Feb 20

The Commodification of Female Bodies

by Sophie Cundall

The commodifcation of female bodies has been going on for centries. Since the beginning of time the female physiche has been criticised and examined, causing women's bodies to go in an out of fashion like items of clothing.

When you think of trend cycles, you might think of *that* green dress spotted around every rosé picnic last summer, or the controversial return of the UGG boot. You might think of check print and the Danish home aesthetic, or, more pessimistically of the compressing of trend cycles by fast fashion brands and the throwaway culture they create. But there’s another kind of trend that we don’t talk about enough: body shapes.

I’m never one to use Buzzfeed as a point of reference, but for ages I’ve seen videos along the likes of one of theirs, walking us through Women’s Ideal Body Types Through History, and we quickly begin to recognise the body from ancient Greek statues, the 20s boy-ish flapper, the 40s Marylin Monroe, the 90s Kate Moss, and the cycle very much continues within the 21st century.

The Return of Y2K

One of the most interesting discussions around the return of Y2K fashion has been about body shapes. There's a bunch of articles calling out the era’s rampant fatphobia- the ideal was as thin as possible, and some argue that the low rise jeans and tiny cardigans were really just to show off the body wearing them (source). After all, it did follow the ‘heroin chic’ ideal of the nineties: an aesthetic where skinniness was desired to the point where it made you look ill. This isn’t to body shame anyone, however this level of thinness is unnatural and unhealthy for some. A body size becoming a desirable trend like a new print from Zara is dangerous and unlikely to be good for anybody’s self esteem.

When we think about the 2010s and into the 2020s (I refuse to say ‘10s or ‘20s because it makes me feel old) we see the birth of another body-related trend. Largely thanks to figures such as the Kardashians, the ‘slim thick’ trend emerged. Not only is this body type unattainable for many without hours of personal training or plastic surgeries, the Kardashians have widely been accused of cultural appropriation and fetishising black culture (source). Again, of course some people's bodies look like this naturally, but it’s important to note the problematic behaviour that the Kardashians have undertaken as part of their distinctive aesthetic. It can seem like the white Kardashian women are praised for traditionally black attributes, for which black women are discriminated against. With some women taking dangerous supplements to achieve this body shape (source), we need to be extremely careful of body-related trends as they can cause real, tragic damage both physically and mentally.

Internalised Fatphobia

I don’t have space in this article to give a full history of fatphobia and the various flaws of the wellness industry, but it would be wrong to discuss body trends without mentioning it. I recommend listening to the podcast Maintenance Phase for some excellent deep dives into trending wellness fads and the damage they cause. I think a vital thing to note is the 20th century birth of the wellness industry and the immediate change in trending body shape. Historically, larger bodies were considered the ideal- it only takes a quick walk around the National Gallery to see this, but the wellness industry and consequent ‘diet culture’ has convinced us that the only good body is a thin one. Ultimately, most body trends nowadays are only attainable for thin bodies- I’ll let you sit with that one.

And if we happen to be on the same side of Tiktok, you may have seen the same videos as me, theorising the return of ‘Heroin Chic’ as the 2012 trends, those of us who were on Tumblr, might remember very well.

Nobody’s body should be seen as a trend- every body is a good body, all year round. We shouldn’t be changing our bodies because society and its associated systems tell us to. You’re fine just as you are, and one size definitely does not fit all!