Sunday, September 26, 2010

Timeline of the Ideal Female Body

Everyone knows that the current female ideal is to be super skinny with a usually unhealthy and unattainable BMI, yada yada yada. We know and discuss how women hurt their bodies to achieve this... However, this female ideal has NOT always been the norm, and what some people do not realize is that hurting one's body to achieve the feminine ideal is NOT a new thing. Women have been doing this since the dawn of the human race, since they were first ingrained whether falsely or truthfully, that beauty is their greatest asset. For fun, I put together a very brief snap shot of various research to demonstrate the ideal of feminine beauty over the past 110 years... you can see how cyclical and silly and yet how fascinating society can be...

In the early 1900's the ideal female body was a woman who was full figured and extremely corseted. This ideal was known as the "Gibson Girl", a series of drawings that artist Charles Dana Gibson made popular which depicted her having an exaggerated S body shape with large breasts and an accentuated... well, her ass. (If someone can remember what the "butt cushion" was called that they would wear, let me know, I can't remember it for the life of me.) Her hair was piled on top of her head and she usually had a long slender neck. She was very swan-like, even the corset women wore to achieve the S shape was called the swan corset. The Gibson girl was often depicted as an equal but childish companion to her man, and she had an extreme amount of independence as she was depicted going to college... but yet she was never shown as part of the suffrage movement. The Gibson Girl was drawn of various plates and mugs, and some people argue she was the first national standard for feminine beauty. The most famous Gibson girl was Belgian-American stage actress, Camille Clifford (pictured above).

In the 1920's, the ideal female body became the more androgynous form of the flapper girl and women bound their breasts and cut their hair into boyish bobs to achieve this look. Some anthropologists such as Ann Bolin suggest that this social response to women gaining the right to vote in 1920. By shrinking their breasts and hips they wanted to show that women had more to offer the world other than merely serving as reproductive machines. Flapper girls were known as being rebellious as they would wear heavy makeup, drink, and be more loose and risque with sexual relations. It is interesting to note that this was the time period that beauty shops emerged... because barber shops would not adequately style a woman's hair in a feminine/boyish bob, women needed their own hair styling places. Clara Bow is pictured above.

In the 1930's the flapper girl ideal fell out of fashion, and curves became back in style. Women often wore broad shoulder padded suit dresses and created a triangle shape that almost mimicked the power suit of a man. Greta Garbo (pictured above) was famous for having a broad shoulders with a small waistline having the idea trangle shape. Katherine Hepburn and Jean Arthur often wore clothes to accentuate this iconic form.

In the 1940's, with WWII, the famed pin up girl body became the model for feminine beauty, with healthy curves and long legs that go on forever. It became more acceptable to show more skin and less clothing and pin up models would wear very little and sometimes props instead of clothing in order to make images acceptable for mass production. Each model would develop signature poses and oftentimes modeled their backside to accentuate their behind ad their legs. The Notorious Betty Page and Betty Grable (pictured above) were famous pinups. Back on the home front, women feminine but practical style masculine suit dresses. Because women were taking up jobs while the men were at war, they needed fashion to exhibit their strength and sexuality.

The 1950's introduced Marilyn Monroe (pictured above), one of societies most famous sex symbols and models for female beauty. She took the pin-up era and brought it to another level of acting, singing, and modeling. She had healthy curves and was a size 14, which is equivalent to today's size 8. (For my guy friends who are reading this and don't know what a size 8 is, I'm a size 6, if that gives you any perspective.) Women in the 50's strove for her "perfect" dimensions... Marilyn said, ""Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry, especially when one is tired, hurt and bewildered." Yet, Monroe was not the only icon in the 50's. There were also Doris Day who showed a non-sexual sort of beauty and Grace Kelly who emphasized sophistication and realized many girls' dreams of becoming Princess of Monaco. It's also cool to acknowledge that the Barbie doll and Playboy magazine were born from this era of sexual confusion.

The 1960's and 1970's were decades of change and this included the ideal feminine shape. Audrey Hepburn and Twiggy (pictured above) were two of the decade's iconic beauties and both had petite shapes with small chests and hips. Hepburn had a little bit of curve, but Twiggy's body was that of a prepubescent boy. This was the first time in our nations history where someone severally underweight was the ideal of female beauty. Just how some anthropologists believe the 20's flapper girls were a reaction to gaining the right to vote, some believe this
change in body image is a direct result of the introduction of the pill in 1960. Women now had complete control over their own reproduction and their bodies and did not want to be seen as baby machines. The ideal of being androgynous without defined breasts and hips represented independence and freedom. In the 1970's the idea body remained about the same but instead of being heavily makeuped, was a more natural and girl-next door look.

