Ideals

Wade of Healthbolt recently published a post which has been getting a lot of attention from the blogging community, thanks to a recent link on BoingBoing. The post is a quick overview of idealized female forms over the centuries, and the author has been severely criticized in the comments.

I appreciate the spirit of the post, which is attempting to spark an honest discussion about beauty ideals and the female body. I think that some of the comments, like this one: “people who have the impertinence to publicly admit that they prefer thinner figures to heavier ones” are pretty offensive. The content of the comment does not offend me: everyone is allowed to express their personal desires, and pursue them. It’s the tone, the idea that the “fat police” are ready to jump down the throat of anyone who says that they prefer thin women. I think it has been clearly established that slender women are preferred by our society: there’s no need to say it aloud when it’s a fact. And following the masses is certainly not going to be viewed as impertinent.

But some of the commenters are dead on: one of the serious problems I have with the post is that a wide spectrum of examples from each era is not being used. Yes, the post speaks to a general trend in “beauty” but it doesn’t use enough solid evidence to back it up. While students of the Rennaissance are aware that the curvy, large female body was idealized then, the layperson might not be aware of that. Wade should certainly be providing more images to back up the point, which is that our perception of beauty for women has changed, along with many other aspects of our society. The post is also greatly simplifying a complex social phenomenon, and it is important to address the myriad factors that combine to form female beauty ideals.

Another problem with the post was highlighted by several commenters: Wade uses extremely thin supermodels to illustrate a modern “ideal.” However, many male commenters pointed out that they preferred curvier women. Perhaps not on the Ruebens level, for sure, but certainly women with more flesh than anoretic supermodels. This extremely thin body is something which women are pursuing for themselves, thanks to social pressure. Women’s magazines idealize this form, women tell each other that they are too fat, and a multibillion dollar “beauty” industry feeds on it.

Yes, most people publicly say that they prefer slender women. But bony supermodels are not slender, they are skinny. Therein lies a huge difference, which Wade does not appear to be differentiating: I believe that the social ideal of a beautiful women is a bit more fleshy than the modern day fashion model at the end of the post. By not admitting this, it does the provocative post a disservice. Most of the men I’ve talked to about beauty ideals have fairly…realistic standards. They’re still looking for women more slender than I am, but they find hyperthin women distasteful. Whereas the women I talk to idealize the emaciated form. Interesting, eh?

I think that men and women have different beauty standards, and that in many ways women are harder on themselves than men are. Many women feel pressured to pursue a thin ideal, and do so, often with severe repercussions for health. The tragedy of it is that when this bony goal is achieved, men are often put off by it. I suspect that Wade’s post might have been more interesting if each era had featured a “female beauty ideal for men” and a “female beauty ideal for women.” I think that in the 1950s, a divergence would have begun to emerge, with the male beauty ideal remaining slender, but still healthy, and the female ideal growing dangerously thin.

I think that with a bit of editing, Wade’s post could spark an even more interesting and insightful discussion about beauty standards and ideals. It’s a topic that has always intrigued me, because I don’t have a “type” or ideal: I find the mind far more sexier than the body, which I view almost as an afterthought. One of the most beautiful women I know, for example, would be considered severely overweight, but in my eyes, she’s wicked hot. There is something deeply tragic to me about living in a society where people choose potential mates solely on the grounds of physical appearance, rather than far more important and lasting traits. There’s also a profound lack of honesty in sculpting and culturing bodies to conform with an ideal, whether it come from external or internal sources.

After the revolution, when the skinny stupid girls have all died…the plump intellectuals will still be here.

[beauty standards]
[fat]