Why the ‘perfect body type’ is always changing

models

BY KATHLEEN
TONNER
Having the “perfect body
type” is something that many people have strived for, sparking their
interest in diets and exercise routines. And most people can relate.
Who hasn’t looked in the mirror and wanted to change what they see? But
what’s considered “perfect” today might not be seen that way
tomorrow, as trends come and go over the years, with specific body traits
rising and falling in popularity. From willowy flappers, to Amazonian supermodels,
to bootylicious babes, women have stretched and squeezed themselves to fit
into whatever particular mold society has crafted for them. 
This has led to many women
feeling discouraged and dissatisfied with their bodies (via PsychCentral), with
some even turning to dangerous methods to change themselves. However, these
aforementioned fashion trends show that there is no objective perfect body.
Rather, the concept of the “perfect body” is influenced by
public’s perception of beauty, which is ever-evolving. Here’s why the
“perfect body type” is always changing.
The
effects of social media
Woman taking selfie
We live in an age where words
like “baby boomer” and “millennial” get thrown around
constantly. The differences between generations may cause many disagreements
over politics, economics, and of course, beauty standards. According to a study
by Beautycon Media, 82 percent of individuals between the ages of 13
and 34 agree that “physical and digital identities are one and the
same.” Young people have grown up seeing themselves through pictures
posted to social media. And that looking glass has no doubt changed people’s
relationship to their bodies. Though Time magazine once called technology a
“toxic mirror,” Beautycon’s study found that people’s relationship
with social media “heightens the diversity of aesthetic
expression.”
Unlike baby boomers, beauty to
younger generations isn’t just about what society is telling them to look like
— it’s about making more of an intimate personal statement. Bodies are becoming
more owned by their… well, owner, and that puts into question whether or not an
“ideal” body even exists.
Survival
of the prettiest
Khloe and Kim Kardashian with Kris Jenner

