You’re Not Ugly, Just Poor: Why Generational Body Trends Always Benefit The 1%
The scope of body trends throughout history is so broad, it could never be contained in 1,000 words or less, but we’re here and we’re trying! The entire concept of a “body trend” is unfathomably toxic — if you’re attempting to be the healthiest you can be (and by that, we mean eating multiple meals a day, embracing fruits and veggies, and drinking water, not some stupid fad diet that tries to convince you carbs are your biggest problem), then you *are* body goals. Some people (i.e. me, a WASP) will never naturally develop a butt that does not quit, but that doesn’t make us any less sexy than the reality stars that took a chance on a butt lift, and those stars who decided to go under the knife aren’t any less beautiful than someone who decided elective surgery wasn’t for them. This isn’t a contest, but when it comes to chasing after generational body trends invented to sell us things and prey on our insecurities, it’s clear that the wealthy have a leg up. You can’t *really* think that all celebs were born with fantastic, zit-free genes or that their obliques came purely from Blogilates workouts on their bedroom floors. It’s called a dermatologist and a personal trainer, and they probably cost more than a year of public university tuition. Make no mistake, this isn’t news. Body trends date all the way back to the Paleolithic era when biology’s effects on the women’s ideal were even more obvious than they are today, and they’ve never been kind to plebs.
Kardashian #BodyGoals have as much in common with the ancient Venus of Willendorf sculpture as they do with most of the 20th century’s generational body trends, focusing on wide, child-bearing hips and large breasts to prove an individual is a fertile mate. Venus’s added voluptuous stomach lends itself to the Paleolithic era’s definition of wealth, which would be someone who could feed themselves through hunting and gathering well enough to put a little junk in their trunk, a trend that’s been repeated in Ancient Greece and the Italian Renaissance for both men and women. Being able to afford food in excess is psychologically linked to being able to take care of a family, making it inherently attractive at the time, which was only accessible to these eras’ answer to the 1% — the aristocracy. Bodily trends have varied vastly in the years between then and now, but whether we’re extolling the virtues of the curvaceous Gibson Girl of the 1900s, the boyish silhouette of the ‘20s, or Marilyn Monroe’s ‘50s bombshell looks, these trends have only been readily available to the wealthiest among us.
Do you really think that puberty caused a girl like Kylie Jenner to have *that* butt? Or that Khloe Kardashian’s “revenge body” is just exercise and eating right? You can have as much (or as little) kale as your heart desires, but unless you win a cool $15k at a kale eating contest to get your body done by Dr. Garth Fisher, all that kale won’t do you much good. Even finding the healthy food, personal trainers, and nutritionists necessary to healthily emulate Kate Moss’s ‘90s “heroin chic” look requires dolla dolla bills, proving that the normies amongst us aren’t ugly, we’re just poor. Or, as I like to put it, we’re pre-op.
Dr. Hector Salazar of the La Jolla Cosmetic Surgery Center in San Diego provides the type of body contouring surgeries that are Hollywood’s best-kept secret, but Dr. Salazar has noticed that his most-requested surgeries have changed since LJCSC opened its doors in 1988.
“Back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, buttock enlargement was rare in the US — instead, patients most commonly came in requesting liposuction of the buttocks and hips,” Dr. Salazar explained. “Meanwhile, our South American colleagues were serving a population who favored a more curvy appearance, and these surgeons, most notably Dr. Ivo Pitanguy, pioneered the now well-known Brazilian Butt Lift procedure”
Andrew Selpack, social media graduate program director and media professor at the University of Florida, spoke to us about how society’s generational body trends have always been determined by the media of the day.
“Before mass media, most commoners did not see or interact with royalty or the wealthy, but could see images of them created by painters and sculptors who took liberties with the likeness of the wealthy,” Dr. Selpack said. “The growth of the mass media, advertising, and Madison Avenue influenced what everyday people perceived the ideal body image to be. The models selected for magazines, commercials, or even pinup calendars became the ideal body image based on what ad men and movie producers deemed to be the ideal look.”
That advertising-based control over body image evolved into today’s influencer-based propaganda, as social media algorithms reward posts with high-engagement. These posts are often Photoshopped, not unlike how the painters of ye olde portraits tweaked the likenesses of their subjects, and the result of large-scale photoshoots where dozens of photos end up in the digital garbage.
While Dr. Selpack is right about social media setting the new standards for generational body trends, it’s largely the wealthy who are historically able to afford these painters, Madison Avenue products, and professional photo editing as they’re setting standards for the 99% to emulate.
Trends expert and keynote speaker Daniel Levine of DanielLevine.com agrees that artists influence the way we view body trends.
“They often start it, or find it, then a cultural feedback loop amplifies the effect so that emerging styles take on lives of their own,” Daniel explained, adding that most body trends circle back into fashion. “The only thing about body trends that are predictable is that someday they will come around once again. We can be sure that Twiggy will be in fashion again once more, only in a slightly different way, and guys, hang on to those neckties.”
Speaking of men, women may feel more societal pressure to emulate the trends of today, but it’s not just the chiseled Sistine Chapel David that has been trending in recent years. Two words: dad bod. Possibly for the first time since a little chub was indicative of being wealthy enough to eat, men carrying extra weight has become fashionable again, and we suspect it’s because women have related that body type to being a good father and, therefore, a loyal and reliable mate.
Dr. Salazar echoes that the 1% are simply quick adopters of trends originating from artists, although he uses this to counter that the pendulum from lean to voluptuous can be swung due to groups at the edge of culture change, like ‘60s beatniks steering culture away from the voluptuous Rita Hayworth ideal back to a slimmer body line. Still, without the richest amongst us to latch onto generational body trends and send them into the mainstream, we argue that body ideals would not exist within the aspirational plane they do today (and have for decades) without being attached to wealth and the status that comes with wealth.
“Confidence is timeless and will always light up a room regardless of trends,” Dr. Salazar concluded, emphasizing that there is a wider variation in today’s aesthetic ideals that excites him as a plastic surgeon. “We are not here to follow trends but rather to help patients feel confident.”
We hope that Dr. Salazar is right about a new era of body positivity coming into vogue. Our bodies should be celebrated as the beautiful vessels that hold our souls and allow us to exist in the world, regardless of how dope Kylie looks in her Fashion Nova ‘fits. It’s not her *ss that’s given Kylie a billion-dollar empire, it’s the supernatural confidence she bought after a rough awkward phase and held onto ever since.
May we all glow up like Kylie *internally* and believe we’re the baddest b*tches online and IRL, with or without fillers.