In the 1980's, exaggeration was in style. Bigger hair, bigger, shoulder pads, shorter skirts, etc, therefore exaggerated hourglass figures were in style. The ideal female form was a little reminiscent of the 1930s: powerful yet feminine. Exercise and toned muscles were also a sign of beauty as it exhibited a marrying of strength and female softness. Some anthropologists attribute this to women transitioning from home to the workplace. The shoulder pads helped give them a more authoritative look in order to hold one's own in the business world, the man's playground, yet the short skirts revealing more leg was a reminder of feminine softness. Madonna (pictured above) was one of the biggest female icons of this decade, she showed obvious sexuality yet success and control. Although, Princess Diana is comparable to Grace Kelly, in that she was a contrast to Madonna as Kelly was to Monroe.

I must admit, even though I've lived through the
90s and 2000s, there's little definite research on these years and it was difficult to sum up. The 1990's gave way to various ideal bodies. In the early 90's the exaggerated and curvaceous bodies of Baywatch and other shows and movies were the idolized, yet at the same time as the decade progressed, the underweight, tall, slender women like Kate Moss (pictured above) were the ideal. Some people theorize that as the national BMI increased and obesity became more of a national epidemic, the ideal body became skinnier and skinner. The rare becomes more desirable. The 2000's and now the 2010's continue to hold the unhealthily skinny female body as the ideal for female beauty.

I don't kn
ow about you, but I'm waiting for the backlash to happen... any time now! I guess if you are naturally tall and slender then you must be loving the ideal body right now, but for me... it's quite irritating!

Note that there have been several women throughout the years who are hailed for their beauty but don't fit the ideal body type of her era to a T, nor can fit into this little blog all nice and neat. Sophia Loren had the most extreme hourglass shape imaginable, Vera Ellen had the tiniest waist and hypnotically long legs ever(she was severally anorexic, I will note), Shakira proved that pear shaped women can hold their own as beautiful and sexy with their hips that do not lie, Halle Berry have the most perfect proportions I have ever seen on film, Salma Hayek exemplifies that top heavy women can be taken seriously, Lucy Liu proves that not all asians lack curves, and Natalie Portman exhibits how to be short, cute, and sexy all at the same time.

If you are looking for some more reading on the subject...


Friday, September 17, 2010

Laura J: The Little Girl with Big Boobs

Every woman spends hours and hours of her life taking care of her body, pampering it, stressing about it, crying over it, and rarely does she get to talk about it. Part of the point of the Hourglass Symposium is to share the untold stories of the female form. This one is mine...

Most people's first impression of me is, "damn, she has big boobs". Their second impression of me is, "she's short". As you can imagine, standing at 5'2" and carrying the weight of a 28G bra size, I'm a bit disproportional. It took me a long time to both recognize and come to terms with my beauty.

When I was little, I was one of the 3 shortest girls in my class. Kate, Leigh, and I all raced each other throughout grade school- sometimes I was in lead as the tallest of the three, other times I was behind as the shortest. Not many people noticed me, especially guys. In a class with a 2/1 girl to guy ratio, I was drowned out by all the tall and quickly developed girls. my height sometimes did play a roll when girls would speak over my head. I was in a forest of giants.

I remember in grade school I would lock my bedroom door and dress myself up in a sheet that I'd fashion into a gown, and I'd smoosh my small pathetic bumps behind my nipples together to form what sort of looked like cleavage. When I played with Stephanie in her basement, I would sometimes fashion boobs for myself made of old hand kerchiefs so that I could look like Catherine Zeta Jones while we played "Zorro". Her sister was well endowed, I remember wanting to be like her one day.

I talked to a guy I went to school with named Scott years later, and asked him what people's impression of me in grade school was, he answered, "honestly there was no impression. No one really noticed you until high school when you got boobs."

I believe it.

Now, for a second, imagine you have been invisible your entire life, to men and women alike; and then all the sudden, SMACK out of thin air, they can't stop staring at you.

