Curves! Curves! Curves!
Our society is very powerful in that it has influenced and shaped our
desires, our behavior, the way we see ourselves, and the way others view
us. One way in particular in which society has set an ideal for us, for
females, is in striving to meet a certain body image-- the ideal female
body image. What is this ideal image? Who determines what constitutes the
ideal? Is this body image a constant in our society or has it changed over
the years? One way to see if body image has changed over the years is to
look to the movies. The film industry historically has reflected society's
ideal female body image in its actresses. Female stars seen in the movies
at any given time period represent and exemplify the ideal female body image
determined by society. For instance, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and Betty
Grable exemplify the ideal image for women for the time period spanning
Body image has changed quite dramatically over the years and also quite
frequently. A look into the movies during the time period 1925-1950 gives
us a look at the ideal female body image of those years.
The late 1920's were exciting years for Americans. People saw postwar
prosperity, hope, and economic freedom. Most of all though, people saw movies.
Movie palaces, huge beautiful theaters, were being built everywhere and
going to the movies was a weekly event for many people. Fashion was at a
peak as well and the look on the runway reflected the freedom and equality
desired by women at the time. The look of the late 1920's was termed "the
new slender look" and it began with the fashion designers of that time.
The new image for females was quite different than that only twenty years
earlier in that attention was drawn away from curves (bust and hips) and
to a more toned-down look. The look was flat-chested with narrow hips and
waist. Mannequins in this time period were square-set and slender and the
corset (a piece of underwear used to get this look) was a huge success.
Dresses were getting shorter year by year and waistlines dropped to accentuate
the new ideal body shapea boyish slimness. The image was obviously an androgynous
one and it was exemplified by Greta Garbo in the movies.
Garbo was first seen in Hollywood in 1925. She was beautiful and portrayed
on the screen characters dealing with dual sexuality, that is both masculine
and feminine characteristics. Her look was also androgynous, with narrow
hips and a narrow waist. Garbo's most characteristic roles were Leo Tolstoy's
Anna Karenia in Love (1927) and her characters in The Temptress (1926),
Flesh and the Devil (1927), and A Woman of Affairs (1928) in which she played
an older woman seducing a younger man. Greta Garbo achieved the status of
a screen idol and therefore an ideal image to follow. Her look was passionate,
romantic, exotic, and erotic which perfectly symbolized and reflected society
at the time.
The 1930's changed the ideal female body image again when women desired
to look like women again. The Depression had hit Americans hard and society
wanted to go back to traditional attitudes and values. In an attempt to
establish a new order in society, the feminine ideal replaced the tomboy
ideal of the 1920's. The female body desired was still slender and narrow-hipped,
but now had softly accentuated curves of the bust and waist. The ideal look
for females was a natural, soft, curved body, and thin, of course. As with
the 1920's, this new curved body image started in the fashion world where
mannequins were made to match this ideal. Corsets of this time changed as
well to accentuate the bust, instead of flattening it like in the 1920's.
Society at this time requested women to be feminine, decent, and quiet
and this request was reflected in the new image for women. Society demanded
this new look and therefore expected to see it on the movie screen as well.
Actresses like Marlene Detriech who did not fit the image of the time were
not used in women's magazines because their erotic look was not keeping
in line with the new female ideal. Joan Crawford, on the other hand, exemplified
this new look desired by society and therefore promoted the image in weekly
magazines and on the screen. The look was not only that of soft curves,
but of hardworking and beautiful girls.
was born in 1908 in San Antonio, Texas and was seen in over 70 films before
she died in May of 1977. Her real name was Lucille Fay LeSueur and she became
a star in Our Dancing Daughters (1928). Joan Crawford was with MGM pictures
for 18 years where she, as were all actors in that time period, was under
a contract that controlled her weight, her hairstyle, her clothes, and her
image. She played a rags to riches character in The Women (1939), perfect
for the post-Depression era. She retired in 1974 a successful and well-known
actress. Joan Crawford was everything society wanted in a woman during that
time period: hard-working, beautiful, with soft curves, and very feminine.
The 1940's brought another change to the ideal female body image sought
after by women and once again, this change was seen in the female movie
stars as well. The look of the 1940's was more glamorized and sensual. The
despair of the Depression had dwindled and the winning of WWII was near.
This brought a new hope and new prosperity to Americans. The ideal female
body image then changed to become more glamorous and to have a more sensual
appeal. This new image was very pronounced: a higher bust, defined waist,
and rounded hips. Curves! Curves! Curves! Women also began wearing heavier
make-up to attain the "glow," the look of perfection, desired
at that time. No woman more than Betty Grable represented this image of
a new, glamorous, sensual hope (with curves!). She was the pin-up girl of
this time period, a musical star with legs so famous they were insured with
Lloyds of London for $1,000,000. Betty Grable quickly became a favorite
with the GI servicemen of WWII.
Grable was born with the name Ruth Elizabeth Grable, December of 1916,
in St. Louis, Missouri. She began acting at age 13 and appeared in 42 films.
She starred in 20 movies between the years of 1941 and 1949 including Moon
Over Miami (1941) and Pin-up Girl (1944). In the years 1946-47, Betty Grable
was the highest paid woman in America, making $300,000 a year. Obviously,
she was a top draw in the 1940's at the box office and her image was everywhere.
She was everything society wanted then, sensual, glamorous, and full of
It should come as no surprise that Hollywood's actresses exemplify and
model society's ideal female body image. Somehow society determines what
is right and what is desired. Usually the ideal look reflects the time period
or a certain crisis in society (the Depression and WWII). This image is
then portrayed by the film industry and in turn, the millions of women watching
these movies see what they should strive to look like. Women wish to look
like the Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and Betty Grable of their time. Beauty,
perfection, thinness, these images bombard women because it is all we see
on the screen.
The ideal female body image keeps on changing even after 1950 and probably
will continue to change in order to keep up with the demands of society,
of the movies, of the public.