It’s an unfortunate fact for
most of us that the prettiest people often get the most attention. And,
according to scientists, women are continuing to get more and more attractive
generation after generation. Evolution expert Dr. Jack da Silva, who works with
the University of Adelaide, told ABC News Online, “From an
evolutionary perspective, there’s a selection in women to be more
beautiful,” adding, “The study showed that women on a whole are more
attractive than men.” According to da Silva, men may decide to have
families with pretty women because “men choose genetic success based on
looks.” Women, however, do not, so “being more attractive is more
beneficial to women than it is to men.”
And oddly enough, Silva found
that the more attractive a woman was, the more daughters she would have. If
this “beauty race,” as da Silva called it, continues, soon enough the
world will have a population of beautiful goddesses. On the other hand, that
also means that beauty standards may be raised with each new generation.
What
is considered “healthy?”
Woman on scale
One would think that what is
healthy would be an objective fact, but that’s not always the case. It is more
what is perceived as healthy that shapes our attitudes about certain
body shapes. Psychologist Devendra Singh of the University of Texas
told Live Science in an interview, “The idea is that beauty is
conveying information about health and fertility, and we admire
that.” In times of great need, like the Great Depression, appearing
too thin was looked down upon, and a more fuller form was preferred. Since
then, having extra weight has been a major focus of the health community.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) spent a billion dollars in 2018
researching obesity alone.
However, weight might not be
the most accurate barometer for a person’s health. One of the most popular
measurements of weight is body mass index (BMI), but studies have shown
that it isn’t a good indicator of cardiovascular wellness (via The New York
Times). So, rather than only considering your BMI or the number you see on a
scale, it’s probably best to instead concentrate on bettering yourself with
healthy eating and exercise, which Dr. Arya M. Sharma, the University of
Alberta’s chairman of obesity research and management, told The
New York Times. “You might want to focus on being as healthy as you can
and not obsess about your weight,” she said. “Obesity management is
not about treating numbers on a scale. It’s about improving people’s
health.”
We
like what we know
Magnetized people
We’ve all heard the saying
that opposites attract. However, according to several studies, that’s not
actually true. According to Medical Daily, researchers at Wellesley College in
Massachusetts and the University of Kansas found that students preferred to
spend time with like-minded people rather than those with opposite views. It
turns out, humans are more attracted to what they are already comfortable with.
There’s a phenomenon known as the mere-exposure effect, where people simply
like others who are familiar to them. For example, growing up, a person
generally sees their family members a lot. As noted by Psychology Today, it’s
not unheard of for people to have a preference for partners that resemble their
family. 
This apparent phenomenon isn’t
limited to just families. Friends, peers, and neighbors also feed into our
sense of familiarity and can make us feel comfortable. It’s part of why
everyone has a different idea of what an attractive body looks like. After all,
beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That’s not to say that people can’t find
unfamiliar bodies attractive, but, in general, they often gravitate towards
what they already know.
Hmm, maybe the mere-exposure
effect is part of the reason why the “dad bod” has to taken the world
by storm…
The
media has our attention
Ariana Grande at the billboard Women in Music 2018
In conjunction to the
mere-exposure effect, the media also plays a big role in our lives. For
example, if we see a certain image portrayed by the media over and over again,
it becomes familiar to us. Most people today consume media through television
shows, computers, smartphones, and even magazine covers. It seems nearly
impossible to be unaffected by the media and what images are promoted on the
small screen and in print. Thus, we are dominated by what scientists call the
“thin ideal,” as described by University of Ottawa researchers
Lisa Mask and Céline M. Blanchard. 
It’s no secret that Hollywood
often focuses on thin women, equating their skinniness with beauty. What’s
harmful, though, is that this focus can skew a person’s perception of the
norm. However, it’s important to remember that the media shows what they
think people want to see. As people’s priorities shift, advertisements have
started promoting more diverse body types (via CNBC), and that’s something we
can all get on board with.
On-screen
representation
Actress
Since the media influences
such a huge chunk of our perception, it should come as no surprise that
representation of race and diversity — or lack thereof — plays a huge role
in our perception of beauty. A report published in 2015 by the Annenberg
School for Communication and Journalism showed that 73.1 percent of the
roles in the top 100 films were played by white people. The media has a serious
focus on white people, and sadly this has an effect on how people of color may
see themselves.
This idea has manifested in
the popular but dangerous procedure of skin lightening, which, as the
procedure’s name suggests, aims to lighten skin tone. America’s media has
started to affect other country’s perception of beauty, even when their
population is predominantly non-white. A study in India found that 44.6
percent of participants starting using skin lighteners because of TV and
advertisements. One of the most popular surgeries in South Korea
is blepharoplasty, or double eyelid surgery, according to Business Insider.
This widens the eyes to give the patient the double eyelid fold, which many
Korean people do not have. 
Cultural
differences
Kayan woman
Most studies on beauty and
body image focus on Western countries, but that’s only one part of the world.
There are cultures like the Tsimané of the Bolivian Amazon that value
women for having heavier body weights — not for having thin frames, as noted by
a 2014 study. While that may be the complete opposite of the “thin
ideal” in American media, it’s what is considered attractive in that particular
culture. Similarly, other cultures focus on completely different aspects
of the body altogether. For example, Padaung women in Myanmar and Thailand wear
brass rings around their necks to make them appear longer, as long necks are
considered ideal in their culture.
Even just in America, the
culture has shifted drastically in the last hundred years. The quintessential,
corset-wearing “Gibson Girl” that dominated the late 1890s and
early 1900s might have had an hourglass figure, but not many people would put
Kim Kardashian under that same label despite her having a similar silhouette.
Clearly, there’s a lot that goes into people’s perceptions of beauty.
Changing
lifestyles
Woman posing with cigarette holder
The way you live your life
could understandably influence your outward appearance. The best historical
example of this might just be the iconic flappers of the 1920s. Flappers
were known for drinking alcohol, going to parties, and having more sexual
freedom than their elders, according to History.com. And the way they
presented themselves with their straight, slim bodies appeared to be a
rejection of the Victorian images of corseted beauty. Therefore, we
imagine that flappers and their contemporaries might have seen twig-like bodies
as the ideal.
But while they flappers’
draped dresses and short hairstyles are thought of as fashionable today, they
were considered rebellious and even “immoral” at the time, as noted
by History.com. A New York mother in 1922 once complained to The New
York Times, “The boys of today must be protected from the young girl
vamp.” The United States was so scandalized by these young women
showing their skin that many states tried to make their fashion illegal,
including Virginia, which tried to ban any dress that showed off more than
three inches of a woman’s throat. While the image of some puffed-up bureaucrat
chasing women around with a ruler might be hilarious, it seems ridiculous that
something so tame to modern Americans would be considered so counter-culture to
those of the past.
Fashion
and clothing trends
New York Fashion Week 2019
The internet is littered with
articles illustrating how to dress for your body shape, so that should tell you
just how much fashion influences what bodies are “in” and which are
“out.” This isn’t anything new, as one of the most interesting manifestations
of this phenomenon began during World War II. As women took over much of the
workforce while men went off to war, as noted by History.com, the time’s
popular fashion became much more practical. No longer was the “perfect
body” considered to be delicate and soft. Instead, women’s bodies took on
a stronger appearance, as people embraced wide shoulders and sharp angles and
women’s dress looked more and more like a military uniform, according to a blog
from the U.S. National Archives.
But this wasn’t the only case
of fashion influencing society’s perception of the ideal body. Many of us are
familiar with the near-unattainable standards that the fashion industry has
imposed on the everyday woman, as models often weight far less than the average
woman. And seeing skinny models walk the runway, of course, shapes what we see
as beautiful.
There’s
profit involved

Shoppers carrying Victoria Secret Bags
The depressing truth is that
there’s profit to be made in making people feel bad about their bodies. The
diet food market has been growing six to nine percent a year and is now a $10
billion industry, according to a study conducted by India’s Bharathidasan
University. Even if suddenly tomorrow all women were content with their bodies,
it’s still possible these companies would find another way into their pockets.
A large reason women shave their armpits and legs is because of Gillette’s
past marketing tactics. The razor company began running ads for women’s
razors in 1917, proclaiming that their product solved “an embarrassing
personal problem” for ladies’ underarms, despite the fact that shaved
armpits were not the norm at the time.
Clearly, companies make money
off of body dissatisfaction. Though, they do appear to acknowledge when change
is on the horizon. More and more companies seem to be embracing body positivity
in their advertising strategy. The company behind Dove
and Axe, Unilever, for example, has made an effort to change its
marketing strategy. Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing officer, stated
at the 2016 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, “Our
industry spends billions of dollars annually shaping perceptions and we have a
responsibility to use this power in a positive manner.”
The
politics of beauty
Every Beautiful Body Symposium
Let’s face it, Americans live
in a highly politicized age, and society has a lot to say about what kind of
body a person should or should not have. Luckily, there are large organizations
that are trying to give the voice back to the people. There are entire
movements like The Body is Not an Apology based around body positivity and
expanding the idea of what is considered a beautiful body. In its mission
statement, the organization claims it was created “to remind us that we do
not need to wait to feel beautiful, powerful, or worthy tomorrow.”
The dialogue around bodies and
body image is changing. The modern body positivity movement is still young, but
we’re already seeing its effects. Brands are starting to ban altered photos on
their products, increase their clothes sizing options, and hire more diverse
models. In the future, maybe there won’t even be a strict vision of the
“perfect body.”
SOURCE:
THE LIST
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.