Thursday, April 24, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: The Perfect Body?

The perfect man and the perfect woman?
(from Arts-Stew.com)

Last week I read an article about a survey done by the UK lingerie company Bluebella.  500 men and 500 women were asked to create composite images of the perfect male and female body based on celebrities' body parts (I have to admit I don't recognize the names of many of the celebrities chosen).  Not surprisingly, men and women had some distinct differences in what consitutes the ideal body.  The perfect woman would look like these images:


Men definitely prefer a more shapely female body, while women seem to believe a very slender and boyish figure is ideal.  The only other major differences I can see are the fluffier hair and sweeter, more open face on the men's perfect woman.

When it comes to the perfect man, once again women seem to gravitate to a more slender (though equally muscular) form:


I do think it is rather amusing that, in this case, it is the women who prefer fluffier hair and a sweeter facial expression!

All of this leads me to ponder just what shapes our opinions of what the perfect human body would look like.  I was born in the mid-1950s, and back then both men and women tended to admire a more curvaceous figure for women and a more rugged look for men (think Ava Gardner and Clark Gable in "Mogambo" (1953), for example).

I have always thought that Ava Gardner had the ideal
female figure -- she looks stunning even in a casual
outfit like this one.

Clark Gable looking manly with his leading ladies,
Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly, from the movie
Mogambo (1953).

Then some time in the 1960s this changed, and I think the fashion industry had a lot to do with shifting our preferences.  Anyone my age probably remembers the 1960s model Twiggy, whose waif-like look captivated first the fashion world and then the rest of us.

The ultra-slim Twiggy
(from Living a Balanced Life)

Delicately built actress Audrey Hepburn also became extremely popular after the spectacular successes of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961) and "My Fair Lady" (1964).

An adorably gamine Audrey Hepburn
(from Mail Online)

But while both of these women came by their slender frames naturally, suddenly there was an insatiable desire on the part of women to become slim at all costs.  "You can never be too rich or too thin" became our mantra, and we have been trying to live up to this ideal ever since.

Barbie dolls (from Scenic Reflections);
 the one on the right is an original from
1959, while the one on the left is from 2009;
Barbie's proportions were actually
changed in 2000 by Mattel in response to
criticism of the doll's implausible body shape.

Another icon of my generation is the Barbie doll.  Even today, the impossible proportions of this little plastic figure remain controversial.  On the one hand, there is a Ukrainian model who has undergone plastic surgery, a rigid diet and exercise regimen, and heavy application of makeup to turn herself into a human Barbie doll:

Valeria Lukyanova as Barbie
(from HuffPost Style)

On the other hand, a young man from Pennsylvania named Nickolay Lamm has developed a doll similar to Barbie but with more realistic proportions, which he calls "Lammily" (his last name combined with the word "family").  Lamm digitally designed a doll based on the proportions of the average 19-year-old woman in the USA as reported by the CDC.  He then created a series of images comparing his doll with a Barbie, photoshopping his ceation so that its physical characteristics mimicked those of the Barbie doll:

I never noticed before how huge Barbie's
head is, and how small her feet are!
(from Nickolay Lamm)

Lamm did this to make the point that a doll based on average female proportions was just as attractive as Barbie, and a more sensible choice to help promote realistic expectations for young girls.  According to an article on Rehabs.com, even the now reconfigured Barbie's proportions are so grotesquely offscale that, at normal human size, her neck would not support her head and her feet and ankles could not support her body weight.


The Lammily doll has gone into production thanks to enthusiastic public support, and should be available by November 2014:

"Lammily - Average Is Beautiful"
(from Lammily.com)

It will be interesting to see if this rethinking of a classic child's toy will become popular, or if Barbie will continue to hold on to her reign (although in recent news it was reported that Barbie sales seem to be slipping).  Of course, even if Barbie loses out as a favorite toy, it seems she now has a second career opportunity as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model:


While the decision to use Barbie this way has sparked protests and controversy, I suppose it is only fitting that a doll proportioned after a German sex toy would eventually find its way to being ogled on the cover of a men's magazine.

Call me old-fashioned, but even after decades of conflicting notions about the perfect body, I guess I still prefer the good old days when our only expectations were that men look like men and women like women:

Even though Robert Mitchum is doing the ironing while
Jane Russell pours the champagne in this scene from
"His Kind of Woman" (1951), there is no gender confusion here!
(from Lasso the Movies)
             

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