It seemed like I grew breasts over night. Because my breasts grew so rapidly, I awful red stretch marks crawled up my breasts. They looked like someone had repeatedly cut open my boobs with a knife and I was afraid that I would have them forever. Every night for about 2 years I applied a vitamin e cream to my chest before I went to bed, I'd even stretch the skin horizontally with my fingers because sometimes when i did that, the red would become white and less noticeable. Thankfully they disappeared!

But even with the stretchmarks, I didn't realize I had big boobs until I started getting all the attention. My mom and aunt would talk about how my cousins and I were so much more well endowed than them and made a big deal over it, and then I started getting attention from strangers. I was 15 and I wore my beautiful brand new robins egg blue V-neck top when I went to a play with my Mom and sisters, my mom looked out into the distance like a hawk while she walked a bit strange and sometimes blocked my way. "What is wrong?" "That old guy can't stop staring at your chest," she said. I glanced over, and sure enough there was an old man, hunched over, skin hanging from his bones, his icy grey eyes locked on my breasts. I crossed my arms and hid them as best as I could behind my playbill. I felt dirty. To be that young and knowing that some creeper man old enough to be your grandfather is imagining feeling you up and sticking his withered old penis until your virgin vagina is terrifying. It felt like my clothes were being teared off with his eyes, then my skin was being picked apart by his greedy nails. I felt like a hundred eyes were staring at me naked and worst of all, I no longer was pretty in my new robins egg blue V-neck shirt, anyone who looked at me now would see a slut instead of a Grace Kelly.

It started happening more and more. I think the vultures can smell innocence as easy scraps. For example, at a carnival a sleazy guy in his 20's pretended to bump into me while sliding his hand around the curve of my ass. I didn't even think my ass was that special. I grabbed his hand away, squeezed hard and stared him in the eyes and said, "not cool". I was trying to be authoritative. I don't know if my acting worked... he sauntered away but I still felt gross again.

I seldom told my friends about the whistles and catcalls I got, the stares, and cheap feels in a crowd. I didn't want them to think I was exaggerating or making it up, It happened that often. I also didn't think they'd understand. Maybe i was wrong, maybe I was right. I was caught in the middle of feeling like I've finally grown into a woman and having the attention of people noticing me- a part of me liked feeling sexy for once in my life, but at the same time I felt violated and used... and worst of all I didn't know how to handle myself in those situations.

My diary from high school is filled to the brim of me being frustrated with men because they'd stare at me and "devour me with their eyes", but no one ever wanted to date me. I didn't know how to be sexy or flirt... sometimes I would awkwardly try and fail miserably. I tried to flirt with Sebastian once. I hope he doesn't remember that because it was EXTREMELY embarrassing.

I wanted to be seen as an Audrey Hepburn or a Grace Kelly... they were my two favorite actresses at the time and I found them to be so classy and gorgeous, but they had small breasts, and i could never be like them. Instead people would just see me=big boobs= slutty secretary. I would watch cartoons and movies and they always would cast the classy heroine as small chested, and the slutty one with big breasts. I would often frantically search google for pictures of female celebrities who had both natural big breasts and class, just to prove to myself that I could have both. They were hard to find. I collected pictures of Selma Hayek and Sophia Loren... who btw has the most extreme 8 shaped body in the world... I have NEVER seen anyone in pictures or real life who has a body that literally looks like an hourglass like she does.

Once I grew to be a what I thought was a 34DD, I felt ugly and hideous. My boobs were so large and disproportional to my body and they hung so low, even with my bra on. When I went into stores and tried on clothes, nothing would fit- I had a saggy old woman's body. I couldn't shop at Victoria's Secret or the junior sections of stores, I had to go to the old lady section to find clothes. I'd be in tears over my looks, frustrated that there literally were no bathing suits that would fit me, and bras were impossible to find.

Then, my junior year of high school, my Mom and I went to Tina's Closet in Lisle and my chest and my self esteem were uplifted forever. It's a privately owned store that focuses of truly making bras, bathing suits, and various shape shifters fit on their clients. I went into the changing room, was measured and the saleswoman said, "You're a not a 34DD, you are a 28F." My mom and I stared wide eyed in disbelief... we had never even heard of an "F" size before. They taught me about bras and set me up with a couple new bras and my entire world changed. There is nothing more important to a woman's outfit than a good bra, one that works for her body and supports her. My breasts no longer looked saggy, I could go into stores and find clothes that actually looked good on my body. It was a miracle. Most women actually wear the wrong bra size... it's a shame that so many women don't know much about their own chest- how to measure it, how to calculate their size. I'll write another post about bra sizes eventually.

