Speaking in general, here is what white people in North America in 2008 seem to think is beautiful in a woman (and when each element seemed to take root):
- long hair that is yellow, almost white (1950s)
- blue, empty eyes (2000s)
- a thin body even to the point of being stick thin and not having much of female figure (1970s)
- large breasts (1950s) – even on a thin body (1990s), but not for fashion models (1960s)
- white, tanned skin (1950s)
This look is now everywhere, yet it is new. God – or Evolution – did not wire it into the brains of white people. You do not see it in the Italian paintings of the 1400s. You do not see it in the old American films of the 1940s. It is as strange, in its way, as Chinese foot binding or African lip plates.
Yet because of the powerful position that white North Americans have in world fashion, film and television it affects everyone. So black men in North America and the Caribbean prefer light-skinned women, while the Chinese increasingly prefer thin women.
Looking back there are five women who stand as signposts along the way to this idea of beauty:
1953: Marilyn Monroe
Before Marilyn Monroe the beauties of Hollywood tended to be thin with dark hair and beautiful legs. After her they become increasing light-haired with large breasts and an hourglass figure. Monroe appeared in the first issue of Playboy. In the 1950s and 1960s Playboy only showed naked breasts for the most part. That helped to make breasts, especially large ones, the thing that white men desired most.
She was stick thin and had no female figure to speak of. White people of the time were shocked, but Vogue loved her look and so did fashion designers: she was a walking coat hanger. Thin became in and by the 1970s anorexia began to appear among girls in increasing numbers.
1979: Bo Derek
She starred in the film “10″ where a middle-aged man pursues her as the perfect beauty. What makes this surprising is how thin she was for the time. It marked the death of the hourglass figure.
1992: Anna Nicole Smith
When one of the richest men in Texas fell in love with her she could become anything money could buy. And she did: she made her hair yellow and her breasts huge. They were out of proportion to her body but her breasts-on-a-stick look would become so common that it no longer looked strange.
2004: Lindsay Lohan
Lindsay Lohan has the makings of a true beauty, but it is undermined by her empty eyes: there does not seem to be anything serious behind them. That has become common now. It used to be that a woman’s eyes were the most beautiful thing about her. Look at Botticelli’s paintings or Elizabeth Taylor. Not any more.