Looking Back At The Ideal Female Figure From Decade-To-Decade

Throughout history, the female body has gone through various trends and fads. From the flappers of the roaring ’20s to the pin-up girls of the ’40s and the “twigs” of the ’60s, the idea of beauty seems to change drastically depending on the era. Take a look back at what was considered the ideal female body type from decade to decade.

The “Gibson Girl” Of The 1910s

The Gibson Bathing Girl
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Sheridan Libraries/Levy/Gado/Getty Images

Starting in the 1910s, it was all about the hourglass figure. Made popular by magazine illustrator Charles Gibson, this body type was all about a tiny waist, large hips, and, strangely enough, perfect posture.

In his illustrations, Gibson portrayed women wearing tight corsets, giving them the absolute perfect hourglass figure without overdoing the chest. To him, the Gibson Girl represented the beauty of “thousands of American girls” and was the epitome of physical attractiveness in women.

The Ideal Gibson Girl Was Camille Clifford

A Gibson Girl
W & D Downey/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
W & D Downey/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Camille Clifford was a well-known stage actress during the 1910s. But she was more popular for being one of the main models for Charles Gibson’s Gibson Girls. Between her perfect hourglass figure and the mile-high coiffure updo she typically sported, Clifford was considered to be the definition of what a Gibson Girl represented.

In the 1900s, she even won $2,000 in a magazine contest looking for a lady who accurately depicts Gibson’s “perfect woman.”

Flappers Of The ’20s Let Loose

20s-flapper
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John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images/Media/ClassicStock/Getty Images

After years of wearing stuffy corsets, women finally let loose in the roaring ’20s. They said goodbye to long tight dresses and huge up-dos. Instead, ladies were rocking shorter hairstyles, boxy dresses, and athletic figures, thanks to the loss of the corset!

Flappers are widely considered the first generation of independent American women. Of course, not everyone was down for the change. At the time, these it-girls were seen as “dangerous, immoral, and outrageous.”

Margaret Gorman Was Considered The Epitome Of Beauty In The ’20s

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When it comes to the ladies of the roaring ’20s, Margaret Gorman is widely considered the woman who best depicts the ideal female body of the time. Tall and athletic, with some wild hair, Gorman was crowned “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America” during the Bather’s Revue beauty pageant.

Her style and body type are a far cry from the 1910s Gibson Girl a decade prior. The ’20s were all about freedom and throwing away that corset!

The Soft Curves Of The ’30s

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The idea of beauty once again changed when the 1930s rolled around. So long were the boxy dresses and athletic figures of the roaring 20s. Instead, ladies began doubling back to a more feminine style and look.

This was the decade that had women showing off their soft curves, opting for garments that hugged their bodies. It was a long cry from the boxy outfits worn just one decade before!

Dolores Del Rio Had The Ideal 1930s Body

Dolores Del Rio
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Actress Dolores Del Rio was the epitome of female beauty in the 1930s, having been used as a prototype for many studios in Hollywood. In fact, the film magazine Photoplay called Del Rio “the most perfect female figure in Hollywood.”

She was curvy yet healthy and wore the most stunning garments that hugged her body and showed just the right amount of skin. More Fabulous Faces author Larry Carr said the actress’s appearance greatly influenced the entertainment industry.

The Pin-Up Girl Of The ’40s

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The curves of the 1930s made way for a fuller look in the 1940s. According to Dr. Amelia Serafine, a professor in the History Department of San Antonio College specializing in cultural history, “For women, cinched waists, soft bodies, and fuller, cone-shaped [chests] were in style, and new lingerie was marketed to meet this new task.”

“…The ideal body shape was plumper “sweater girl” or pin-up girl.” It was a body type that had never been popular before!

Betty Grable Was The Pin-Up Girl Of The ’40s

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LMPC via Getty Images
LMPC via Getty Images

When it came to the ideal female body type of the 1940s, there was none other than Betty Grable. Known as the pin-up girl of the time, Garble’s iconic bathing suit poster was the number one most-pinned photo during World War II!

