The Ever-Changing Standards of Beauty

Posted by Peter Buijs on

How the idea of beauty has changed over the centuries

It’s probably safe to say that we’ve all seen photos of old trends and laughed (heartily, if I may add) at how ridiculous they looked. Perhaps you even remember a time in your life when you tried sporting a certain trending women’s hairstyle, and how great it looked back then. Seeing it now, you probably wonder what on earth you were thinking at the time.

There’s no need to be ashamed, and this doesn’t come at a surprise. It just goes to show how the standards of beauty are constantly changing, with new (and renewed) beauty trends popping up here and there. It also depends on where in the world you’re located – for example, we all know that what is considered beautiful in America is not exactly the same as in South Korea.

Still, there are certain aspects of female beauty that have prevailed all over the world. Let’s take a look at a few examples over the last hundred years.

Renaissance Period

Full-figured women in the Renaissance Period were considered sexy and beautiful, evidenced by the many artworks from this era that featured voluptuous women being courted by men. Women with high, rounded foreheads were also preferred, and it came to a point where those with smaller foreheads plucked their hairline to give this illusion. Both hair and makeup during this era were light, meaning there were blondes with pale skin and bright red lips.

Victorian Era

Women traded in their voluptuous curves for tiny waists by wearing corsets. These were often wound so tight that it was hard to breathe or sit down. Petticoats and bustles were worn to make their behinds appear plumper, further accentuating their tiny waists. As for makeup, high class women were expected to wear it in small amounts. Those who did wear a lot of makeup opted for bolder and darker colors. This was described by the religious as a work of evil. If only they could see some of the makeup trends now!

The Roaring Twenties

The ideal body type went through another drastic transition. Following the end of the First World War, the new trend for women was comfort and to look ‘less’ of a woman! Some would bind their chest with strips of cloth to downplay their bosom and hide their feminine figures. It was during this time when ‘The Bob’ hairstyle became popular, and makeup became more accepted. The pale skin and thin, bold eyebrows that were penciled in were the norm.

The Golden Age

Feminine curves made their way back in, only this time, they were coupled with toned arms and legs. There were much more hairstyles to choose from, depending on which particular celebrity you were trying to emulate. Make up was more natural and modest.


Two words: Marilyn Monroe. She was the most prominent representative of what was considered beautiful in the mid-century, from her hourglass figure to platinum blonde hair with soft curls.

The 60’s

Models like Twiggy made skinniness ideal in the modelling world and to the average woman – at least, for the average, non-hippie woman. Hippies opted for a completely natural look, wherein no one was made to fit into an ‘ideal body type’ and the use of makeup was avoided. The only exceptions were fake eyelashes and mascara to make the eyes look bigger. Hairstyles often required little to no maintenance.

The Disco Era

Thin remained the ideal body type. The most defining standard of beauty in the 70’s was the late Farrah Fawcett’s hairstyle – long, layered, blond, and with feathered waves. The tanned look also became popular, often achieved with tanning beds, bronzers, and self-tanners.

The 80’s

Due to the aerobics exercise craze, women worked out to have the toned bodies of instructors on aerobics videos. Going out in public wearing spandex became commonplace. As for hair and makeup, everything was ‘bigger’ – use of hairspray was rampant as women did their best to have big hair, and makeup was bold, colourful, and experimental. Bushy eyebrows like Brooke Shields’ were considered beautiful.

The 90’s

Fashion styles became more toned down, and the emaciated look called Herion chic became popular. This was trend was characterized by pale skin, dark under-eye circles, and dark red lipstick. The most popular hairstyle was no doubt the “Rachel” as worn by Jennifer Aniston on popular TV show, Friends.

No wonder it is often said that beauty fades – the standards of society change so often that it’s hard to keep up! Rather than consciously following trends to be ‘in’, just stay true to the look you want. It’s okay to be influenced or encouraged to make a few changes here and there, but what’s important is that you love how you look either way.

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