• Sharin Hussain

‘How has the female body image changed and what effect has that had on the younger generation?’

The female body form is an issue that burdens many aspects in a girl’s life which involves what they view on social media sites, how their family and friends make them feel, who they chose to follow and how they perceive themselves.

What is Body Image?

Body image is your state of mind towards your own body. It’s the way you think about your body and feel about it. You question how others observe it more often than not as you don’t want to embarrass yourself. The way you feel about your body can come from different issues such as family/peers, social media sites, magazines and just personal preference.

I will now be analyzing the history of fashion styling to see how it links in with fashion today and perhaps is the reason behind insecure girls. I will be incorporating current trends and influences alongside the history based on the link the two have together. I chose this topic because I think that society has put a lot of strain on young girls who are being judged by the way they look without any reason aside from what social media portrays.

During the Renaissance period, a female’s ideal body figure was having a rounded stomach, fair skin, an ample bosom and full hips. This information was taken from a YouTube video from Buzz Feed Video called Women's Ideal Body Types throughout History. During this time, corsetry wasn’t very common as it was known as a stiff bodice which would be worn with a skirt however at the end of the 1700’s, corsets were given their name and decided on being an undergarment which can be worn with a skirt, alongside a jacket or a robe.

In the 1800’s, it was common for young ladies to dress up in corsets to tighten and hug their figure however there were many more negatives to this garment than there were positives. The physical benefits that women gained from wearing a corset were being able to achieve a better posture. This helped young women understand how to keep their posture from sloughing. It also gave them a source of protection from being injured with back pains, which could be brought on by heavy lifting Furthermore, corsets were known to reduce the intensity of headaches and migraines. The corset was also able to help control the amount of pain in their menstrual cramps.

Aside from that, the emotional effect that came with wearing a corset had ladies attain more confidence in themselves and allowed them to be happy with the way their body. A corset was used to help ladies overcome medical issues such as depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety were common disabilities during this era as there were many different wars and outcries happening which was mentally damaging for both men and women. The corset was used to help overcome that as it was a tool that essentially made the female feel like someone was constantly ‘hugging’ them. In addition, the corset was a means to encourage those who were underweight to overcome their eating disorders by being given the chance to celebrate their body figures as well as gain weight with caution.

Corsetry wasn’t an undergarment that was approved by physicians because they knew the side effects that came with wearing one and therefore they constantly issued out warnings publicly to let women know what the effects were. There were many issues that women faced when wearing a corset. As seen in the image of the right, women would have to suffer through the pain of harming their body in order to be classed as beautiful and that all came at a price. The corset would usually be laced far too tightly and would then cause women to faint because they weren’t able to get enough air in their lungs. Wearing the corset everyday was a slow process of changing the way the organs were displayed. The restriction of the corset crushed and moved their organs into areas which weren’t suitable. Their organs began to become more restricted which resulted in pain, numbness and tingling. The bladder organ and colon would lead to infections and constipation. Another issue that affected a women’s health was that the corset would cause them to have continuous miscarriages or they may remain sterile for the rest of their life. In the best cases, many babies would come out deformed and with a breathing problem.

Currently, women in the 21st century are keen on having a flat stomach with large breast and a big bum; there has also been a big hype on having a thigh gap as well. The use of corsetry has become a form of erotic undergarment however another form of corsetry was introduced and is called a waist trainer/shaper. The waist trainer recently began a new revolution by showing women the benefits of wearing one which enhances their figure and keeps them from gaining weight in certain areas. The waist trainer became a big publicity when many female celebrities posted images of themselves wearing the product which influenced their fans to try the waist trainer. Kim Kardashian is an example of this who posted an image on instagram, a social media site that allows you to share images and 15 seconds videos to your followers, promoting waist training to her twenty-nine million followers.

However, during the hype of the waist trainer, it was revealed that a new form of losing weight came from drinking green herbal tea. The green tea is a detox that can be done for fourteen to twenty eight days depending on your preference. There is very limited scientific evidence to support this however many celebrities have used it and have shown a difference in their weight. Having celebrities use this has encouraged their fans to do the exact same thing however not everyone gets the results they want. An example of this was displayed by, Vanessa Hudgens, an actress, who shared this with her 6.6 million followers on instagram.