At the time, Garble had what was considered ideal leg proportions between her ankles, calves, and thighs. Speaking of her time in the entertainment industry, Garble said, “I became a star for two reasons, and I’m standing on them.”

The Hourglass Shape Made A Comeback In The ’50s

Evening Wear
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Debrocke/ClassicStock/Getty Images

In the 1950s, the hourglass shape made a comeback, although it was different from what people saw in the 1910s. Instead of a super-cinched waist via corset, women began to gain weight to get their ideal shape.

Advertisements caught on to the fad, marketing towards weight-gain supplements that went straight to the hips! This decade was all about a softer and fuller hourglass shape, almost a mix between the pin-up girls of the ’40s and the Gibson Girls of the ’10s.

Marilyn Monroe Was The Figure Of The ’50s

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Actress Marilyn Monroe was without a doubt the envy of most women in the 1950s. She was pretty much the face of the ideal hourglass body type. Monroe threw out the idea of a skinny frame being ideal, completely owning her curves and body during her lifetime.

According to art historian Gail Levin, with her beauty and career in the entertainment industry, she became the most photographed person of the 20th century.

The Androgynous Twig Of The 1960s

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Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The ideal female body type did a major 180 shift in the 960s. Women no longer wanted curves, favoring a stick-thin “twig” body image.

According to Dr. Amelia Serafine, a professor in the History Department of San Antonio College who specializes in cultural history, “In a prosperous post-war era, slim fashion models showcased a body ideal for women that was ultra-slender, with no waist definition and especially thin thighs, stomachs, and arms.” This change in image proved to be a massive spike in diet culture.

Twiggy Was The Twig Of The ’60s

Twiggy 1967
Daily Herald/Mirrorpix/Getty Images
Daily Herald/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Dame Lesley Lawson, aka Twiggy, was the model women aspired to look like in the 1960s. Tall yet slim with a tiny waist and limbs, she was the epitome of beauty in the decade. Her long eyelashes, big eyes, and short hair mixed with her twig-like stature were unlike anything history had seen before.

Halfway through the decade, the Daily Express named the high-fashion model “The Face of 1966,” one year after starting her career.

The ’70s Saw A Rise In Tanned Bodies And Long, Flowing Hair

Marjorie Wallace
Dennis Oulds/Central Press/Getty Images
Dennis Oulds/Central Press/Getty Images

After a decade of overly skinny women attempting to look like Twiggy, the ’70s rolled around. Finally, females began to look towards a more healthy body type, with the ideal look being tanned and athletic.

This decade saw more and more women going outside, wanting to get a natural glow while letting their hair down to flow in the wind like one of the leading ladies on Charlie’s Angles — the actresses were the epitome of female beauty at the time.

Farrah Fawcett Was The Lady Of The ’70s

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Fotos International/Getty Images
Fotos International/Getty Images

During her time on the popular series Charlie’s Angels, actress Farrah Fawcett was considered to be the most gorgeous woman around. Tall and athletic, she had golden skin and a head of hair most women dreamed of — full with just the right amount of volume, curl, and bounce.

During the ’70s, Fawcett’s body was considered ideal with women exercising a bit more than previous decades. This mentality rolled over into the following decade.

The ’80s Saw Skinny, Toned, Tall, And Athletic Women

Vanessa Williams Portrait Session
Harry Langdon/Getty Images
Harry Langdon/Getty Images

In a way, the ideal female body type of the ’70s rolled over into the ’80s. Women were still going for an athletic body, but in the ’80s, it wasn’t enough to have toned muscles.

Beauty in the ’80s was all about being toned while still maintaining a skinny frame, considered to be “hardbodies.” Not to mention the rise in supermodels during the decade had women striving for a tall, lean frame that was fit for the runway.

Jane Fonda Was The Face Of The ’80s Exercise Craze

Actress Jane Fonda Exercising
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It’s almost impossible to talk about female bodies in the ’80s without bringing up the one and only Jane Fonda. In 1982, Fonda released her first workout video, Jane Fonda’s Workout. With so many females vying to get that “hardbody” image, the video became the highest-selling VHS ever.