Now, this doesn't mean I never had issues with clothes and bathing suits again. To this day, it's still difficult to find shirts, dresses, and bathing suits that fit me. All of my bras and bathing suits are bought and customized at Tina's Closet. Sometimes they have to take them in a couple inches because the bra companies don't sell my exact size. So I'll have a bra that says on the tag it's a 30G, but they've taken it in 2 inches to make it a 28G. It's taken me a long time to figure out what clothing styles work for my body, sometimes I still experiment. It's not so much a question of fashion as it is what works. Usually what's in fashion doesn't work for my hourglass. I still get frustrated that I have to go to Tina's closet for bathing suits... I only have her selection to work with. I wish I could go into any store, pick up a standard string bikini and just wear it. Bathing suits and bras for me require trying them on, being remeasured, waiting a week for them to be tailored and customized, and then worn. It's a frustrating process, but I'm fortunate to live somewhere close to options. I've seen many women at the beach with beautiful breasts that just don't fit into their bathing suits and they are hanging out and look awful, probably because that was the best they could find.

Once I hit my senior year of high school, I finally saw myself as beautiful. I still hadn't come to terms with my body yet... I still had back pains and a difficulty finding clothes, but I recognized that i was unique. I learned to actually talk to guys, got a boyfriend. Creepers stopped creeping on me as much. I think that because I was more mature, they could almost smell that I could handle myself better and that I wasn't easy pickings. I think it helped that I had a lot of guy friends and a boyfriend. I liked walking with them because if I noticed someone staring, I could take a step to the side and hide behind them. Then when you have a boyfriend walking beside you, most people don't even bother to stare and it's not a problem it all. It was weird, I relied on them so much for protection against staring and they never even noticed it.

But it was bad because I got to the point when I felt unsafe to walk without a guy there. I didn't tell many people this because I knew I was overreacting, but it was a real wake up call to learn how to be independent and confident in myself when i went to college and had to walk alone. I can walk alone now, don't worry. :)

In college, people talked about my boobs a lot. I'd have girls and guys alike call me up and say, "hey we are having a debate about your bra-size, what is it again?" or "We just were talking about your boobs the other day..." you think I'm kidding but I'm not. I really hated it because eventually girls would start to feel intimidated by me because of my chest. Apparently it was my entire goal in life to steal men from their grasp. Kim was a prime example of this. We were at a concert and we all just stood listening to band, and I was bored so I spotted a guy named Hugh I had met at school. I went over and talked to him and he told me about the band because he knew some of the members. Well for the next couple days Kim didn't talk to me at all, and I found out the reason why is because she felt I was trying to steal him away from her. They weren't even dating! She didn't know him any more than I did. She had absolutely no claim on him. On another occasion she called me a "slutbag whore" for the sole reason that I found Jensen Ackles attractive. Next, we were on a train talking about how Kim had been flirting with a tall thin guy who was an amateur model, She said, "I don't know if I find him attractive, I go for a guy who is tubbier with more meat on them." I responded, "oh, he is my ideal body type, I like skinny guys" and then she snapped at me and yelled in my face, "WELL YOU CAN'T HAVE HIM!"

I also spent Halloween with some guy friends from theatre and their girlfriends. I was going to dress up as a pirate- I had a beautiful costume all planned out, but then I found out that one of the couples was going as pirates and I was sensitive to that and I didn't want to make anyone feel jealous or awkward (girls can be weird about such things), so I changed just hours before into a Russian Supermodel costume. The girls clearly didn't like me. In the bathroom they looked me up and down and said, "So you are the one they talk about with the big boobs." Can't imagine the cattiness that would happen if i wore my pirate costume.

I hate cattiness. I hate the stupid attention and stereotypes that people formulate when they see me. It frustrates me a lot. But I've gotten over it for the most part, I realize that it's their problem and not mine. It still hurts. There are so many times that I try to play myself down and step out of the way so that girls won't feel intimidated by me. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I probably care too much about it than I should.

Another huge thing I wrestle with is this: it's good to acknowledge and be confident in your beauty, but it's bad to be conceited about it. For some reason it seems easier to be a guy to have the attitude of, "I'm hot and I know it." It's seen as a good thing. And it is a good thing. If a girl thinks, "I'm hot and I know it" it can often be taken as she is conceited, bitchy, a whore. Where is that line between confidence and conceit?