The fact that celebrities are sharing their weight losing secrets is why many ladies are obsessed with losing weight and following the footsteps of well known celebrities who seemingly lose weight and will do anything to make that happen, even if it means drinking bitter tea. This links in with the fact that during the beginning of the 21st century, not many celebrities shared their dietary secrets therefore there wasn’t a big hype around losing weight during this course however as you can see in recent events, people are obsessed with finding out what sort of diet plan a celebrity is on and how much exercise they do regularly.

During Victorian England, it was common amongst women to have a cinched waist, which became achievable thanks to corsetry which allowed women to accomplish their ideal shape. I personally disagree with the women they used to model this era in the YouTube video because based on my research and what I know about fashion, it was quite clear to see that the usage of wearing a corset was extremely slimming as they would tighten the laces far too much. Crinolines become popular when it came to the public’s attention that the new Queen, Victoria, who reigned in 1837, was wearing them. The crinoline was a petticoat covered caged used to hold the skirt without having to wear several layers of petticoats and fabric to hold it in place. The crinoline was often made out of horse hair and cotton; the horse hair made women feel quite uncomfortable as they would have to wear long undergarments. The crinoline began to change to accommodate the development in fashion however there was a brief moment during the 1860’s that a new craze began. The bustles was an improved version of the crinoline which was a framework used to help support the weight of a dress.

The bustle was made using wires or stiff cloth framework, and then attached to a belt at the waist. The bustle became an important part to dress garments as it helped stabilize the heavy drapery of the dress which wouldn’t cause women any problems during the day. The bustle also gave the illusion that the women’s rear end was quite rounded compared to those who didn’t wear it.

Equally around the same time, the crinoline was experimenting with a new way to create the hoops by using steel rings rather than horsehair. It was said to have been much lighter in weight but was still an uncomfortable concept as women would have to be wary as to how they moved. During this century, it was shameful for women to show her ankles and you can imagine the kind of shame that would be brought on from flashing their undergarment if they weren’t careful in their movement. Similarly, at the beginning of 1901, a new figure appeared called the s bend corset. The name came from the fact that the silhouette of the person from the side looked like the letter S, with the lifted front and a skirt smoothly fitted over the hips. The s bend corset was known to prompt a good posture where the pelvis tilted forward and the bum was pushed back while the shoulders and bust were thrust forward. This allowed women to sway their hips in a lovely manner which is something that catches on in later decades. However, this corset style was later found to worsen the spinal cord, compared to a Victorian corset which maintains a more neutral posture.

In regards to crinolines, bustles and the s bend corset, the younger generation have been getting mixed emotions on whether having a voluminous rear is what society deems acceptable for women. Over the last decade, celebrities have been known to make sure their bum was something that wasn’t extensively blooming. During the Heroin Chic period, celebrities such as Kate Moss, Madonna and Victoria Beckham were slim figured with small derrieres and their stomachs in. This was considered the normal and this was what most girls would want to achieve. Idolizing personalities has more to do with just wanting their dream job; it becomes a necessity of being consumed by wanting to be exactly like them; whether that be with their looks or their personality. However, even back then, losing weight or even thinking about dieting was something that wasn’t out in the open; celebrities wouldn’t talk so much about the way they kept fit and healthy and therefore many young girls were able to have a good and happy childhood without being thrown off by thinking about the way they looked.

An internet meme that was used to help men understand what they should say when a women asks them, ‘does my bum look big in this’ was known for having horrific responses as to when they would respond yes. It was known back during this time that a ladies bottom wasn’t supposed to be big; rather it was considered more of an insult to women if they were told that they had a big bottom. I believe that this came down to trend setters of celebrities who were known to not fill out their jeans snugly.

There are many songs that show appreciation for the gluteus maximus. Most recently, Megan Trainor wrote a song called ‘All about the Bass’, that simply justified why having a big ‘bass’ was wonderful. Other successful booty songs includes Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’, Jennifer Lopez’s ‘Booty’, Jason Derulo’s Wiggle and finally, one of the oldest and most loved booty song of all time is Baby Got Back by Sir Mix A Lot. The use of music is perhaps another reason as to why young girls are affected by the change in the body form. As music is much more popular now with so many different artists and apps that allow you to listen to different genre music, girls can get sucked in with the emotions that the lyric portrays.

