There was one parking spot left, and it wasnâ€™t a good one.Â I edged my car next to the mega-sized, mega-testosteroned truck–the one with the decal of a shapely woman submissively posed on all fours–and hoped there was room to open my door without chipping paint.Â Ah, January, the month of inspired resolutions, too many new members at the workout center, and no parking places.Â I smiled, knowing the number of the â€œdedicatedâ€ would dwindle appreciatively by February when cold temperatures and warm sofas worked their magic.
Glancing around to note the available workout machines, I found the eclectic assortment of people getting their exercise impressive for an early Tuesday morning.Â There were younger men lost in free-weight lift counts, and older guys sweating mindlessly on the treadmill.Â All of the women (other than me), were on elliptical machines or treadmills, and all of them were watching television and/or their mirrored-wall reflections.Â I canâ€™t say any of the calorie-burners were dressed to impress. Sweatpants and loose shirts with funky sayings ruled, as did earbud-laced ponytails. I wondered about the motives of the new members, and silently gave the “lift the chin once” greeting to several regulars who show up rain or shine, happy or not.
Recently I came across an online article written by Maddie Ruud, who I jealously noted has 4,405 followers.Â The title of her piece is Western Standards of Beauty: An Illustrated Timeline. She compares womenâ€™s looks from the 15th Century through to our current concepts of what beauty should be. (But Lord knows almost no woman can attain without lots and lots and lots of help. Lots.)
Women in earlier centuries were found beautiful if they had good child-producing hips and breasts. A curvaceous body suggested health, vitality, and status.Â The â€œGibson Girlâ€ Â beauty of the late 1800â€™s was a corseted hour-glassed shaped morsel, followed by the thin, no curves allowed, Flappers of the 1920â€™s.Â By the 1940â€™s-50â€™s, buxom sweater girls in conical bullet bras once again salved the male gaze, and righted the world.
The 1960â€™s brought us boyish, androgynous, Twiggy. The 1970â€™s… Farrah and all her glorious feathered hair and forever cold nipples.Â The 1980â€™s ushered in the fitness craze, Jane Fonda workouts, and zero fat. The â€™90â€™s were a time of skeletally thin chic, and faithful female viewers watched the womenâ€™s bodies on Friends fade from small to near-nothing.
I clearly remember reading an advertisement in the 1970â€™s that speaks to how much things have changed in the clothing size department. While I donâ€™t remember the product…I think it was for Virginia Slims, that empowering slender cigarette brought to us by the feminist-minded tobacco industry…I remember the message.
The ad spoke of how women were free to do their own thing in the modern world of the 1970’s, and that looking good was one of them. The woman in the ad was a â€œsmashing size 8â€ because of her choices, and other women could look that good too if they did what she did.Â To be honest, I thought the model did look smashing…and quite thin.Â However by todayâ€™s standards, at least in Hollywood, a size 8 equates to media shame and lucrative contracts with weight loss companies.
As Maddie Ruud summarized, â€œWeâ€™re left with worth determined by weight, compulsively counting calories and pounds, deconstructing ourselves into imperfect parts. We trumpet our gains in the professional and political sphere, while we pare away our bodies as penance.â€Â Amen sister.
As I squiggled and jiggled my way back into my car…the door did open just far enough not to disturb the truck next to me…I thought about the decal displayed on the window.
A curvaceous woman on all fours implying submissive wanton femininity. Which era did her body fit? It didnâ€™t really matter because women have been trying to please the male gaze for, well, ever.
Wouldnâ€™t it be great if women were to have fewer reminders of what we â€œshouldâ€ look like, and more reminders of how fabulously we were created to begin with? I think so.Â Put that on a decal mega-truck boy.