The "Ideal Woman" Of 1938 Was Revealed By 'TIME,' And It's Striking How Much Has Changed — And How Much Hasn't
Beauty standards are always changing, but they never seem to go away. Interestingly, TIME recently dug up an article from their archives about the proportions of the "ideal woman in 1938, and the whole thing is kind of surreal. It shows that a lot of things have, in fact, changed... but also that a lot of them haven't.
In the 1938 piece, TIME breaks down the body of one June Cox, a 20-year-old model who was five feet, six and 3/4 inches tall and weighed 124 pounds — though they were quick to point out that life insurance statistics said she ought to weigh 135. And as refreshing a change of pace it might seem for people to imply someone should gain weight instead of losing it, the fact remains that a national magazine really has no business telling a young woman to do anything with her body.
The article then went on to wax poetic about the changing standards for the female form
The perfect 1938 figure must have curves but it differs from the perfect figure of past decades in relationship of curves to straight lines. In the 1890s women had full bosoms, round hips. In actual measurements they were probably no rounder than Miss Cox but they seemed so because they were shorter, tightened their waists into an hour-glass effect … Now, though, the ideal figure must have a round, high bosom, a slim but not wasp-like waist, and gently rounded hips.
In other words, no matter what age you live in, ladies, your body is still going to be judged based on an arbitrary set of aesthetic standards, because your physical existence is definitely all about how pleasing it is for people to look at you.
Thankfully, we have sort of moved beyond the days when it is socially acceptable for a news magazine to openly dissect how many inches an ideal woman's wrist should be (in 1938 it was apparently six, in case you were wondering). However, we really haven't made as much progress as you'd hope in the past 77 years. People still discuss women's bodies like they're judging an art competition, rather than talking about real, human people.
It's just that now we do it in women's magazines instead of TIME.
So nice to see how much progress we've made since 1938.
Today, body standards are at least a tiny bit more inclusive — we don't have an inch by inch template of the "ideal" woman's body, and we've managed to embrace a small amount of ethnic diversity as well. But the range that idealized bodies still fit into is still very narrow (and very white). Women are not only expected to be thin, but are required to feel bad if they have any visible fat at all — when in reality, what we should be championing is the fact that all bodies are beautiful, no matter what shape they might happen to be.
Beauty standards come and go, and they always will, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. What we look for in men also changes, too, after all (and personally I want a return to the days when guys wore high heels, too, to show off their shapely legs). But when it comes to women's appearance, we're often not only more heavily scrutinized, but our worth as people is often judged by how well we conform to beauty standards as well. And the whole thing is ridiculous. After all, people don't have bodies so that other people can look at them, but so that we can do things with them. What they look like should always be of secondary importance.
So maybe it's time we all stop talking about "ideal" bodies, for either men or women, and instead that accept that other people's bodies aren't ours to judge. Because 77 years from now, I really don't want to still be having this same conversation.
You can check out all the dimensions that TIME declared to be "ideal" in 1938 here.
Images: US Weekly; People; Star