Do you ever find yourself apologising for your size? It is a sad fact of life that many women do these days. We’ve become indoctrinated into thinking that big is bad and thin is beautiful, and that the emaciated waifs we see in the media have the perfect must have figure.
Yet, history shows it’s actually big women that men find most attractive. The works of Renaissance masters like Botticelli and Rubens show that even the Medieval female was the object of immense fascination and scrutiny. Yet, the women immortalised on these ancient canvases little resemble the super slim celebrities of the modern age. Rather, Renaissance women are often depicted as gloriously full figured, with full bosoms, ample tummies and large bottoms.
Yet, they were still celebrated as objects of beauty…
Centuries later, American WWII bomber crews painted beautiful, plus sized “blonde bombshells” on their aeroplanes for good luck, and during the great Hollywood era, film studios snapped up busty actresses like Mae West and Jayne Mansfield, more for their buxom features than their acting abilities. The celebrated “hourglass” figures captured on these celluloid archives continue to fascinate men to this day.
Decades after her untimely death, buxom beauty Marilyn Monroe, a definite plus size by today’s skinny standards, can still hold her own even against the sultriest modern pinups; and who can forget Britain’s very own blonde bombshell, the late, and gloriously plus sized, Diana Dors, still oozing sex appeal at age 49, in Adam Ant’s “Prince Charming” video?
At a time when the term “plus size” had yet to achieve common usage, Dors famously likened herself to a naughty seaside postcard, and shamelessly sold herself as “the first home-grown sex symbol…since Lady Godiva.” Loved in Britain for her larger-than-life off screen personality, Dors’ considerable acting skills all too often played second fiddle to her ample figure, as directors cast her again and again in the role of curvaceous siren.
As frustrating as this certainly was for talented actresses like Dors, they nonetheless made the most of their ample curves to forge highly successful careers and maintain massive male fan bases. It is curious also to note that Dors, Monroe and West are all immortalised on the front cover of the Beatles’ iconic album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
These women shot to stardom because the film industry and other mass media were dominated by men. At a time when Feminism was still in its infancy, it was men who dictated acceptable standards of attractiveness. Busty, curvaceous women were preferred over skinny woman because this played to the male fantasy of the perfect “hourglass” woman.
In contrast, modern celebrity women increasingly draw their self image from the plethora of glossy magazines published by women. Such magazines, full of air-brushed beauties and fascinating yet often misguided articles, play a significant role in our daily lives and have a powerful, sometimes negative impact on the way we see ourselves.
In recent decades, the dictates of such media have reshaped our perception of acceptable standards of attractiveness, fashion and size. Thin is good, fat is bad, and women the world over now live in constant fear of gaining weight. Authorities believe this has played a significant contributory role in the gradual erosion of female self worth.
Where women like Diana Dors were once coveted by a male mass media, they are now increasing the targets of ruthless criticism and ridicule. Where magazines once assisted women in their lives by offering practical solutions to everyday problems, today many serve to complicate life. “How much should I weigh?” “How young should I look?” “What diet should I be on?” are just some of the questions modern women are confronted with everyday by a celebrity-driven mass media obsessed with perfection. Indeed, recent research suggests that women today are more concerned about putting on weight than they are about developing breast cancer!
Each week, myriad magazines churn out the latest miracle diets and the latest, often medically unsound advice on how to lose pounds and get ourselves in shape. The trouble is, most of these glossy gospels frequently contradict themselves and each other over what that shape is supposed to be. As a result, confusion reigns in the modern woman’s mind.
Eating disorders, self harming and plummeting self esteem plague women today as never before. Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and addiction to botox treatments and plastic surgery are likewise on the increase. And few can now doubt the contribution that the mass media has played, and still plays, in the development of these hitherto uncommon psychological occurrences.
Medical authorities are today rightly concerned about the power these magazines have over our daily lives. After all, on what authority do the female journalists behind these fonts of feminine “wisdom” base their advice? Aren’t they just as obsessed with their self image as the rest of us? Doesn’t the phrase “does my bum look big in this?” leap from their mouths as readily as it does from ours? Rather like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we need only draw back the curtain to expose these self-appointed gurus for the fallible gossip mongers that they really are.
Perhaps there is more to be learned from the practical and simplistic world of men, where the term “plus size” is more likely to have a man rummaging around in his toolbox than looking in the mirror.
Not that men don’t care about how they look – they do. Indeed, men are just as vulnerable to the dictates of mass media ideas as women are. But where a woman’s self worth is linked directly to her physical attractiveness, a man’s, in contrast, is linked to his ability to wield strength and power. Even when it comes to bodies beautiful, a man’s motivation differs from that of women… Where the size of a woman’s cleavage can be indicative of her sexual prowess, the bulging biceps and rock hard abs craved by men are rather intended to intimidate other men than to attract the opposite sex.
Studies have shown moreover, that, where vanity is concerned, men are not hampered by the same doubts that plague a woman’s mind. Rather, men tend to see themselves as being slimmer and than they actually are; and, indeed, anyone who has been to a British football match will no doubt be familiar with the plethora of bare chests and naked beer bellies on display among the male dominated crowd. Such confidence and care-free exhibitionism has much to endear itself.
So, what is wrong, anyway, with having some beef on our bones? Studies have shown that, when it comes to male expectations of a desirable female shape, women grossly exaggerate the importance of slimness in the male mindset. Moreover, history shows that men’s tastes in female body shape have remained more or less consistent throughout the centuries. Big hips, a large bust and a full bottom seem to be the order of the day.
As British rock band, Queen once put it:
I’ve been singing with my band
Across the water, across the land,
I seen every blue eyed floozy on the way, hey
But their beauty and their style
Wear kind of smooth after a while.
Take me to them lardy ladies every time!
Oh, you gonna take me home tonight?
Oh, down beside that red firelight;
Oh, you’re gonna let it all hang out,
Fat bottomed girls, you make the rockin’ world go round.
Written by Queen guitarist Brian May, this celebration of the full figured woman was a 1978 UK hit single. The front cover of “Fat Bottomed Girls” controversially featured a curvacious, semi-naked woman on a bicycle, while the lyrics expressed in a humorous yet overtly sexual tone that bigger women are more seductive and sexually appealing to men.
British male television viewers seem to share this opinion. In 2006, plus size TV presenter, Fern Britton was voted one of the TV’s most desirable women; and in the world of comedy, larger-than-life comic actress Dawn French is still considered by many men as one of Britain ‘s sexiest celebrities. So much so, that even Sheffield hunk, Sean Bean, star of Sharpe, Troy and The Lord of the Rings, couldn’t resist a cameo appearance with her in the hit UK sitcom, The Vicar of Dibley.
Clearly, women are missing something here. Perhaps men are not as fascinated by the emaciated skeletons we see in the media as we might think. Like men, perhaps we, too, should see ourselves as better than we actually are, rather than hating ourselves for what we’re not.
It’s easy to regard today’s super slim celebrities as the benchmark of feminine beauty. But it is worth remembering that the most beautiful woman in history is not to be found in the pages of our glossy magazines, nor is she seen strutting down the catwalks of the fashion world. Nor, indeed, is she captured by photographers on the red carpets of Hollywood.