and other things. A quick survey, based on comments I made in Steph Liebe's F/book.
The present haute couture optical world of impossibly thin women holds no sexual and little aesthetic appeal to me. It's an alternate reality and not one I take seriously for myself. However, many women have reported that they and reactions to their appearance by others are strongly influenced by this alternate optical world.
So it behooves us to look into the causation of this persistent issue.
It's not as simple as media imagery by some unknown means programming helpless female brains (which would be insulting to women anyway). To leave out the biological is to see but a small part of the story. A beginning point to consider is that most men do not find tall, skinny models sexy. Evidence: the artificial enhancements given to porn actresses. Therefore, there's something more going on than something simple like "If I'm bone thin, I'll be found sexually attractive." I advance an hypothesis as follows: the clue to fashion and thinness is enhancement of perception of height.
Height is an evolutionary selector because height correlates in populations to social dominance and intelligence. That's one reason women have donned height-enhancing things like high heels: to increase their appeal to high-status
males who want children (mainly sons) who will pass on their genes. This is one reason why the human race is becoming taller over time: there's a selection bias toward height. I believe the idea is that we will top out in the 6'5" to 6'8" range, because any taller and we start to have structural problems.
Another element in the bias toward slenderness/thinness, by the way, is the male evolutionary drive toward guaranteeing female virginity/fidelity
. The male human has a drive to ensure that the children his mate bears are his own, so that he is not investing resources in (and/or possibly giving up his life for) another male's offspring. It's known that even today, in western societies, ~20% of children are not the husband's/purported father's. So, a very slender/unstretched/youthful stomach suggests that the female has never been pregnant and isn't now pregnant - a sort of early-check system without requiring genital involvement or marital (pair-bonding) commitment. [Evolutionary psychologists point out that stress on female virginity and overall control of females is strongest is "honor societies" - ones in which resources are scarce. This is one reason for female troubles in some Islamic countries.] This is why slender females have an impulse to display a trim stomach and why it's found so desirable: in evolutionary terms, the higher-status male will respond to, even demand, all signs of non-pregnancy.
There's also the function of tall/slender mates as signals of social dominance - hence the "trophy wife."
All this is why you see skinny porn actresses with huge implanted chests, or skinny starlets with their bodies at weird angles to make them look like they have curves. [The same weird-angle thing shows up with not-so-skinny Facebook people, who use camera angles and odd expressions or postures to suppress/distract from plumpness.] There's little evidence that the male sexual response is to curves as evidence of good nourishment. The male response to female curves is mainly a response to perceived fertility and youthfulness (which is also what a lot of makeup is about, e.g. blush and lipstick imitating vasodilation during youthful fertility). One thing that is *constant* whether in older Western art like Rubens or cultures where more plumpness is liked or in today's decadent Western media culture is a male preference for a female waist/hips ratio of 1:1.3 - which turns out to signal optimal fertility (and also be an auspicious waist width for successful childbearing). This preference is independent of culture - that alone shows how much of a role biology plays.
Female bodies show fertility markers through fat distribution: breasts, buttocks, and hips. So an additional sad thing about the distorted hypersexed media of today is that by demanding that women's bodies have ever less fat on them, art directors and photographers etc. are featuring bodies with suppressed fertility and even gender markers
- some of the young starlets out there are startlingly androgynous, especially around the hips/waist area. And so we see all kinds of artificial workarounds of this: the omnipresent Photoshop, cleavage-creating makeup or shadow placement, weird cocked angles around the hips - all trying to imitate a natural curve that has been removed by severe dieting and exercise. They also try to make up for the missing gender markers by extravagantly female hair and makeup and couture.
There's lots more to say on this, but none of this should be taken as defending the false optical world of fashion and the media as a guide for how people should look. As a number of critics have pointed out, no one *can* look like that. This is what motivates me to get at the underlying dynamics. I find the evolutionary perspective helpful because it makes sense of otherwise disconnected phenomena.
[ Random note: The much-commented on self-esteem nosedive in girls is correlated to puberty, i.e. the period where one suddenly wants to take one's place in the social mating arena. It's analogous to the uptick in aggression in boys. ]
[ Random note: I suspect there's an innate component to female sexual shame. Since keeping virginity/knowing fatherhood was so important, it makes sense that both males and females would have a drive to prevent a high level of random couplings. In males that takes the form of a drive toward controlling the female; in females, that may take the form of a certain impulse away from sex, particularly unless everything were just right. Thus the phenomenon of women having difficulty/being unable to orgasm if their feet are cold, and also the greater complexity of female sexuality. There are whole domains to be explored just in this issue. ]
[ My own feeling for the false optical world is expressed by Jennifer Garner's character in 13 Going On 30
- looking at a bunch of ice-cold couture images, the 13-year-old-in-a-30-year-old's-body says, so refreshingly, "I don't know anyone who looks like that!" I can enjoy it as a decadent artificial product, like a sci-fi novel - but it has nothing to do with what I find wonderful about real women in their real bodies. Hopefully they, too, will be less imprisoned by the glacial images in times to come, by becoming conscious of where it all comes from and where the strange sides of ourselves are sourced. ]