I've been talking about so many negatives about having large boobs and considering myself attractive but there are positives. It can be fun sometimes! I receive free meals or tea on occasion, I get compliments a lot. Some of them have made me smile ear to ear. One woman was walking past me and stopped dead in her tracks and said, "Are you a model? You are so beautiful!" I've been called "Movie Star" before. But one of the most flattering things is that a lot of my friends associate me with Audrey Hepburn. I don't know if they realize the full extent of what that means to me. As I mentioned previously, I have admired her beauty and class ever since I was little and first saw "My Fair Lady" and "Breakfast at Tiffanies". Some of my friends have their phone ringtone for me as the song "Breakfast at Tiffanies". The fact that some people associate me with her means the world to me in my own silly way.

I still don't mention many of my compliments that I get and catcalls and such to my friends. I'm constantly worried that people will view me as conceited or a slut. I try to walk the line of being confident with myself but handle myself with grace. Some days I succeed better than others. I try to compliment people as much as I can, because I know how good it feels... but a compliment is worthless unless it is genuine. It must be genuine.

I never feel more beautiful than when my hair is long and sun-stained form the summer and the wind catches in and tangles it how he feels fit. I like to walk as if I'm Eowyn on top of Edoras in a white dress standing still while the wind races passed her. Sometimes when I'm lonely or having a bad day, I'll make myself look like a bombshell and saunter silently throughout a public place, just to get checked out by passers by. It probably sounds vain but I don't care, I'm human and I'm being honest.

I recognize that I'm not the most beautiful woman in the world. I am disproportional, sometimes I wish my strong arms and legs were more slender, I still have a bit of achne, sometimes I get sick of the way my face looks, my one eye is weaker than the other, I don't like the way my nose looks from the side, my lips are too small, when I smile I see my grandma in my face because we have the same jawline and smile, I have a scar on my chin from stitches, and I still have my chicken pox scar on my forehead. But you know what? Why focus on all these petty negatives. Every woman on the planet could list off a dozen things they don't like about their body, but in the end, passerby just sees someone them as beautiful and they don't notice the "flaws". It's pointless to stress about the things we can't change. So I don't. And neither should anyone else.

Sometimes I wonder what it will be like when I'm old and wrinkly. Hopefully I'll be a different kind of beautiful. I don't want to be one of those old women who lament being beautiful and feel they are worthless and nothing without their looks. That's why it's so important for me to define myself as a writer, a thinker, a philosopher, an artist... so that I know that no matter what happens to me physically, I am still lovely Laura.

This isn't the most interesting of stories of the female form, but it is mine. Maybe you learned something about me for the body in general that you never knew or even thought about before. Every woman spends hours and hours of her life taking care of her body, pampering it, stressing about it, crying over it, and rarely does she get to talk about it. I have several women who have expressed an interest in sharing their stories about their body, each story unique and begging to be told. If you would like the story of your body told, even anonymously, let me know, and I would be more than happy to add you to the Hourglass Symposium.

100 Hourglasses

I've been passionate about the female body for several years... I'm passionate about it because half the population has one, the other half idolizes it; and yet so few members of the population truly know about the female body, understand the beauties and frustrations that women face as a result of their body, or even recognize how gorgeous they are.

It frustrates me, being a woman in my early 20's, to talk with women in the prime of their lives utterly despising their body for one reason or another. The fact is, no matter how drop dead gorgeous other people find you, there's always at least one or two "flaws" that you wish you could change. We are never satisfied.

There a hundred different hourglasses. Tall, short, pear-shaped, upside down pear-shaped, delicate and fragile, organic and strong, and everything in between. It's no secret that the fashion world and the media hails only one hourglass: the tall and slender. Yet people IRL appreciate all one hundred hourglasses so long as they are healthy. Yet people don't have the authority in these matters, the media does.

I want the explore the hourglasses: research the female form from a biological and historical standpoint, talk to average women from adolescence, to young adult, to adults; I'll talk to men to get an even broader perspective on the issue, I will interview the experts; and I'll share my own personal experiences and opinions. Please, if you have any interest in becoming part of the Hourglass Symposium, let me know! I would love to interview you and get your perspective on the female forms.