The evolution of the body beautiful over the last 100 years

Posted: 29/01/2015


The media constantly promote the concept of the ‘perfect’ body type through their choice of models and portrayal of celebrities. Public perception of what constitutes the ideal shape has continually evolved over the last 100 years as explained in Maria Hart’s article for the Greatist.com - click here.

Her article summarises the characteristics of the ‘ideal silhouette’ for a woman over the decades between 1910 and 2010. What is considered desirable now is significantly different from the perfect body of 50, 20 and even ten years ago. 

The decade The look Features of this look
1910s The Gibson Girl - Illustrator Charles Gibson (equivalent to today's fashion photographers) created an image of his 'dream girl' which was broadcast in LIFE magazine, Collier's and Harper's that set a trend for this feminine figure. Model and Gibson girl Evelyn Nesbit is credited with being the world's first supermodel. Tall and slender but with a buxom bosom and large hips, gathered into a small waist with the help of a corset.
1920s The Flapper - the iconic flapper dress, with daring hemlines, was fashionable and a slim figure was very much the trend. For many women, housework kept them trim and, for the upper classes, weight loss diets were promoted in magazines. Petite with a trim figure, flat chest, small hips and slim legs.
1930s The Sex Siren - hemlines fell and curves seeped back into fashion, with Jean Harlow as an icon and the media embracing a slightly more voluptuous figure. A curvier figure with a small bust.
1940s The Screen Queen - an energetic lifestyle and war-time rationing kept women slim but with men away fighting the war, their curvy and feminine look welcomed back the soldiers. Katherine Hepburn defined this look. Long limbed, taller and slim but with curves, defined in a squarer angular silhouette, including a belted waist and broader shoulders.
1950s The Hourglass - bigger was considered better as weight gain tablets hit the shelves and Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor were sex symbols. A softer and more curvaceous look. A fuller figure with tiny waist but larger breasts, hips and buttocks.
1960s The Petite - the swinging sixties saw the introduction of the mini-skirt and a much slimmer figure with supermodels like Twiggy popularising the girlish look. Women embarked on diets and Weight Watchers was founded. More androgynous. Trim and petite with smaller busts, flat stomach and narrow hips.
1970s The Disco Diva - this was the era of the long and lean dancing queen like Farrah Fawcett, with less forgiving fabrics such as polyester and spandex which required a slim figure to look good in. Lean with some curves. Slim hips and flat stomach but wider shoulders.
1980s The Supermodel - women idolised the supermodels of the era and exercises became fashionable to achieve lithe muscular bodies. Elle MacPherson and Linda Evangelist championed this healthy, leggy look. Tall and athletic with long legs and more muscles.
1990s The Waif - Supermodels such as Jodie Kidd and Kate Moss were thinner and more androgynous, promoting a much less athletic look on the catwalks. Small, very thin and androgynous.
2000s The Buff Beauty - by the Millennium, women were striving for a healthier lifestyle and a toned, athletic figure like Britney Spears, Gisele Bundchen and Christina Aguilera. Athletic and toned with visible abs.
2010s The Booty - icons such as the curvy Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj have fuelled a trend for voluptuous derrieres. Large bottoms and curvier frames.

Sarah Gubbins, an associate at Penningtons Manches LLP specialising in cosmetic surgery commented: "It is evident from this review of female bodies through the ages that celebrities and the media’s concept of the ‘ideal figure’ heavily influences people’s perceptions. The desired look does not remain static and has changed significantly over the years, swinging back and forth between slim-line and fuller figure.

“The current trend is the desire for a curvaceous bottom like Kim Kardashian’s and some people are opting for cosmetic surgery to achieve this. This raises the concern that, if the perception of the ideal shape is forever changing, there is surely the possibility that those undergoing cosmetic surgery to achieve the subjective ‘desirable’ figure will be chasing an unattainable goal that will require more and more cosmetic surgery in the future in order to ‘keep up to date’ with the current trends. Will patients have their buttock implants removed in five years’ time if a more androgynous figure comes back into fashion? 

“We always advise the importance of having cosmetic surgery for the right reasons. Patients should consider their reasons for undergoing any type of elective surgery and cosmetic surgery should be about the patient achieving the look they desire to improve their own body confidence. It should not be fuelled by the current media ideals which are continually evolving and are likely to be very different within a few years.”


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