Our latest Object guest writer is Gemma Thorpe an English Teacher from Leeds. With a keen interest in Feminism and history, Gemma put forward the idea of exploring the Feminine Ideal and how she has been portrayed through time. The Feminine Ideal been through quite a journey this last century; nipped, tucked, constrained, transformed, manipulated, accepted and rejected by media and perhaps rather guiltily by us? I'll leave it to Gemma to expand on this perception of perfection, we've been nurtured to strive to achieve. Whilst I think female role models are utterly important for women of all ages, their needs to be more substance than the ideal hip to waist ratio.
Lead face-paint in the 16th century, rib removal, mice infested, powdered wigs and muscle paralysis: yes, the "ideal" in the "Feminie Ideal" comes at a price. This ephemeral concept has had women nipping, pushing up and sticking down their natural forms for hundreds of years in an attempt to conform to the idea of beauty at a given time. This ideal is etched into the very foundations of our society, it's in our fairytales, our perception of success and arguably our understanding of what it is to be female. And, you only have to leaf through the fashion archives to bear witness to these ever changing, somewhat tormenting (you might say) aesthetic aspirations of the "fairer sex".
Let's start at Gatsby's house: gone are the restricting corsets of yesteryear; whilst flat chested women breathed in and out freely in shapeless dresses, they flashed lean legs thanks to radically rising hemlines and androgyny was all the rage.
Fast forward to the 1950's and definition now takes center stage; women sculptured their bodies with wired underwear and cinched in waits to carve out a shapely silhouette all in favor of meeting Mr Right.
And, as expected we take another u-turn with the face of '66, a singular source of admiration that women in their droves attempted to mimic in style and body: Twiggy. Even leaner and doe eyed, this decade saw the birth of the supermodel and the idea of archetypal beauty took a leap into the spotlight. Of course, she wasn't the last:
The Big Six were soon gracing every campaign, billboard and cover with their athletic and toned physiques: Kate, Christi, Claudia, Niamoi and Cindy to name but a few, continued to re-shape the notion of beauty in the eyes of the beholders...
So, what exactly constitutes as the "ideal" today? I don't think there is an answer. Not a singular answer, anyway. In an age where images of women are so freely acquired all over the world, in all manner of contexts there seems to be a more diverse idea of what "beauty" is than ever. Curves are celebrated in all their Kardashain glory and in the whisking hourglass form of public figures such as Nigella Lawson. Age before beauty is now a paradoxical term thanks to the ongoing allure of Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, we champion the style of those svelte icons such as Sienna Miller and Jordan Dunn whilst nodding at the perfect, imperfection (another paradox, that's quite telling) of Lara Stone's toothy hallmark. All in all, physical beauty has perhaps never been so multi-everything and surely, that isn't a bad thing. Surely, this is a sign of progress? The minute we all start celebrating a spectrum of beauty as opposed to a singular version of it, everything becomes that bit more interesting. Now more than ever the Feminine Ideal is perhaps shaped by the female perception of beauty as opposed to the male (or the corset) And whilst there is clearly still work to do, it appears now more than ever that sisters are doing it for themselves ( I've been dying to get that in )
Words: Gemma Thorpe
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