In 1914, the first patented bra was officially recognized. The bra itself was said to have been invented by a number of fashion designers however, Mary Jacobs was the first one to get it recorded. Overtime, the bra developed into several different types of brassiere. The push up bra is the most common known bra used by teenage girls. They feel satisfied with the way the bra lifts their boobs and makes them look fuller. Before the push up padded bra, a girl’s insecurity would force them to add tissues into their bra to make their breast look more filled. Breast are what most girls fear for as it is common knowledge that men prefer girls with a fuller bosom and that immediately triggers self-doubting on girls.

During the Roaring Twenties, the idea figure was to correspond with the recent boyish fashion that was occurring which included having a boyish figure, being flat chested and diminished waist; because of this fashion trend women were made to reduce the size of their breasts in order to fit in with the boyish fashion however this method was short lived as not even a decade later, it was deemed ‘the fuller the bosom, the better’. In response to this, the world of plastic surgery has become more popular in recent years as many female celebrities have done it, whether it was to lift their face, add more depth to their breast or even get a nose job.

This in turn, influenced their clique of fandom. Many teenage girls who are going through puberty are feeling quite vulnerable and insecure about their body and therefore make rash decisions as to how they feel they can improve the way they look. They tend to think about adding more size to their breast, change the structure of their nose or fill in their lips. These three features are essentially what makes or breaks a girl’s confidence. Having a prominent nose is a big deal for girls as the nose is in the center of their face so they feel like a person is looking at and judging their nose when they are having a conversation. The lips and chest are more for personal reasons, it could just be about the fact that they’re not happy with the way it looks to them in the mirror or it might be insecurities that relate to the opposite gender. Louise Brooks was the embodiment of the Roaring Twenties' modern woman. She was a fashion icon for the flapper dresses she wore which is a fitted dress with a loose skirt that reached below the knee and liked adding a cloche hat.

In 1926, the knee length dress was invented. After many years of ladies being told to hide their legs, it was finally acceptable in the world of fashion and society. The knee length dress enables ladies to feel more confident and empowered as they feel pleased with the way their legs are being displayed. In current news, the knee length dress has to be known to vary in the length depending on what a lady would prefer. A new trend that has been occurring recently is called a high low dress which has a shorter front skirt and a longer hem at the back skirt. The design is a concept from a superhero cape style with the idea that the longer skirt is flowing with the wind. I personally think that knee length dresses with a square neckline gives more of a feminine touch to it as it borders being modest as well as classy.

During the Golden Age of Hollywood, a women’s idea body figure would consist of a curvy hourglass figure, slim waist and large breast. This sort of body shape was inspired by Marilyn Monroe who became a huge icon and sex symbol.

In the 50’s, denim jeans became popular. They first appeared thanks to Levi Strauss who worked in partnership with Jacob Davis, who was a tailor. Many other brands began to make jeans however Levis’ had a certain cut to them and was therefore more appreciated. It has been nearly 65 years since jeans was first invented and things have changed. There has been a development as to what kind of garment the jeans can be; which includes jackets, shorts, skirts etc. Ladies who are interested in making their bum look prominent wear shorts and skirts that is used to accentuate the buttocks and make it look more rounded.

Currently, girls are desperate to a achieve the ‘big bum’ look which has been inspired by many celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Lopez. They are able to achieve this by doing an exercise called Squats. Squats has been defined to lift the buttocks and give it more of a rounded shape. People have started doing squat challenges to show and highlight the principle of the bum.

From the 50’s to the 60’s, you can see there was huge difference in the body form of a women. The swinging sixties were thin, long legged ladies with an adolescent physique. During the 60’s, the ‘Mini Skirt’ was invented by Mary Quant who named it after her favourite car, the Mini Cooper. However, John Bates was the one who had been making shorter dresses and miniskirts way before Quant however he couldn’t get it popular with the public. Quant was able to persuade girls to wear the garment and soon it escalated everywhere. The mini skirt is a skirt that reaches just above the knee and accentuates the thigh area. During this period the mini skirt was much shorter than the ones you’d see today however frankly speaking, the mini skirt has been getting mixed emotions from everyone.

