Assignment 1 – 151mc – Historical Visions of Beauty

Expanding on the idea that female self esteem is somehow informed by what society expects and by what is portrayed in the mass media, I have been intrigued to learn just what defined the ultimate in female beauty within a historical context. To see if perceptions of female beauty has changed over the years and to explore how artists have dealt with the female body over the years.

During the Renaissance period women were voluptuous and natural beauty was revered and paintings by artists of the period seem to reflect this.

Danae 1636-47 - Rembrandt Van Rijn

Danae 1636-47 – Rembrandt Van Rijn

Paintings from the Baroque period also seem to reflect this ideal of the voluptuous female form.

However, once we head towards the Victorian age the emphasis on female self restraint led to an fashion for corsets. Womens waists were expected to be wasp like and almost impossibly small, whilst enhancing the curves of the breasts and bottom.

Although as can be seen from the diagram to above right, women were actually doing themselves physical damage in adhering to the fashion.


As the early 20th century progressed the 1920’s saw another change in the female ideal. The fashion for flapper dresses and a boyish figure lead women to resort to measures such as binding their breasts in order to attain the perfection that they desired.

The 1930’s and 1940s saw a move towards glamorous curves and the introduction of the padded bra and by the 1950’s women were inspired by the curvaceous bodies of Marilyn Monroe and Grave Kelly. These adverts show just how different the ideal was back then in that skinniness was something to be avoided. Curves were the order of the day and that it was women’s jobs to maintain a pristine appearance in order to ‘catch’ a man.  Images found here .


However , the tide seemed to turn in the 1960’s when models such as Twiggy were promoting skinniness as the way to be, this style almost emulates the 1920’s ideal of boyish features and lack of female curves.


Following on from this time the ideal was promoted as Thin = Sexy leading all the way to the 1990’s with the emergence of ‘heroin chic’.  Fashion designers and magazine editors were using models who were dangerously thin and using photo editing more prolifically then ever before.

The 2000’s and 2010’s have seem a slow shift towards “real women” campaigns with big beauty brands such as Dove and Ultimo targeting the beauty of real women.


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