Female language is funny. I was discussing female bodies with my friend after he told me a girl broke up with him based on a misinterpreted comment about her weight. I told him never to assume anything with regard to a woman’s weight. In our conversation, he used the word ‘shapely.’ I said to be careful using that word, because it can be construed as ‘fat.’ Then he used the word ‘athletic.’ I said to be careful using that too, because if it refers to above the waist, it can be construed as a small chest, and if it refers to below the waist, it can be construed as bulky.
Are we really that complex? Most men I’ve encountered have a much deeper appreciation for variety within the female form than women give them credit for. Women critique and analyze every centimeter of their bodies (certainly not all women, but many). They set themselves up for failure by taking cues from the acting and modeling industries. In that sense, I think men somewhat inflame the problem, because the norm within those industries is what men come to expect as the contemporary iconic sex symbol. However, that’s just association. In everyday life, men seem to be far more tolerant, forgiving, and loving of figure flaws than women realize.
My judgment might be wrong, but from what I’ve observed, models were ‘shapely’ until 1965, when Edie Sedgwick ushered in the impossibly thin boyish look as a model for Vogue in New York. The models before Edie would now probably be viewed as somewhat matronly with their curves and red lipstick. Edie is my favorite model of all time. She changed everything. Within months, New York women were emulating her style, and within a year, the world was. She had no curves, was muscular but incredibly thin, was extremely pale, wore nude lipstick, cropped her hair short, and played up her boyish persona. At the same time, she was heavy on black eye makeup and fake lashes, wore oversized jewelry, and dressed exquisitely feminine. Sound sort of like today’s models (minus the cropped hair)? Twiggy ushered in 1966. She is usually credited with creating a unique look, but like Edie before her, she had almost platinum blonde hair, an impossibly boyish figure (she was 16), pale skin, nude lips, and went over the top with black eye makeup and fake lashes. Edie preceded her, but Edie’s fame was mostly confined to New York, whereas Twiggy was international. Twiggy changed a lot, but Edie deserves the credit for being the leading light. (Below: Edie on the left, Twiggy on the right.)
The fashion industry still hasn’t moved on from many of the style norms set by women like Edie and Twiggy. The industry has traditionally always swung like a pendulum between trends and body types, but the rail-thin angular model has been a runway norm ever since the sixties. Designers claim such models are better for runways because they come closest to emulating what clothes look like on a clothes hanger (truly), and this is somehow desirable to them. The trend has come under heavy crossfire lately due to concern over super skinny models. The sixties influence is enormously popular now (although it’s waning), and with the resurgence of sixties style, the demand for super skinny models has become greater than ever. The two historically went together, so it seems like a predictable match again. The style trend will change, and with it, I think more shapely models will make the biggest comeback since the 1950s. No small part may be that the heavier the public gets, the less women will tolerate anorexic frames on magazine covers and in movies. The runways will, as always, precede the trend, Hollywood will follow, and it will filter down to style for the masses.
Will any of this affect how men view their women at home? I still believe most men are gracious, respectful, and awed by the form of their female lover, no matter what she sees in the mirror.