Chapter 1
Changing Shape of the
Ideal Body throughout the
20th Century
Many readers undoubtedly know the ideal shape and size of a woman’s
body has changed throughout history. From the voluptuous figure of the
Renaissance woman to the thin but curvy body of the 21st century, as long
as there has been graphic representation of the human form there has been
a body ideal. Most attention has historically been paid to the female form
largely due to the fact that a woman’s appearance is thought to be her most
valuable asset; however, males have a standard to meet as well.
The sections that follow primarily take a look at what the ideal female
body has been during the 20th century and into the 21st century. To best
understand and offer a context as to why a particular body type was prized,
each time period includes a brief overview of the significant events and
attitudes of that time. The male body, too, has been scrutinized over the
years, but much less is written about the pressures men feel to achieve
a particular look—though in recent years there seems to be more of an
acknowledgment by researchers and the public that males, too, are held
to an impossibly high standard. single section takes a brief look at the
pressures males have and continue to experience. This chapter culminates
in examining the current ideal for both males and females as well as the
impact these unrealistic standards have on both physical and mental health.
Females: Late 1800s
Early 1900s
In the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, women did not yet have
the right to vote. This was, however, the era of the suffragists, and on
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