I’ve seen this poster and some other versions of it comparing 1950s and 1960s beauties to 21st century celebrities, and to be honest, it makes my blood boil to see these photos being posted with absolutely no commentary on how they perpetuate the myth of a socially sanctioned ideal body type. My problem with these posters is how they manage to ignore the main issues about body image. The first and foremost issue is that women look for social acceptance of their bodies as being attractive. The second is that they completely ignore the history of a dominance of body types over all others, even during the period referred to in these posters.
The cause and reinforcement of the hegemony of one type of attractiveness cannot be separated, and all the factors seem to be stuck in a continuous loop of various media bashing celebrities for having a slight roll of fat on their tummies or bingo wings, individuals buying this trash and adopting such cute names for their so-called problem areas, moms making innocuous comments to their daughters which stick with them for life and the general message being passed around to young women the world over is that their social value doesn’t rest in their grade point average or how well they are getting on in work but whether they are seen by a majority in society as being suitable fuckable (if I may lift that phrase from this video). The truly sad thing is that we have swallowed this message hook, line and sinker. We verbally bash our bodies, compare them to celebrities whose main job description is being conventionally attractive and then when we’re finished with all that, we spend our hard-earned money on things to make ourselves look more attractive.
And what hope do we really have of altering our behaviour when most of the images of women we see in our media are varieties of small breasts or slightly bigger breasts and perky bum or slightly curvier yet improbably perky bum balancing on a perfect UK size 8 body, blonde or brunette, naturally young or cosmetically preserved. While improvements have been made in the representation of race and age, we still have a long way to go in terms of body size and shapes. Any plus size models or celebrities seem to all be perfectly balanced without any cellulite, dimples or stretchmarks. Those celebrities who don’t fit into this paradigm are the exception that proves the rule, due to the fuss made over any celebrity who is slightly different and holding them up as the token for diversity in the media.
I can understand the backlash, the need to point out another body type as being attractive, and yes, I agree that in my eyes, the body type of Marilyn or Betty is much more attractive than Kiera, but that is only my opinion. In terms of my body, it should only be my opinion that gives me my self-confidence. We need to stop looking towards getting a majority of society to say that, yes, your body is attractive too, and start demanding that our value as human beings be based on our achievements as people, not the luck of the gene-pool jackpot. We need to start buying magazines which ask female celebrities about their next acting or music project or their opinion on global development rather than about their dress size. We need to stop using phrases such as ‘real women’ when we talk about our body shapes because every woman’s body is real, whether it’s slim and willowy, a pregnant body, athletic, breast-feeding, going through an eating disorder, dealing with an illness or disabled, or even in the process of a sex change. Anyone who identifies as a woman is a real woman, end of story.
My second problem with this poster in specific is the ignorance of the history of the beauty myth. Through history, one particular type of beauty has always been chosen over others as being more valuable and attractive, and this poster points back to an era in which slim yet curvy body types dominated. Similar to the 21st century and Spanx, uncomfortable undergarments were used to achieve waspish waists and push up breasts. Products like ‘Wate-on’ were sold to women to add curves to their hips and bust-lines as the slim athletic look was out. By harking back to the days of old and ignoring these issues, we are doing ourselves and our social history a grave disservice.
Instead of looking back, let’s move forward towards a much more diverse society in which we value women for much more than their body size.