Date of Award

2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Abstract

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a number of models have existed offering women a spectrum of ideal body types and varying opinions about the role of fitness and diet in achieving these forms. In the years following World War II, prescriptive literature, Hollywood, and popular culture in general created and perpetuated the postwar feminine ideal of "the Sweater girl" - a busty, curvaceous figure more sexual than maternal. Yet, this ideal gave way in little more than a decade. In the late 1960s, youth culture placed a cult-like status on Twiggy, a model with a 31-inch bust and 32-inch hips. How had the ideal female body type changed so quickly and so drastically? How did we go from a society that worshiped full, buxom blonds to child-like waifs in just over a decade? Previous scholars have not recognized how malleable these ideals were and how susceptible the female figure is when seemingly disparate factors like consumerism, fashion trends, foreign policy, medical opinion, and mortality collide.

This dissertation explores and analyzes how women of different ages, races, and sexual orientations imagined and actively altered their own bodies in their efforts to mimic or reject female body ideals between 1945 and 1970. Previous historical works have attempted to demonstrate the democratic and inclusive potential cosmetic culture provided American women throughout the past two centuries; this scholarship fails to incorporate the historical realities for women outside the dominant heterosexual, white culture. While having the "choice" to look one way or not does appear egalitarian, parameters of preferability still exist and are, generally, Caucasian. The examination of beauty culture through the lens of body image, rather than cosmetics, demonstrates an absence of democratic benefits and qualities. Careful study demonstrates that white, African American, and lesbian women embodied and embraced a variety of forms in postwar America.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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