Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
Home » Humans » Women | About me Impressum Contact Sitemap

Beauty ideals, curves, and body images

A common complaint about (allegedly) modern beauty ideals is that “curves” are not appreciated the way they once were. To some part, this is misrepresentation of what men actually think (cf. a previous, similar discussion); however, mostly, I suspect, it misses the point of curves and what makes curves attractive:

Curves are sexy when they base on muscle, not fat. Curvy women may quite legitimately bring more fat than those less curvy—indeed, becoming curvy without fat is hard. However, this fat must be carried by muscle. In contrast, curves consisting of muscle with a sub-average amount of fat can still be very, very sexy. For good examples consider strip-club visits on TV shows or in movies: If the work actually wants to show beautiful women, arouse the viewers, or similar, the strippers tend to be very well-trained, with muscles galore, and a lower body-fat percentage than “normal” women. Fatter and less well-trained women come in works that intend to show a depressing environment (or similar). Another good example is Anna Kournikova: As a well-trained professional tennis-player, she was widely considered one of the sexiest women in the world—when she grew near-anorectic in her looks (including a considerable drop in muscle, going by photos), the interest waned. Certainly, such examples give a better view of what men actually want—not what e.g. so many teenage girls and feminists believe resp. claim that men want.


Note that a lower body-fat percentage does not necessarily imply less fat: More muscle will make the same amount of fat spread thinner, making for a more attractive look.

Female readers: Always consider more sport before less food. Less food can actually break down more muscle than fat; and there are women who are stick thin, yet have stomachs, thighs, and behinds with a detracting flabbiness. Gaining ten pounds of muscle can do more than losing ten pounds of fat—and sport is healthier than diets.

An interesting issue is the comparison with women from the first half of the 20th century, say based on movie stardom: Marilyn Monroe, e.g., is an often cited example of a woman whose curves are rarely seen today.

To some part, this is over-generalization: There are a few curvy women around today who are considered very sexy, e.g. Jennifer Lopes or Catherine Zeta-Jones; Pamela Anderson (arguably, the sex symbol of the 90s) had plenty of everything; the “beauty” making the contrast to the “beasts” on “The Big Bang Theory” (Kaley Couco) is another interesting example. Conversely, there were women in earlier eras who were both thin and considered highly attractive. (Here I am a little vaguer on names, but Audrey Hepburn, one of the greatest stars of the 20th century and a personal favourite, was definitely on the border of being too thin—although her 50s/60s career places her in the second half of the century. Veronica Lake and Mary Pickford are other good examples.)

To some part, I see two only semi-related trends that have lead to this change:

  1. Firstly, I have the impression that there has been a considerable drop in the age-range of leading ladies (and leading men, if to a lesser degree). Younger women are on average thinner than older women, and this alone would explain a considerable part of the drop. (In addition, it is quite possible that many women of today remain thin as they age due to health considerations—but would have grown increasingly fatter in the past, before the “health wave” of the 1970s or 1980s).


    Increasing competition could be a partial explanation for both age and thinness:

    The expectations of the audience are higher today, more is needed to “beat” the works of yesterday (cf. e.g. the development in visual effects), and there is an endless supply of waitresses-slash-actresses who try to become actresses-slash-waitresses.

  2. Early TV shows and movies were made in a highly “morally conservative” society, showing far less flesh than today. This had at least two implications: Firstly, skin quality was less important (in particular, with small screens, poor picture quality, and black-and-white images) and the negative effects of excessive fat on the skin were less noticeable. Secondly, the natural curving of the actresses could be improved by various holding and shaping garments—flabby fat curves could be formed to create the impression of firm muscle curves. (This curve shaping still goes on on a lesser scale; notably, with bras and high-heels. Indeed, before I caught on, I was typically disappointed on those rare occasions when I managed to get a woman naked. Still, this is nothing compared to the days of yore.) This, in particular, as tight-fitting pants were rarer, which severely reduced the benefits of slim and muscular legs compared to fatty legs.

    Clearly, then, women could get away with more—and fatter women could even have an advantage through creating a better, but misleading, impression than thinner women.

    Additionally, it is possible that these factors forced the industry to emphasize sexiness through curves as the only option available. Indeed, some clothes of yore were such that the figure of a thin woman “drowned” in the clothes while that of a fatter could still be noticed...


    In a more long-term perspective, similar effects could have led to an artificial distortion of beauty ideals during the era of “Victorian morals”—ideals which would just be returning to normal (!) over the last half-century.

    (Of course, here the degree of speculation increases.)