For the better part of history, society has forced women to cover up. With the conversation slowly turning gears to focus on body and slut shaming, however, I think now is the time to shout-out some important photos of women embracing their bodies throughout the 1900s. Many women are finally beginning to wholly appreciate their ankles, necks, waists, hips, and all, without feeling as much pressure to conform for the outside world. But this wasn't always the case.
For too long, women have been taught to conceal their bodies and to feel negatively about themselves if they don't fit the current social standard of beauty. This attitude has arguably developed a culture of self-criticism and self-hate, causing those who don't necessarily fit into the limited definition of cultural beauty to grow self-conscious.
But at certain points in time, women have rebelled and embraced their bodies for all that they were. It's those women who went against the grain who really made a difference and paved the way for conversations meant to breed acceptance towards many kinds of bodies. I would never claim that we've overcome the critical mindset entirely, but I do believe we've come a long way. So let's go over some beautiful and poignant photos that show women demonstrating autonomy, self-love, and ownership of their bodies.
1. Fashion In The New Century: 1900s
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Back in the 1900s, it wasn't uncommon for women to wear high-collared blouses, flowing skirts nipped at the waist with corsets underneath, stockings, and boots. For the most part, neither their chests nor their legs and ankles could be seen. Thankfully, some women were more open to showcasing the silhouettes of their bodies, like French dancer and actor Arlette Dorgère.
2. Annette Kellerman: Early 1900s
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Australian swimmer, actor, and writer Annette Kellerman is regularly credited with the modern bathing suit's design. Oft known as the "Australian Mermaid," Kellerman was a record-breaking athlete and swimwear designer.
Designing a tight-fitted, body-hugging one-piece swimsuit that quickly caught on as "Kellermans," her design invoked a "new sense of the female body and female physical power," as her biography on Australia.gov reads. She was arrested for "indecency" in 1907, but if it hadn't been for Kellerman's efforts to praise the female form, swimsuits might not be as versatile as they are today.
3. Flappers In Bathing Suits: 1920s
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Come the roaring '20s, the world saw the rise of the flapper. Determined to enjoy themselves and go against the grain, flappers were stylish, rebellious, and totally unapologetic about it — even when they were wearing bathing suits. The photo above depicts a man measuring a woman's bathing suit to make sure it wasn't against beach regulations. But props to them for repping bare legs at a time when covering up was still considered the norm.
4. Popularity Of Lingerie: 1930s
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Nowadays, the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is a widely viewed spectacle that takes place every year, but lingerie hasn't always been as acceptable in the public eye. In the 1930s, when women's fashion seemed to be a more "proper" take on the rebellious designs that flappers loved, lingerie came to the forefront, appearing in catalogs, shops, and department stores. The rise of lingerie gave women a chance to to use underwear to help them embrace their bodies.
5. Natural Beauty By Frida Kahlo: 1940s
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Beauty in the 1940s was seemingly characterized by big, voluminous hair, lined eyes, and glossy lips. But Frida Kahlo, the self-taught Mexican artist, had another definition of beauty: One that revolved around her natural and unique features.
While society at large declared done-up girls in ladylike attire to be the standard of beauty, Kahlo embraced her unibrow and faint mustache in countless self-portraits.
6. Modern Style Courtesy Of Coco Chanel: 1950s
Coco Chanel developed her own sartorial empire in a post-WWI world. At the time, women were still wearing tight corsets and OTT dresses. Chanel was not only one of the first feminist entrepreneurs to gain worldwide success, but she also spoke to self-love. Her clothes were more about comfort and smart design than about pleasing the male gaze.
7. Burlesque Dancers: 1957
Burlesque dancers have arguably been the epitome of women embracing their bodies for decades. Combining interpretive dance, entertainment, and theater, burlesque still feels like a direct confrontation to social dogma, "from gender politics to sexuality and the public's perception of the naked body," as the Huffington Post reported.
Pushing the limits of nudity and the male and female bodies, burlesque dancers helped broaden boundaries, allowing many women to embrace their form in a way that might have been prohibited only years earlier.
8. The Bombshell That Was Marilyn Monroe: 1950s
Marilyn Monroe needs no introduction. The American actor, largely known for her roles in films like Some Like It Hot and The Seven Year Itch, often play an over-sexualized female lead. Although her confidence in her own sexuality arguably played a big role in her fame, it also opened the door for women to be able to openly appreciate and embrace their bodies.
9. Hot Pants: 1971
Tight and, well, short, hot pants grew popular in the '70s. Since they showed off more of the leg than culture had really ever seen before — falling only a few inches below the booty — they weren't always well-received. Wearing the style to embrace the feminine figure it all its beautiful glory, these shorts were major statement-makers.
10. Androgynous Style: 1980s
One '80s figure who helped raise awareness for feminism was model and musician Grace Jones. With her androgynous look and outspokenness about being able to identify as both a man and a woman, Jones was an advocate for owning your sexuality and your body in all its beautiful glory. This attitude from a popular figure like Jones was crucial in allowing people to talk about sex, age, and beauty in a way that had previously been off-limits.
11. Demi Moore: 1991
In the good old '90s, nudity was still pretty controversial when regarding big media outlets. Naturally, Demi Moore's nude photo on Vanity Fair's Aug. 1991 cover was going to make headlines. But what made it even more of a story was the fact that she was seven months pregnant. While the cover got lots of flack and was long parodied, the image of Demi symbolized the fact that women can still feel sexy, empowered, and beautiful while pregnant.
At the end of the day, any image that encourages women to embrace their bodies and demonstrate agency over their natural forms feels like a huge win to me.
Image: Grace Jones/Nightclubbing; Vanity Fair