One of the most revealing moments during Katie Hopkin’s reality TV show “Fat and Back” was when she walked out in her underwear in front of a group of rugby players to get a “second opinion” on her body when her doctor said she was too thin. Hopkins doesn’t believe him and clearly thinks that the rugby players would find her body attractive. Instead they described her body as too thin, anorexic looking, unhealthy, and as having no boobs and butt. She is clearly shocked that they don’t share the same idea of what is attractive as she does. When Hopkins gained weight however, she describes her body as disgusting and refused to sleep with her husband because she felt so unattractive, even though her friends and family say she looks a bit better with some of the weight on her. She shouldn’t be surprised (but she is) that other people’s ideas of beauty are different from her own.
What is considered attractive or beautiful has always been both culturally and individually defined. What the culture defines as beautiful is different in each place and time and frequently changes and what a person individually prefers may also change throughout one’s life and may be influenced or conflict with what the general culture. The below video “Women’s Ideal Body Types Throughout History” shows some of the various trends throughout history in a few places, and focuses in the second half on the changing trends through the last hundred years in the Western Hemisphere.
I don’t believe each individual’s personal ideal of beauty should be criticized (unless it is unhealthily disordered) since, first, people have little control over what they find attractive, and secondly, individuality and uniqueness in personal taste is how people who do not fit the culture’s standard (most of us), find love. It is unfair to say that “real men like curves” because real (and by real, I assume people mean “not fictional”, right?) men find attractive women who have lots of curves, some curves, little curves, skinny women, athletic women, obese women, short women, tall women, and some real men find other men attractive. People vary in their personal tastes dramatically. Thank goodness we are all different in our tastes or only a select few who fit the current standard would ever find love.
I do believe that we need to take a hard look at what our culture portrays as ideal. First, any cultural ideal will exclude the majority of people. If the ideal is the tall athletic build of the 1980’s, it will exclude anyone who is short, anyone who is curvy, anyone who is skinny etc. On top of that, if the ideal is one that will be unhealthy for most people, it is especially harmful. For example, the heroin chic look popularized in the 90’s when I was a teenager is not only be impossible for most people to get, it would be very unhealthy to try. The look was very thin, with no curves, dark circles under the eyes, and emulated the look of a drug abuser. For the vast majority of people the only way to try to get this look was to starve and try to look unhealthy. A similar trend is occurring today with the thigh gap and bikini bridge. While there are websites devoted on how to work-out and diet to obtain these, for the vast majority of women, they are impossible or, if possible, unhealthy.
What drives these trends is financial gain. If the beauty industry puts forth a standard that most women don’t currently meet and which appears on the surface as obtainable, such as the thigh gap, they are sure to make money on people buying products to try to obtain the (for most people) unobtainable. The diet industry makes billions of dollars per year on products designed to convince people they are inadequate but if they just tried a little harder and bought a product, they could obtain the current culture’s beauty standard. This is a real money-maker. Consider the amount of money it takes to buy a workout DVD or special food program to try to get that thin (hundreds of dollars), versus how much it costs to purchase a new color of lipstick or nail color (up to $10). Which is the better investment to convince people they need?
Instead of focusing on what the culture or even another individual finds attractive, what is healthier is to find what you love about yourself. I know that I will never have a thigh gap (and I have never really wanted one) and I don’t think certain hair styles or clothing trends look good on me even though they might be adorable on my friends, but I know that I feel attractive wearing purple eye shadow, toenail polish, sundresses, and my hair in braids, all things that are perfectly obtainable for me. If we focused on what the current culture or even multiple individuals liked, we would always be coming up short and looking at the negative in ourselves. If we focus on what we find beautiful in ourselves, we will be looking at the positive and be able to accentuate those things.