Body Image: Vintage pictures vs Modern ideals

Recently I was looking online at ‘vintage pictures’ for inspiration of images that I could put up in my room. What I discovered littered between sepia images of flowers, old keys, and the Eiffel tower, was quite revealing: I found articles/advertisements, similar to the one below, for women who have poor body image, advocating weight gain by saying: “Don’t think you’re “born” to be skinny and friendless”…. “If you want to look better by adding desired pounds and inches of welcome weight… try WATE-ON”, and “Men wouldn’t look at me when I was skinny”. In a nutshell these body images show skinny as the undesired body shape and the one to get rid of.

1950's Vintage Style Image by Jessica Williams
1950’s Vintage Style Image © Jessica Williams 2015

This baffled me, as in my living memory, all I have ever been told and shown in magazines, on TV, etc… is that skinny is the ideal and that one can never be too thin! And this summary doesn’t come close to representing all of the articles, in fact there were many more – it seems that at the time, that was what was ‘normal’ and widespread; that the media portrayed the ideal as ‘curvy and gorgeous’ instead of the current ‘slim and beautiful’.

I had all these thoughts going through my head: who then decides the ‘ideal’? What an outrage…. and…. How can it change with time? But what I could see is that although, yes, there is an ideal that was presented in the media of that time that is different to the ideal that is presented now – it is actually still the same – just two different sides of the same coin! There is the same undercurrent of women being unhappy with their bodies, and that even though some may have achieved the ‘ideal’ (shown in the articles as models for the ‘look’), how could it have satisfied them when the ideal then shifted to the opposite!

It would appear that there was no passing down through generations of how to be satisfied with our body regardless of what’s ‘trending’ and what someone else’s choice of an ideal body image might be.

This leaves us with two important questions:

Is it then more important to figure out how we can accomplish whatever the ‘ideal’ is of that particular time period, OR is it more important to address why as a society we have allowed women of all ages to dislike their bodies, and perhaps be seen to even be endorsing that deeply devious and poisonous attitude?

The latter seems the more obvious choice to me…. And as part of starting (or continuing) this discussion, I would like to contribute that in my experience of women who both dislike and love their bodies – it seems like the dissatisfaction doesn’t actually come from how women look and whether they are curvy or skinny, but from how they live and feel in their own skin on a daily basis.

My experience of women who truly love their bodies (regardless of the ‘ideal’ body image out there) and describe themselves as beautiful even though they may not be size 0, is that the way they live and take care of themselves affirms their body confidence and supports them in every way.

There is also a deep honouring of how they feel, what they feel to do, when they feel to go to bed if tired, and what they feel to eat. And there is a connection or relationship with the fact that they (and all women) are naturally beautiful on the inside – that the amazingness they feel every day that comes as a result of these choices to live in a different way to the trend, can be expressed outwards, and it just so happens that very often this expression through their clothes, makeup and movements, can be truly beautiful.

So now I am offering you the reader the floor here – what difference do you find in the way that you live on a daily basis that can affect how you feel about your body? 

By Jessica Williams, Frome, UK 

You may also enjoy:
Is True Beauty Really in The Eye Of The Beholder
Raising our Girls, Supporting True Beauty 

84 thoughts on “Body Image: Vintage pictures vs Modern ideals

  1. If we live by ideals & beliefs we have no true representation of what life can be. We are left at the mercy of our brain and cannot respond in any given situation because often these can trap us in an imprisoned concept.

  2. And when we do feel amazing daily in our own skin we have to be careful not to allow anything in that will destroy it or more to the point ask ourselves why we would want to be any different to feeling the glory within.

  3. Definitely agree that how I live affects how I feel about myself. I can have a great day today and a terrible day tomorrow and look at my body in totally polar opposite ways even though within those two days it’s not changed physically that I can see. But it’s what it radiates is what I am picking up on.

  4. I am in my late 60s and feel more beautiful today than I ever did growing up and this is because I now know who I am.

  5. You speak of the classic problem in society Jessica which is founded on us all looking outside of ourselves to define who we are when who we are can never be defined by what is on the outside simply because our essence is on the inside. Hence it is what we bring to live that matters more than what life brings to us.

  6. I absolutely agree that women’s “dissatisfaction doesn’t actually come from how women look and whether they are curvy or skinny, but from how they live and feel in their own skin on a daily basis.” It is because, the way we are feeling inside flows outwardly into everything we are and everything we do in our lives. So, it follows that if we feel great about who we are, that acceptance will shine through to others, but if not, that will be very clearly shown in our bodies as well. Accepting where we are in our lives is the key to appreciating the wonderful and powerful women we all are. Time to allow that to shine out from within us all, no matter what.

