From Prehistoric Pretty to Filter Fanatics

For as long as we have been on this planet, beauty has been in our lives, whether it was to look rich, to seduce someone or to live up to the standards of society. What did our ancestors consider beautiful?

Story by Tina Priemus

Prehistoric Pretty (25.000 years ago)

There is not much known about the beauty standard of the prehistoric age. However, this totem can tell us something about the way humans looked at beauty 25.000 years ago. According to Dr. Richard Johnson from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the Venus of Willendorf represents survival in an extremely cold climate. For the people living in this age it was hard to get all their nutritions. Being fat meant you had a higher chance of survival. This wasn’t necessarily a beauty standard but it was the ideal to strive for.

Ancient Aesthetics (3000 BC – 500)

Greek and Roman times are known for the deve- lopment of scientific thinking. Pythagoras, who was born in Ancient Greek around 570 BC and later moved to Italy, came up with the Golden Ratio, a formula that linked symmetry to beauty. Women with a unibrow were considered more symmetrical and thus more beautiful. To
fake this unibrow women used make-up to fill in the gap between their eyebrows. An example of a woman is seen in the fresco from the Roman town of Pompeii (60 CE).

Renaissance Refinement (1300 – 1500)

The interest in calculations of the perfectly proportioned face didn’t stop in ancient times. Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing The proportions of the head, and a standing nude (c. 1490) shows a face in which one third is covered by the forehead. Many paintings, such as Portrait of a Lady (1460) by Van der Weyden, portray women showing off their lengthy forehead. During this age of time women would even pluck or shave their hair to make their forehead look bigger and meet the ideal of beauty.

Four Eras of Fat (1500 – 1900)

Body positivity is not only a trend we see nowa- days. From the 16th until the 19th century, having a fuller body was seen as beautiful. Having a body that was leaning to obesity meant it was healthy and was a sign of prosperity. Writer Luigi Cornaro, born in 1550, confirms this trend in his book The Art of Living Long. He describes the Italian civilization as one of immoderation. Being able to have a body like that meant you had enough money to eat. A wealthy body is shown in the painting Bacchus (c. 1639) by the Flemish painter Rubens.

Victorian Females (1837 – 1900)

After years of obese beauty standards, the ideal has shifted to the contrary. During the Victorian era women would try to get a very small waist bytightlacing a corset around their bodies. The pictu- re shows a poster for corsets. It portrays how the item was normalized during the Victorian times. Valerie Steele writes about the dangers of corsets in her book The Corset: A Cultural History (2001). She describes the way women’s rib cages would be totally modified and the severe liver dysfunction that would show.

Roaring 20’s Rebellion (1920-1930)

The 1920s, also called the Roaring 20s, was a time of more prosperity between the end of World War I and The Great Depression. This was especially true for the United States, but Europe was not left behind. In the Western world, more freedom for women came with more prosperity. Women started to dress more androgynous. A skinny body with a flattened chest and a short hairdo was the new standard. The movies at the time showed this new ideal of beauty. In the picture you see actress Marion Davies with a bobline and a skinny body.

Filter Fanatics (Now)

Even though body positivity is playing a great part in the way we look at beauty these days, there still are beauty norms women have to live up to. According to a 2021 survey by ParentsTogether, teens who use filters on social media are morelikely to wish for plastic surgery. Social media is filled with girls showing off their flawless skin, fit bodies and long shiny hair. Beauty filters prove that not everything you see on social media is real.