Ideals Through the Ages

Monday’s Mish-Mash
Ideals Through the Ages

(Warning: This post contains images of classic art. If you’re allergic to the unclothed female body, please turn away now!)

It’s interesting how much you can learn about history from paintings of nude or semi-nude women. Today’s ideal woman is tall and slender with sleek muscle and no body fat whatsoever. But throughout much of history, the paragon of beauty was rather plump. You can see this in many paintings from the Renaissance and beyond.

Unknown Artist

Unknown Bolognese Artist, 16th Century

If she had a bit of a belly, it was considered attractive! During the late medieval period, women tended to puff their dresses out and stand slouched so they would appear pregnant.

Lady From Flanders

Lady From Flanders, 15th Century

Even during the snugly corseted period of the 1850s-1870s women were expected to have a bit of a belly. Dresses were full from the waist down, hiding any sort of excess fat, and corsets from that period did nothing to slenderize the stomach.


"Nana" by Edouard Manet, 1877

But it makes sense, because back then women needed to be fertile, and after they had babies their bodies became fuller and rounder. Thus, that became the desirable shape for a woman. It’s too bad this has changed so drastically! The popular shape now is much harder for a woman to attain, especially if she’s had children.

It’s also interesting how the concept of modesty has changed over the centuries. During some eras, women could wear their neckline as low as they wanted—so long as their ankles didn’t show. To reveal even a peek of leg was considered naughty! But in other periods, walking skirts were worn at the lower calf, with ankles on full display.

The Coquette

"The Coquette" by Monet, 1875

It’s an interesting thought to ponder. Why do we, today, consider it acceptable to wear shorts that reveal our bare legs, or jeans that highlight the shape of our derriere, and yet a woman is often thought of as loose when she shows her decolletage? To many men, legs or bums are just as sexy as breasts, so why do we consider it less arousing for them to see us in jeans than in a low-cut blouse? (Please note, I’m not criticizing here, just throwing the question out for debate.)


What are your thoughts on modesty? Which parts of your body are you comfortable exposing, and which do you cover up?

About Lisha Vidler

I am a sewing instructor living near Memphis, Tennessee.
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2 Responses to Ideals Through the Ages

  1. Carl says:

    Today’s ideal woman is no such thing. Stop pasting Hollywierd’s sick idea on the rest of us. Today’s ideal woman is much who she was yesterday. She is our wife. Our mother. Our sisters. She is who ever we are grateful for having in our lives. This is not some trite thing I am saying. You get any man and get him to think about it, and, yes, he’s going to want to bed that starlet on the stage. But, that is our basic desire to bed everything. If you ask him would he give up what he has for said starlet, well, a man would not simply not be willing to give up what he has, but, in an honest moment, admit he prefers the woman he is with to the stick on stage (unless said stage prop happens to Scarlet Johansson. Then it’s a whole nother matter. ;p ) That said, nice article.

    My thought on why Breast’s are probably still taboo in our society today is, Women wearing pants was a concession to the fact that they were doing more and more active things. But, then it became so common place and accepted that women felt they needed to do something more to attract attention to themselves. So, the ever shrinking canvas of unseen is left for our imagination. Which I think is sad. The truth is, women who don’t bare it all are more enticing then those who tell you exactly what you are going to get. But, breasts still command respect do to their being one of two things about women that men don’t have. Though, these are merely silly thoughts of someone who has never done any research on the matter (nor played a scientist on TV either).

    • Lisha Vidler says:

      You’re exactly right—we’re told what our “ideal” woman is by Hollywood. But then, it’s always been that way, hasn’t it? The average peasant didn’t get to decide that a plump figure was “in” for the decade . . . the wealthy decided that, perhaps because they had enough food to get plump. We don’t have peasants and nobility today in America—but we do have the wealthy filmmakers and magazine editors who are totally in charge of what’s hot this year and what’s out of style. I often wonder if they even bother checking with anyone before declaring certain styles “in” and other styles “out” or if they just throw darts at a board to decide. 😛

      Interesting reasoning on the taboo of breasts. It makes sense.

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