on February 20, 2008:

A very informative study - I like they way you ended with a question and a reference back to the first picture - Mona Lisa. Very Powerful!

bloggerjb on February 12, 2008:

this is why i love hubpages. stumbling on the most random topics. i'd consider this a random topic just because i never thought about it. but its SO informative. instant bookmark for me. thanks for writing this up. i was trying to point out the most drastic change. i think its from the jazz era to the post depression era. cheers!

Isabella Snow on July 09, 2007:

Interesting hub, I just wrote something on the same topic, and I'm in favor returning to curves. Im in favor of exercise and being trim and fit - toned, even.

But not emaciated, like Keira or Lindsey.

Kate Moss, however, I've never found too thin, it suits her, somehow. The rest of them see to be trying far, far too hard.

Maddie Ruud (author) from Oakland, CA on June 20, 2007:

In fact, overweight is not synonymous with unhealthy... check out the study I reported on in

You can make significant improvements in your health without dropping a pound. And, in fact, weight is about as heritable as height, genetics have shown. We should definitely all attempt to be as healthy as we can, but I would object to linking health directly to thinness. That is exactly the kind of thinking that creates an environment where eating disorders thrive.

I wonder what your body type is. You seem to have a lot to say about women's bodies, but I see two possible scenarios: you are overweight, which makes you a hypocrite, or you are naturally slimmer, in which case I urge you to understand the genetic piece.

People with certain genetics often have trouble understanding why other people have such trouble maintaining a similar shape, but it really has very little to do with how much "discipline" you have or how "hard" you work.

In addition, most of the women in these paintings and pictures would be considered "chubby" or "plump" by today's standards, but there are hundreds of years of evidence that that has been the consistent standard of beauty for centuries, except for the last 50-odd years.

Thanks for reading.


Yuz on June 20, 2007:

The information you provide is compelling and informative, but I have to say that for a study in body type, you sure have a bunch of pictures that only show a portion of the body...

As for me, I prefer a moderately curvy figure like Farrah or Cindy.

And it's also unfortunate that the idealized body type has become so thin, especially as the greater population weighs more and more, but the people who decry the idealization of thin as "unrealistic" and say that everyone should be satisfied with their body, no matter what size they are, need to remember that overweight is unhealthy, and overweight shouldn't be promoted as A-OK.

Chubby isn't considered sexy for a reason, and women should work to become healthy--thin within reason.

Money Digger on May 24, 2007:

Hi Maddie, nice post! :)

Physical beauty can be deceiving. For me. the real beauty is not measured only through physical aspects. It's in the attitude/character of a person making her sexier. You may have the perfect or beautiful body, but if you have the ugliest attitude, then it's worthless. ;)

lenkir on May 23, 2007:

Excellent presentation! ... very informative!

Jason Menayan from San Francisco on May 23, 2007:

Interesting visual study.

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