At first, it seemed quite innocent to many people however as time went on it seemed to exude a different vibe. The provocative mini skirt is one of the reasons as to why young girls are fearful of what they wear purely because of the attention it gets from the wrong kind of people. Rapist see the way that young girls and women dress as an invitation to sexually assault without any reason aside from what they are wearing. Rape Crisis is an organisation that helps women and children stand up for what has happened to them and allows them to not fear for their life. The crime rate for rape assaults has to be the worst seen in history. South Africa is estimated to have 500,000 rape cases every year and have also estimated that more than 40% of South African women are expected to be raped in their lifetime.

A movement that began in April 3rd 2011 in Toronto called ‘SlutWalk’ become an international movement that was fighting against the excuse of what a female should wear regarding rape crises. The movement began when a Toronto police officer suggested that ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts’, as way to stop sexual assaults however in regards to this, women felt oppressed as to why they should change the way their dress which came a movement where they dress in revealing clothes. In recent events, the slut walk has extended to being a naked parade as women are not ashamed of the way they look.

Alongside this, women have been called many names because of the way they dress or act and it isn’t ok. It isn’t fair that a man who likes sleeping around is called a stud whereas when a women enjoys this sort of behaviour has been oppressed and name called with words that have only been invented. Last year, we came across a word called ‘Thot’ which means a female who is promiscuous or dresses in a provocative way. I feel as though these sorts of words effect a girl’s mentality as it seems as though whatever they do, whatever they wear, they are always being judged so no matter how hard they try, they feel insignificant because of the people around them.

I wanted to be able to understand how young teenage girls felt about themselves so I composed a questionnaire for them to fill out asking them information on personal questions. The questions were researched online however I had to create my own questions as the ones online weren’t what I was looking for. I did the survey on 21 girls ranging from the age of 15-18.

The first question that was asked on my questionnaire was ‘what bothers you most about your body, if any at all?’ I decided to start with this question as I felt it was stimulating and would be something that they would be able to answered quickly. 40% of girls had an issue with their weight, their stomach, or their body shape. I feel as though this has been impacted on greatly by society with the way they display beautifully toned body in magazines and social media apps.

Another reason as to why girls feel pressured to change the way they look is because of the opposite gender. The male attention can be sought out in different ways however what seeks a male’ attention on a female is by the way she looks to them. Unbeknown to girls, they shouldn’t have to change the way they look for men but rather want that sort of change for themselves; as men will come and go but you will find yourself alone and you want to be confident in that and therefore whenever you look at yourself in the mirror you want to feel proud of all your accomplishments and feel empowered and strong enough to tackle anything include heart breaks and boys.

The next question I asked in my form, is what each student felt was their best features. There were many pleasant answers to this and it was great to see that although girls see bad features in themselves, they are able to detect also good attributes and appreciate them. The most common and highest answer was eyes. All eye shapes and colours are different so girls have learnt that’s its ok to be different in that sense however the same cannot be said about their bodies.

My next question allows me to understand who inspired them and how that could have influenced the way they felt about their own bodies. 28% said that a celebrity inspires them. Most of the celebrities they mentioned are known for being quite public with fashion, beauty and body image so perhaps this might counter in with why the girls feel inspired by these celebrities; however that isn’t to say that they don’t aspire to be a singer or an actress based on what the celebrities career is. I do think that girls tend to follow those who they want to be like and that doesn’t mean appearance wise but rather career and how strong willed the women is in a male dominated industry. Beauty and appearance usually becomes attached after they see their dream in their celebrity.

