• Ujjwala Singh

Ideals of Beauty

Ujjwala Singh

Beauty has always been considered a subjective ideal and has changed incessantly through the decades. Whether its change is discussed in the context of varying cultures or times, the ideals of beauty have never stopped warping. With the fast-paced society we live in today, full of trends that are quick to both be chased after and also die down, the ever-changing "perfect body type" has become even harder to identify, let alone attain. From the times of the Ancient Egyptians, the female body type that is considered to be socially acceptable has continuously undergone scrutiny, to bring the ideal to its current form. In bygone eras, features that today may be considered horrendous and disgusting, at one point expressed the status and power of a person. For example, in Ancient Greece, women maintained thick unibrows that we detest today and were required to have more plump fuller bodies. In Medieval Japan, women often shaved their eyebrows and would paint on smudges to replace them, high up on their forehead, almost touching their hairline. Adding to the physical features that society expected out of its women, their body types too were targeted. Ranging from plump bodies to slim slender ones, the body types that have been desired have undergone several replacements. Arguably the biggest jump between acceptable body types occurred when Victorian England was displaced by the era of the roaring 20s. An age most look back on for the introduction of corsets - women in Victorian England were required to have full figures with cinched waists for around 70 years before beauty standards did a full 180. The roaring 20s brought along with it the introduction of ‘flappers’ – women with bobbed hair that usually had slender bodies with downplayed waists. This, however, is not the only remarkable change that the ideals of beauty have witnessed in the past few decades. During the Heian dynasty in Japan, women wished to have rounder faces, because it was an indication of their wealth and status. Through western influences, the ideal of a rounder faced changed, and it is now considered more graceful for a woman to have a small slim face. The ever-changing ideals of beauty are not only restricted to women. Throughout the decades, the standards that men’s bodies are held to have also undergone a fair share of changes. During the Neolithic era, ranging from 12,000 to 8000 BC, men were required to be on the heavier side of the weighing scale. As agriculture was their main occupation, men that were wealthy and more well off had huge feasts and hence were heavier. This standard also underwent a 180 with the arrival of the Ancient Greeks. According to sculptures and paintings, men of this age coveted lean muscular bodies, and the famous abdominal V muscle, which is sought after even today. The ideal body type for men during the Renaissance Period, however, focused less on the overall shape of the body, but more on its proportions. Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man depicts a divine connection between the human form and the universe. The reasoning for the male body to be surrounded in the illustration by a circle and a square, though at first is not easy to understand, becomes clear when explained. The circle represents all of the concentric fears that make up the cosmic universe. This is considered to be the perfect shape because all of the points on its circumference are equidistant from its centre. The square is supposed to be a human element in the depiction that makes sense of all that perfection. This underwent yet another drastic change with the introduction of the Gilded Age, where "dad bods" were considered to be in trend, and represented the wealthiness of a man. Much like women, the facial features of men that are considered attractive have also changed, along with habits and routines. During the Ancient Egyptian era, men shaved their hair, put-on wigs, and wore heavy black eyeliner that conveniently protected them from the sun. During the Middle Ages, men were expected to have clear and smooth skin. In the 17th century, men’s fashion became more flamboyant to indicate their class. Although today’s society is on the road to becoming a more accepting and diversified one, the polarisation of the thoughts and ideals that we hold are a natural deterrent to the utopia we seek to find. As proved through this article, the ideals of beauty are constantly changing, and trends find their place in our society for only brief periods. From eras where it was the norm for men to wear makeup, to dress flamboyantly, and for women to have full bodies and round faces, the transformations of the standards of beauty have been drastic. Current beauty standards and norms are more welcoming, and for the most part, all members of society are encouraged to dress and express themselves as they view fit. In saying this, we still have a long way to go to achieve true acceptance of the uniqueness we hold within us.

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