Fonda was tall, lean, and had a toned body, aka the ideal body type for a solid majority of women during the decade.

“Heroin Chic” Was All The Rage In The ’90s

Défilé Versace, Prêt-à-Porter Automne/Hiver 1996/97
Pool PAT/ARNAL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Pool PAT/ARNAL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

After two decades of the ideal female body type being fit, toned, and athletic, beauty standards took a bit of a side step. In the ’90s, it was all about a waif-like appearance that came to be known as “heroin chic.”

This meant a skinny body frame, protruding hip bones, and an overall skeletal appearance. Not to mention that tanned skin was out, and a paler complexion was in, thanks to models such as Kate Moss and actresses including Winona Ryder.

Winona Ryder Was The Epitome Of The ’90s Body Type

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Universal/Getty Images
Universal/Getty Images

If there were ever a celebrity who fits the “waif-like bill’ during the 1990s, it is none other than Winona Ryder. As a teenager and young adult in Hollywood, Ryder was on the shorter side while rocking a “heroin chic” body type.

She was skinny with a skeletal-looking frame, had a very pale complexion, and had darker hair that gave her an edgy look. When it came to beauty standards of the decade, Ryder fit the bill.

Toned And Leggy Models Of The 2000s

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VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images

Thankfully, “heroin chic” didn’t last very long. Once the turn of the century came around, women began to backtrack. Instead of striving for an overall skinny appearance, athletic builds and toned bodies came back into style.

While there was less emphasis on curves, as seen in the ’50s and ’80s, women were finally starting to get back into healthy lifestyles, putting more meat on their bones and looking fuller and more athletic than they did in the ’90s.

In The 2000s, Gisele Bundchen Brought An End To “Heroin Chic”

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Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Conde Nast
Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Conde Nast

Supermodel Gisele Bundchen is credited with bringing an end to the idea of “heroin chic.” She was tall, toned, had an athletic build, and brought back the idea of golden and healthy-looking skin.

She’s been called “The Most Beautiful Woman In The World” by more than one magazine, including Vogue and Rolling Stone! With a credit like that, it’s no wonder women were striving to have an athletic and tanned body type instead of the skinny image of the previous decade.

Curves Began To Make A Comeback In The 2010s

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JFREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
JFREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

It seems as though throughout the decades’ certain trends around the perfect female body make their comeback. When it comes to the 2010s, it’s all about that hourglass figure that was seen as beautiful in the 1950s.

So long were the days of “heroin chic.” During the 2010s, it was all about the curves making a comeback, with specific emphasis on narrow waists and bigger behinds, thanks to a generous handful of celebrities.

Beyoncé And Kim K. Began The Cruvey Revolution Of The 2010s

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

When the 2010s rolled around, women began to embrace their curves, thanks to celebrities including Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and even reality stars like the Kardashians, particularly Kim.

While these women are all physically fit, they put major emphasis on their assets, namely their behind, shaping their thighs, and energizing their core for a flat stomach. It’s a new take on the 1950s hourglass figure that has now rolled over into the 2020s.

The 2020s = Fit Girl

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Taylor Hill/FilmMagic
Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

It might have started in the 2010s, but so far in the 2020s, it’s all about being a “fit girl.” This means daily exercise for the full body. No longer are women focusing on specific aspects of their bodies, but the entire thing for a strong and well-rounded image.

The ideal female body is primarily just that, fit, strong, and toned. This body type has allowed females to embrace casual legging outfits!

Social Media Influencers Are All About “Fit Girls” In The 2020s

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Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Interestingly, when it comes to the ideal female body type in the 2020s, there was a shift from celebrities to social media influencers. With platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, women are able to pick up some key workout routines from actual trainers, including dieting tips and goals.

And while “fit girl” is all the rage in the early 2020s, the decade is also about embracing body positivity, no matter the shape or size of a person.