Being curvy means something different to everyone. 32% of my 21 surveys said ‘Hourglass’ and looking backing onto their personal questionnaire, they were getting this information from what they read and see online. 21% of students said being well proportioned. This tells me two things, either they are self conscious of their body not being proportioned well or they have a better understanding of fitness and health. Surprisingly only one student said Kim Kardashian which goes to show that although people may idolize her from afar, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to look like her. Aside from that, there was one extremely weird answer that I got for what curvy meant to one of my respondents. She said to her curvy means being ‘a hippo’. At first I found this answer peculiar but the more I thought about it, the more I understood what she meant. Being curvy doesn’t define who you are- it shouldn’t matter or interfere with the way you feel about yourself and it most certainly shouldn’t make you question why your body is different from others. The ‘hippo’ doesn’t represent size; it’s been used to represent humanity. We are not animals; we shouldn’t be fighting and we shouldn’t be making each other feel bad about the way we look but rather comfort one another when someone’s feeling insecure.

Even though, my respondents were able to highlight their negatives points- the majority of them said they were happy with the way their body looks. I think with some girls, it’s all to do with the way their mind works- some girls are just known to be a little more sensitive than others and maybe this is why they let their insecurities get the best of them. 62% had said yes whilst 38% wasn’t happy with the way their body looks.

This next question looks at how social media has affected the way they feel about their body. I decided to add this question because I know that with the latest technology, they are always able to keep up to date with the latest news online and using apps. Social media has expanded into unknown territories, making it harder for girls to stay positive when all they see are beautiful slim looking people on the medias. They feel like they’re being attacked and that has effected them mentality and caused self doubt.

Based on my research however, 67% of my survey takers have said that it hasn’t made a difference in the way they feel about their body. This could perhaps be because, they are aware of what celebrities have to do in order to look ‘beautiful’ to the public such as surgery, make up, dieting etc. However, 19% said that seeing slim looking girls on a lot of social media sites has affected them and therefore it makes them question their weight and size because what they see on themselves isn’t considered ‘normal’ or ‘beautiful’.

Question number 7 looks and focuses on the kind of magazines these girls read. This is going to allow me to put a definite point on where they are being misled about the way their body should look. 28% of my 21 survey takers have said that they don’t read any however, I know that a lot of social media sites such as snap chat, a video and image sharing app that only stays online for 24 hours before it disappears, have added a bonus section called ‘Discover’ which has around 12 magazine/newspaper to keep app users up to date on current events and affairs.

The two Medias that have the same percentage at 14 are Daily Mail and Vogue. Daily Mail is an online newspaper that caters to different types of news. The front page directs more recent and popular news; this usually consists of celebrity news with the occasional political news. Vogue is global magazine that has articles online as well as having printed magazines. Vogue is published in 23 different countries such as UK, USA, Netherlands, and France etc. Both of them have a lot of celebrity inspired features which is what usually intrigues teenagers to browser through these Medias.

This next question had the same results. 50% of students felt that it was important for girls to be pressured to lose weight but only if their weight is risking the health. Obesity is slowly consuming the world as more fatty foods are being introduced and become an obsession to some people. It is important to be healthy and maintain a good weight so that you don’t fall ill to obesity and other health issues. However 50% have also said ‘No’ to being pressured. From this, I have come to understand that being pressured isn’t something that should be taken lightly- this is a form of bullying however no one should have to force you to do something that you don’t want.

My last and final question was ‘Label what beautiful is to you’. I decided that finishing off with this question will allow me to see the process of their journey from answering personal questions and reflecting on what has been learnt. I didn’t do a pie chart to show the answers because all students did have different answers. Some students mentioned that beauty cannot be defined while others mention that being beautiful has everything to do with the person’s personality. There were some who mentioned facial or body features however the majority of them did in fact have no definite answer to what beautiful means to them. From this last question, I can see and understand that the word ‘beautiful’ means something different to everyone and the truth is, there is no right answer.

This whole experience has allowed me to follow and research different aspects in the fashion industry; the way design and styling has changes, the different body shapes and figures and finally how social media has changed and evolved fashion. Overall, the female body image is a personal thing that can only be dealt one way.

Change. Change the way you view your body and make the word ‘beautiful’ become what you are so there will never be a day where you become insecure if in fact, you are the definition of your own ‘beautiful’. Just know that history has changed but maybe one day we will live in a world, where women and girls stand together as one without feeling ashamed of their body.

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