How Attractive Movie Star Body Images Changed and Evolved Over Time
Feb 16, 2023
What people find beautiful in terms of body image is often subjective depending on what time period or culture you’re from. The same hasn’t always been true of mainstream Hollywood. For many decades, movie stars were seen as the archetypal standard for beauty and body image but remained one dimensional by what they celebrated as conventional beauty.
Hollywood has come under heavy criticism in contemporary society for perpetuating unhealthy standards of beauty through mainstream culture. This has led to a diverse new range of thought on the subject, with conventional beauty standards and body images rapidly changing all the time. However, it wasn’t always this way.
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Traditional Body Images in Hollywood
20th Century Fox
Most societies are seemingly obsessed with beauty standards. People Magazine’s annual list of the most beautiful people is a prime example of enraptured society is by beauty standards.Most people would agree that a beautiful body image in Hollywood during most of the twentieth century usually only meant one thing – being slim. While attractive features, fashion, make-up trends, and other notions of facial beauty may have varied here and there, for a long time, Hollywood never seemed to place much, or any stock, in actors or actresses deemed to be overweight.
Go back in time and the most frequently mentioned actresses of the past viewed as iconic beauties in Hollywood always include the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn. As for the men, the most desirable Hollywood actors of older generations were usually the likes of Paul Newman, Sean Connery, Gary Cooper, James Dean, or Elvis.
Related: Top 10 Actresses of All Time, According to the American Film Institute
These movie stars were often seen as the quintessential standard of beauty and body image which was a very linear one at the time. Racial lines were certainly prevalent too as white actors were usually always deemed the most desirable to headline major parts. However, as much as body shape was a key factor of attractive body image, there were other key factors for what constituted trending beauty standards over the years too.
Social Circumstances of the Time
The entertainment industry has always been at the helm of distracting society from its worst ills whilst also artistically interpreting and reflecting those circumstances back at it. As a result, major societal events have often been reflected in the kinds of stars that become the most desirable during a given period of history. For example, during the period following World War II, stars like Doris Day epitomized the ‘girl next door’ trope, despite also being a sex-symbol of the ’50s. This was largely down to the wave of optimistic cheer that gripped western society after the war ended.
On the other hand, the ’60s and ’70s were known around the world for the great leaps they made in the fights for human rights through various mass movements. With this more radical era looking to shed the austere trends of previous decades, fashion, body image, and beauty standards slowly became more androgynous. Many rock bands came to prominence at the time and traditional male sex symbols, to an extent, gave way to slender rock star who sported looks that included things like long hair, tattoos, outlandish costumes, and make-up.
By the ’80s and early ’90s fitness began playing a larger role and physical health became the ideal. Throughout this period, the world largely saw attractive body images through the lenses of stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jane Fonda who placed a great emphasis on physical fitness.
Biggest Changes of the 21st Century
Hulu (Disney Distribution)
By the 2000s, reality TV stars were all the rage and the likes of The Kardashians took center stage as icons of beauty standards. Seemingly overnight, it felt like big lips and large butts were suddenly the new standard of beauty. From Jennifer Lopez to Nikki Minaj, full figured women became the sex symbols of contemporary culture, and were now held in the same esteem as the flat-tummied, skinny legged icons of the past were.
Among male actors, slim and athletic builds became more acceptable. This meant body types like Ashton Kutcher’s or Wenthworth Miller’s no longer required the muscle girth of action stars from the ’80s and ’90s like Sylvester Stallone or Jean-Claude Van Damme for them to be considered leading men and sex symbols. At the same time, racial lines were slowly blurring more too and as the century moved forward, wider changes to traditional notions of beauty and body image were yet to come.
Related: Best Action Heroes of the ’80s, Ranked
As the 2000s moved further on, traditional beauty standards were in for a huge shake-up, and there seems to be a distinct reason why. As younger people became more politically active, they brought with them progressive ideas of why conventional notions of beautiful body images were outdated, discriminatory, and undesirable.
Politics and Body Image
Time and political culture has always played a role in what society deemed attractive or desirable traits since ancient times. This is viscerally evident by contrasting one crude difference between then and now. Ancient Greeks believed that men with smaller appendages were the ideal standard, as this was seen as an indicator of less aggression and rationality. However, in today’s world, size matters so much that so-called ‘big energy’ is now a trending term associated with a person that possesses inner-strength, grit, self-assuredness, and high confidence.
The political culture of today is one that feasts on ripping up tractional norms and archetypes of the past. Body image among movie stars has certainly not been immune to this. The last decade has seen more concerted efforts by Hollywood to be more racially and ethnically inclusive. From more Black and Asian stars being represented in film and TV shows, to more Bollywood stars breaking into mainstream Hollywood, and plus size persons, people of all orientations and gender identities being selected for prestigious modeling projects, body image in contemporary society has been turned completely on its head by the political ideologies that drive them.
This all doesn’t mean that newfangled ideas of the ideal movie star, entertainer, or model aren’t controversial. Many current debates question how much of the seemingly unending levels of what is deemed attractive in today’s society is objective, and how much is politically driven by a wokeness ideology and Hollywood’s exploitation of it. Either way, the evolution of attractive body image among stars has never been more diverse than it currently is.
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