Perceptions of Body Image throughout History

By dejan
  • 16th Century

    In Elizabethan times, the fashionable female body shape was like a bell: a huge lower half, small waist and flat chest.
  • 17th Century

    In the seventeenth century, corsets became more like the corsets we recognise today. They known as ‘stays’ and were more usually made with whalebone rather than iron. Petticoat hoops and rolls fell out of favour giving the lower half of the body a more natural shape.
  • 18th Century

    In the 1700’s skirts were hooped again but the hoops were flat at the front and back to make a really wide shape from side to side
  • Period: to


    During the Victorian era, the ideal body type for women was plump, fleshy, and full-figured. They wore restrictive corsets, which made waists artificially tiny while accentuating the hips and buttocks. These corsets also caused a variety of health problems with breathing and digestion.
  • Turn of the 20th Century

    In the early 1900s Edwardian corsetry was less harsh and with the introduction of the so called ‘health corset’ ladies no longer restricted a woman’s movements and breathing but a small waist was still the ideal.
  • 19th Century

    In the early nineteenth century a more flowing and forgiving Greek-style silhouette was in fashion.
    This did not last long though and in Victorian times women pursued the ultimate hourglass shape.
    In the mid 1800’s the crinoline went out of fashion and the ‘Gibson girl’ image came into style. A bustle in the back of the skirt was used to make a woman’s hips and buttocks look bigger
  • Period: to


    At the start of the 1900s, slenderness became more fashionable. There was an increasing interest of women in athletics and physicians began to see body weight as a 'science' of calorie counting, 'ideal weights', and weigh-ins. At this time the physically perfect woman was 5'4" tall and weighed 10 stone.
  • 1910

    In a relatively short space of time in the 50 years around the turn of the century there was a massive change in the way people expected a woman’s body to look. In the 20th century, with more participation in sports, women started to become more active and athletic.
  • 1920's

    The slim ideal was central in the 1920’s, when fashionable women known as ‘flappers’ struggled for a thin, boyish figure with little or no curves.
  • 1930's and 1940's

    In the 1930's the women's sought a slightly curvier figure with a bigger bust but still wanted slim hips. Women of the 1930s brought the corset back, then called a ‘girdle’, which usually came with a bra and attached garters.
  • 1950's

    In the late 1940's with the return to a wealthier lifestyle after the war, curves were back in fashion! The return of the hourglass figure for women was influenced by a new girdle.
    In the 50’s
    women's undergarments
    began to emphasise the breasts instead of the waist. Bra cup sizing finally took on in Britain
  • 1960's

    In the sixties, everything changed yet again. The mini-skirt took fashion world by storm which meant the end of full fifties petticoats and the curves that went them. Because the mini-skirt was so ‘mini’ stockings could no longer be worn and were replaced by tights or bare legs.
  • Period: to


    By the 1960s, slenderness became the most important indicator of physical attractiveness following the arrival of model Twiggy. She weighed in at a shapeless six and a half stones, and had the figure of a prepubescent boy. Despite an American public with increasing body weights, Playboy magazine increased the promotion of slimness between 1959 and 1978. 'Miss America' contestants were also found to be thinner over time, and winners of the pageant after 1970 consistently weighed less than the ot
  • 1970's

    In the 70’s a slightly more natural shape came in as petticoats and girdles became completely outdated and the ‘hippy’ lifestyle came into fashion. However, for mainstream society the look made fashionable for women was small hips and waist, but large breasts – meaning a good bra was essential
  • 1980's

    In the 80's it became popular for people to sculpt their bodies through ‘working out’. This was the ‘power’ decade when women were expected to diet and exercise to become thin and more muscular but still with curves in the ‘right places’. Madonna’s cone-shaped bra, the ultimate ‘power’ underwear, gained a place in lingerie history!
  • 1990's

    Weight loss becomes a multi-million pound industry. Kate Moss epitomises the tall, skinny ‘waif’ look. The other prevailing ideal is for women to be tall and slim but also with big boobs, a very rare body shape to occur naturally and extremely difficult to achieve.
  • 2000+

    For many women today, thinness is the ultimate body shape goal. Women resort to extreme and expensive measures including plastic surgery, gastric reductions and radical diets in their struggle to get skinny.