  7. What is expected of a woman’s body shape is ever changing so we can never ‘get it right’. There have been eras of extreme skinniness, big breasts, little breasts, plump curviness and now the big butt. So much focus on how our body should be instead of allowing women to appreciate the beauty that their body and its curves can hold.

  8. The love, confidence and power I see some women have comes from how they live and the choices they make, ‘There is also a deep honouring of how they feel, what they feel to do, when they feel to go to bed if tired, and what they feel to eat. And there is a connection or relationship with the fact that they (and all women) are naturally beautiful on the inside’.

  9. The current trends of the time and the media have our number! The trends must at all costs have us wanting to be other than we are so as to provide products to improve ourselves with or alternatively products to console ourselves with when we become disillusioned with our lot and withdraw.

  10. Great to highlight that it is never about the current ideal image that the media etc portray but about embracing our natural inner beauty and how that can be expressed not just in what we wear etc but also in our movements. For me the more that I am open to whatever my body is communicating to me the more care I am taking with how I treat myself and this is then reflected in how I move through life.

    1. Great point Helen. The more we listen to our bodies and honour their messages the more we can honestly live and the more graceful our movements.

  11. A deep honouring and love of self does support us to accept our ourselves, ‘ the way they live and take care of themselves affirms their body confidence and supports them in every way.’

  12. I find that a driving factor in women not liking their bodies is the comparison that happens between us.

  13. How we live our life and look after ourselves dictates far more how we feel about ourselves and so how we feel about our looks. And as we know the idea of beauty can change decade to decade, how can we every keep up with that even if we try. I am going into my 40’s now and I can honestly say I feel more beautiful than I ever have, this has come from within, building a confidence and appreciation of who I am and healing what has go in the way of that.

  14. This shows that there has always been an ownership or control of women’s bodies. A deliberate effort to get women to focus on something outside of themselves (like the opinions of the masses) instead of going deep within and living this quality of sacredness which is foundational to women’s health and the way society operates.

  15. It is a great question to ask of ourselves as to where the picture and ideals are coming from and if they feel true in our body or feel that they represent the truth of all women. In seeking outside of ourselves to discover and feel worth and beauty as a women, we will only ever exhaust ourselves and leave us feeling as a loss as to who we are – the pictures and goal posts continually change. The ultimate truth of who a woman is resides in the essence of who we innately are, within us all equally. And when we connect to this quality our beauty, power and grace emanates naturally through our eyes, our body and our movements as a blessing for all to behold.

  16. What stood out for me above in the add is that without a certain body shape we can’t find a man or a partner. Whereas in my experience you just fall in love with someone who is in love with themselves and this has nothing to do with their looks and everything with the quality they are in and the way they move.

  17. When we dislike ourselves it is not only our physical appearance that we dislike, in fact, it is our inside, our being that we do not like about. Therefore focusing on our outside will not change this but being caring of ourselves inside will slowly start to change how we feel about ouselves.

    1. So true that when we choose to lovingly care for our insides this is then reflected on the outside and supports us as we move through life.

  18. The thing about having images to do with our body and our image is that we constantly adjust them, which makes us feel like we’re constantly moving on or forwards. But it’s not until we drop the image or the mould we try and make our body fit into and appreciate that what we have is actually everything we need that we truly begin to move forward.

  19. It’s taken me a while to like and accept my curves and still to this day I can hear an old voice trying and come in to niggle at me something isn’t ok about my curves. Today though I was getting dressed after a swim and I clocked a lady also getting dressed with her back to me. She had some lovely curves and I was admiring them, suddenly I realised that I was seeing me. It was super cool to experience and to be reminded how those thoughts that come in to criticise ourselves is just an energy trying to stop us from celebrating how amazing we are.

    1. Ha ha that’s a brilliant story, and so great to be reminded that the person you are sometimes criticising is also the amazing person you greatly admire and cherish and just love to bits – never has there been a better reason to ban all critical thoughts.

  20. I have noticed that when I do not appreciate myself I feel flat and thoughts of not being good enough try to creep in. All of these images we see in the magazines are designed to keep that voice of not being good enough going.

  21. I notice as soon as I do not feel the yumminess of the true me and hence feel negative in someway towards myself even if very subtly there is immediately a tendency to abuse my body.

    1. Same here, Joshua, the tendency to be more reckless with my body in how I move, what I eat and also the quality of my thoughts changes as soon as I lose connection with my body and it’s preciousness.

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