"You ought to do something about your figure!”
So admonishes the 1940s advertisement for Spencer Corsets, which promises to fix your “figure problem” and do away with bulges and sagging lines. Years earlier, before Spencer’s bold statement, the Ladies Home Journal in 1898 made advertising history by being the first publication to feature photos of women wearing corsets, promoting the 18-inch waist.
Women have certainly come a long way since the days of corsets, but an idealized standard of beauty persists. Whether it is trying desperately like Scarlett O’Hara to regain their pre-baby body via corset (or treadmill), or aiming to be a perfect “10” (as immortalized by Bo Derek in the 1979 film 10), women still hear the same message. Something needs to be fixed: your face, your legs, your waist, your breasts, your hair. You’re not hot enough, sexy enough, thin enough. And between social media, “reality” TV, and the prevalence of the selfie, technology has created an unprecedented platform to broadcast that message.
The Pressure Continues
“Not much has changed in the last few decades. We still have this thing about weight and beauty defining us. The whole idea that you can’t be thin enough—even though we have record rates of eating disorders—still remains a problem,” says Dr. Linda Mintle, chair of Liberty University’s behavioral health division and a licensed clinical social worker and marriage and family therapist. She is also an author, with numerous books and articles on the psychology of weight and body image. “The cultural pressure to be thin is so intense,” Mintle wrote for Beliefnet.com, “that 9-year-old girls are dieting and teen plastic surgery is on the rise. Thousands of dollars are spent on shaping, cutting, stapling, and lopping off parts of the female body.”