Swing shift

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By Debbi O’Shea

I find it fascinating that like fashion, ideal body shapes for women seem to change with each decade. (Which one leads, or is it a chicken-and-egg kind of thing?)

In the Victorian era, women of means wore heavily boned corsets in an attempt to show off tiny waists that could be accentuated with extravagant clothes. Small waists were signs of social status. By the time the 1920s roared in, women were reveling in their quest for equal rights, along with the lithe, androgynous bodies and the drop-waist styles that accompanied them.

The 1950s was the decade of the sweatered, cinch-waisted, pencil-skirted bombshell. Voluptuous figures helped catapult Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida into the stratosphere of beauty icons, with the media playing a huge part, as they always have, in promoting the concept of the “ideal” body.

In the ’60s, that ideal again shifted to long limbs and a boyish silhouette, based on the popularity of the English model Twiggy. Such mood swings are enough to make you wonder: Is there any rhyme or reason to what defines the ideal body at any given time?

I think not. Just as one trend ends, another begins, reverting to – or, if you will, moving forward – to its polar opposite, mini to maxi skirts, heroin-chic waifs to supermodels. All of these images pervade our consciousness via fashion magazines and advertising campaigns. Of late, the ever-present images of celebrities, airbrushed to perfection, also command our attention through social media.

In turn, women of all ages are under pressure to live up to increasingly unrealistic ideals of attractiveness. Think Victoria’s Secret models.

What is the number one cosmetic procedure performed in the United States? Not surprisingly, breast augmentation. Between 1997 and 2011, plastic surgeons performed a staggering 5,083,717 breast augmentations in the U.S. alone.

This trend has certainly not gone unnoticed by designers. It is no longer unusual to see cocktail dresses and gowns that are not what I call “bra friendly.” Clearly, the designer knows the only way the dress could be worn is by someone whose fullness and perkiness is man-made, particularly with open backs that plunge to there.

Meanwhile, it’s de rigueur to feature derrières, too, unencumbered by lingerie. Was the quest for seamlessness behind the otherwise ladylike Anne Hathaway’s recently revealing red-carpet arrival?

Dressed or undraped, shielded from or exposed to the paparazzi’s prying eyes, figures have become more womanly of late. (This means you, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga.) Are we on the precipice of a bombshell revival?

Time will tell. As far as I’m concerned, a little va-va-va-voom isn’t a bad thing. How do I think we should best define this decade’s feminine ideal? With a healthy body weight and a good push-up bra.

 

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