Female beauty and desirable body types have evolved over the years. Interestingly enough, to the Ancient Greeks—the progenitors of beauty as a concept, at least the way we see it—didn’t consider the female body beautiful. Aristotle, one of their greatest philosophers, thought of the female body as a deformed version of the male body, and he wasn’t alone.
For instance, Spartan brides shaved their hair and donned men’s clothing on the night of their weddings to closely resemble a man. Historians suspect that this strange ritual was to ease young men into heterosexual life, given that they’d have been more familiar having sex with an older male, who would have served as a military teacher of sorts.
Art is one of the best indicators of the kind of body types valued by a specific culture. In Greece, there are plenty of nude male statues, especially around the subject of male pleasure toys and dildos. Females in statuary are often clothed, as if their bodies were shames to be hidden—with a couple rare exceptions. The Aphrodite of Cnidus, a depiction of the goddess of love, gives us a rare glimpse of the Greeks’ desirable female body type: voluptuous, perky breasted, with a placid facial expression.
The outpouring of art during the Italian Renaissance gives us another glimpse of what a certain people saw as being fundamentally beautiful in the female figure. In Boticelli’s famous painting, The Birth of Venus, another depiction of the goddess of love, we see a woman with carefully rendered facial features and a demure expression. Her blonde hair is wild and her eyebrows have been made to look as if she were wearing cosmetics (which were getting to be in vogue at the time). She is less voluptuous than her Ancient Greek counterpart, but possesses round hips, and full breasts. It’s also worth noting how pale and unblemished her skin is. During the Renaissance, possessing red hair was attractive, as it seems to dominate portraiture from the period.
The conception of beauty in the Victorian Era was largely inspired by Queen Victoria. The body type that seemed to reign supreme, as it were, was the hourglass figure, very much the product of the corsets that women wore and that cinched their midsections during that time. Long hair was also favored, as it came to embody the feminine.
Today, we value androgyny/gender fluidity and hyper-accentuated booties. Our century has seen a myriad of popular body types come and go, from the androgynous, almost boyish figures of flappers during the twenties to the voluptuous glamor girls of Hollywood’s Golden Era—women like Marilyn Munro or Elizabeth Taylor. It should come as no surprise that it is mostly the fashion industry, not art or film, that dictates the kind of female bodies we deem beautiful. Even this is changes. Look at Twiggy, a sixties icon, who came to embody a different kind of physical beauty. She was rangy, with big eyes. Now consider today’s ideal, which favors women who are thin, but with big butts and breasts. This is a difficult combination to possess and might explain why, more than ever, women are looking to plastic surgery.
What makes an examination of ‘fit’ body ideals so interesting is considering whether our individual preferences match the culture we live in, which instructs us on what is beautiful, or our own genuine interests.