Today’s body-type trends are more dangerous than ever

Humans are fickle creatures. We constantly jump from one trend to the next, never conforming to one idea for too long. Our capricious nature has caused women involved in the cultures of their respective regions to be subject to ever-changing beauty standards for thousands of years, from the lengthy and flared silhouettes of the early 15th century to the “S” shape of the Edwardian Era.

The existence of body-type trends in our society today, therefore, is not a new phenomenon. In our modern culture, however, these body trends have become more dangerous than ever because our bodies themselves are expected to conform to the rapidly changing trends created by social media.

Of the many trends that existed in the past pertaining to a desired silhouette, many minds jump to the large skirts, impossibly small waists and dramatic ruffle collars from the Elizabethan Era. While these features may seem preposterous to our modern standards, the methods for achieving this silhouette were relatively harmless. According to the Fashion History Timeline, a pilot project started by the Fashion Institute of Technology, an aristocratic woman in the 1580s would don a “pair of bodies,” which was the corset’s predecessor, a wheel farthingale and a bum roll along with other garments to achieve a smooth front and a stiff, square-shaped skirt.

Although some may hear the word “corset” and immediately think of tight lacing, this was not a common practice, according to various videos by Bernadette Banner, a YouTuber who often recreates historical clothing using historically accurate methods. Corsets were designed to achieve a flat and smooth bodice, and by making the shoulders and hips much broader than they naturally were, the waist seemed narrower in comparison.

However, not all silhouettes are obtained through strategic shapewear and illusion. In our current culture of fast fashion and social media, our actual bodies must do the shapeshifting themselves.

Instead of using padding and hoop skirts, trends such as heroin chic from the 1990s, where being extremely skinny was idealized, and the popularized Kim Kardashian exaggerated hourglass shape of today rely on more dangerous methods like excessive dieting and plastic surgery, respectively. To starve oneself of necessary nutrients and to be pressured into risky cosmetic procedures are not on the same level as adding a couple of shapewear layers to one’s daily outfit.

This is where the distinction lies between harmless and harmful body trends: those that use clothes to emulate desired features versus those that use the human bodies themselves to create a popular silhouette.

However, this is not to say that all body trends in the past were clothing-based. The plump figures idealized by the ancient Greeks, the slim and small build preferred by the Han Dynasty and many others fall into the same category as the body trends we deal with in modern times.

Yet the difference between these body-type trends and those of today is the introduction of social media in recent years and consequently, the dramatically accelerating speed at which trends change. The unprecedented accessibility to information that the new technologies of the modern day provide to the global population has played a large role in the rapid development and replacement of new trends. While this would not be as harmful if different types of shapewear were to be switched out, to completely change one’s body composition every couple of years is not only nearly impossible to do on command, but extremely dangerous and unhealthy to attempt.

All in all, it has become more necessary now than ever to separate our bodies from fleeting fashions. While in an ideal world, body type trends would be completely abolished and all shapes and sizes would be regarded as beautiful, this is much easier said than done.

In order to work toward the well-being of our society, we must first focus on applying trends to disposable items such as clothes rather than to our own bodies — our life sources.

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