It’s probably no surprise to you that way back when (pretty much the late 1800s and earlier), a beautiful body was a bigger body. This was mostly a socioeconomic bias. Food was obviously not as readily available as it is now (for the most part); thus, the top tier, or wealthier members of society were well-fed, and it showed. Having a bigger body showed prosperity, artists painted many well-to-do women who were their patrons, and slowly this became the beauty standard. Men desired curvy women, and women liked bigger men. So it was.
The ideal body fluctuated throughout the ages. In the early 1900s, a large bust and derriére was most desirable; this curvy fixation lasted until about the 1940s, when it kind of went back and forth for a couple of decades. Actresses like Rita Hayworth presented a slimmed-down body until the ’50s, when the ideal female body reverted back to curvy, hourglass shape, like Marilyn Monroe. If you follow the shapes and sizes of many iconic women throughout the decades, you’ll notice they became more muscular over time, like Farrah Fawcett in the ’70s and Jane Fonda in the ’80s. The economy was booming, and Americans began to incorporate regular exercise into their daily lives. The ’90s introduced the “waifish” look, and since then we’ve had some adjustments. Right now, the “ideal” female body has big breasts, a round butt, thighs that don’t touch, and a skinny waist. It’s almost a little bit of everything, isn’t it?
Photo editor Lauren Wade wanted to see what it looked like to appropriate women from the 1500s and make them fit today’s beauty “standards.” So she Photoshopped nude portraits, such as Titan’s Danae with Eros (1544), Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (1486), and Raphael’s Three Graces (1504-1505). Wade slimmed down their waists and arms, and added breasts. Looks weird, doesn’t it?
I say “weird” not because it’s a bad thing that these models are skinny in the Photoshopped versions; I say “weird” because when we look at Renaissance art, we naturally expect curvier figures. When we look at these paintings in their original form, we don’t think, “Jeez, Eros could stand to lose a few pounds, huh?” For the most part (I don’t want to speak for you), these men and women are viewed as beautiful and their bodies as aesthetically pleasing. When we change them to compete with today’s body ideals, it creates a stark dichotomy between then and now.
It also shows how much our beauty standards have changed, of course. What was alluring in the 1500s to the 1800s is now considered overweight. It’s a little bit sad to see how celebrated full hips and thighs were back then, and how much we look down upon them now. When you pass by the health magazines at the grocery store, keep in mind that they would look way, way different if we were living in another decade. Ultimately, we should love our bodies the way they are, regardless of the decade in which we exist. We really shouldn’t allow societal pressures and norms to affect the way we see ourselves. No body should be the “ideal” body, because each and every one is beautiful.