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 1925-1950.

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.

Greta 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.

Joan Crawford 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.

Betty 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 curves.

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.