Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Shaping the body in the 1920s

Recently NPR ran this story, about how we've shaped the human body to fit cultural norms throughout history:

Shake What Your Mama Didn't Give You: Shapewear Through The Ages

The article is about how we as a species have always shaped the human body, particularly the female body.  We think we've come so far by rejecting corsets and things like that, but today we still have Spanx, and of course, plastic surgery, liposuction, and entire buildings (gyms) devoted to changing people's bodies.

The temptation is to say, "But the 20s weren't like that!  That's when women rebelled against any expectation for their figures!"  But that's not really quite true.

In the 20s, women were rebelling against Victorian notions of beauty, that part is true.  Corsets went out of fashion... at least, the ones that gave you an hourglass figure.  The "natural" trim, straight figure came into fashion, but lots of women still had to work to make themselves fit that ideal.  As a result, if you look at the fashion catalogs from the era, there were corsets -- they just flattened everything down to give you a more boyish figure, with a flatter chest and fewer curves, instead of cinching in your waist to give you more curves.

I definitely get what this article is getting at when it says that culture always shapes our notions of the ideal body.  Corsets were the most obvious -- and most physically harming -- method of reshaping the body to suit those ideals, but corsets going out of style never meant that goal had gone away.  Women in the 1920s most certainly reshaped their bodies to try to achieve that straight, boyish figure.  Even today, women spend hours working out, trying to achieve those big breasts, trim waistline, round butt, and toned look that society tells us we simply must have -- and if you can't do it on your own, hey, there's all kinds of liposuction, plastic surgery, and whatnot to help you get there!

In any case, this seemed like an interesting article that I thought readers would enjoy!


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