Beauty Through The Ages Essay Help


It’s hard to believe that once upon a time, women were celebrated for their natural god-given bodies. In fact, the female standard of beauty has gone through many drastic changes over the last several hundred years. We’ve compiled a timeline of all the major trends over the past 600 years, starting with the Renaissance up until the last decade. As we track everything from body types to hair and make-up, you may be surprised to see how the definition of sexy has changed so drastically over the years.

Renaissance: From the 1400s to the early 16th century

Body Type: The ideal Renaissance woman was more voluptuous than any other time in history. Paintings from this era depict women who would be considered beyond curvy by today’s standards – but at that time, these full-figured ladies were the epitome of sexiness. For the first time in recorded history, women were prized for their natural bodies.

Beauty: The term “blondes have more fun” may have stemmed from the Renaissance, because they believed that the lighter the hair color, the better. As for make-up, pale ivory skin was considered sexy, and vermillion was used to tint the lips to a deep red color. Pale complexion and blood red lips – it seems like the Renaissance era may have originated the popular vampire-chic look.

Victorian Era: From 1837 to 1901 (named after Britain’s Queen Victoria)

Body Type: Unlike Renaissance women, Victorian women were very body conscious. Sexy meant having the smallest waistline humanly possible, and in order to achieve this look, women wore corsets. Some corsets were wound so tight that women could hardly breathe, to the point where sitting down was completely out of the question. Many women would even break ribs trying to get their waistlines down to an inconceivable 12 inches. Layered petticoats, hoops, and bustles became very popular, all of which magnified the largest parts of the body – can you say, “Baby got back?”

Beauty: Modesty was the operative word when it came to Victorian makeup. High-class women were expected to use makeup sparingly. Bold colors were considered trashy, and reserved for prostitutes. Some religions at the time even proclaimed beauty products to be “the look of the devil.”

The Roaring 20s: The era that brought us Coco Chanel, shorter hemlines, and flappers.

Body Type: The 1920’s was a time when women didn’t want to look like women at all. We can’t imagine that men today would find this sexy, but some women from the 20’s era would even bind their chests with strips of cloth to achieve a “little boy” look – quite contradictory to some of the measures that today’s women take in order to amplify their chests. The loose silhouette of the flapper dress was in stark contrast to the corseted waist of the Victorian era. Elastic webbed girdles replaced corsets and gave off the look of a flat boyish abdomen.

Beauty: Going right along with the boyish look, the hair bob or finger wave was a big trend. Bold make-up, which had once been considered “trashy,” was now considered sexy. Powder was applied to make the skin look as pale as possible, and eyebrows were lifted and penciled in to appear thin and bold. Kohl was used to line the eye and achieve an overall dramatic look.

The 1930’s to 1950’s: Hollywood’s Golden Age

Body Type: As they became more body conscious, women started to pay attention to what they ate. Fashions accented the arms and legs, so women lifted light weights to build muscle tone. The new padded stretch cotton bra was introduced – something we’re sure all men and women are very thankful for. Designers like Chanel (credited as the originator of the "little black dress"), Dior, and Elsa Schiaparelli started designing glamorous attire that allowed women to show off their feminine curves.

Beauty: Hairstyles became more feminine than they had been in the 1920’s. Hair color varied, depending on which movie star one was trying to emulate. Jean Harlow made platinum blonde a trend, and meanwhile, Rita Hayworth (above) made being a redhead popular. Last, but not least, Marlene Dietrich was a symbol for all the brunettes out there. Make-up became a little less drag, and more girl-next-door than in the 20’s. The pasty white skin trend was finally passé, and women started opting for foundations closer to their natural complexions.

The 1950’s: A Step Back to Conservative

Body Type: The desired shape in the mid-century was the hourglass figure popularized by movie stars like Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly (above). Women were told that their primary goal was to “catch a man” and have a family – so they were taught to dress to allure. Rule number one of the 50’s was that women were never supposed to leave the house looking sloppy, meaning that our convenience store runs in sweatpants and sneakers would have been deemed completely unacceptable.

Beauty: Hair was usually kept short at just below the shoulders, and was worn in soft, curly, or wavy styles. Straight styles were considered undesirable, so rollers became a girl’s best friend. Women began to focus more on having flawless skin than anything else. The goal was a peaches and cream complexion.

The 1960’s: The era that brought us hippies, Twiggy, and bell-bottoms

Body Type: Mimicking the popular skinny models of the day, like Twiggy (above), women became obsessed with being rail thin. In terms of fashion and beauty, two polar opposites emerged: the hippie flower child and the modern swinging 60’s woman. The hippies put more of an emphasis on peace and love than on style and beauty. On the other hand, the “Twiggy-girl” put some time into her appearance and body. Lucky for all the guys out there, mini skirts became popular again.

Hair: Hippies went for low to no maintenance hairstyles. As far as they were concerned, the natural way was the best way. Needless to say, these flower children usually avoided make-up all together. More modern girls also went for low maintenance ‘dos, but they opted for short pixie cuts as opposed to long hair. The big emphasis was on the eyes – the bigger and wider the eye appeared, the better. Fake eyelashes were a must-have, and mascara was applied to achieve the popular tarantula lashes.

The 1970’s: All about the Farrah Fawcett hair



Body Type: The 60’s forever changed the way women viewed their bodies. By the 1970’s, the thinking-thin phenomenon was in full force – we all know the tragic story of Karen Carpenter. It was official – thin equaled sexy. Clothing was loose and flowing, but the mini skirt of the 60’s gave rise to the micro mini of the 70’s.

Beauty: The late Farrah Fawcett (above) revolutionized the way women styled their hair. Her long, layered, feathery haircut became the look that every woman wanted to have. This decade also marked the beginning of the bronzed beach look and with it, the popular tanning booth trend. Women began relying on bronzers and self-tanners, things many women (and some men) still can’t do without.

The 1980’s: The decade of big hair and The Material Girl

Body Type: The aerobics exercise craze of the 80’s further emphasized fitness for women. Women were expected to maintain a certain weight, but still appear toned – all without being too muscular. This decade also epitomized over-the-top fashion. Bright neon suits with football player-sized shoulder pads and spandex were just a few of the quintessential trends of the decade.

Beauty: There are only two words to describe 80’s hair – “big” and “hairspray.” The mantra of the decade was “the bigger the better”- and with all of those aerosol cans, we’re sure the ozone took a big hit right around this decade. We can’t imagine how men found this sexy, but over-the-top make-up was the look of the day.  Just check out Madonna, above. Women opted for brighter colors, like the infamous blue eye shadows and liners. Also, thanks to Brooke Shields, bushy eyebrows were considered very sexy.

The 1990’s: The era that brought us Beverly Hills, 90210, and Saved by the Bell

Body Type: Models like Kate Moss dominated. The “heroin chic” trend also came about in the ‘90s – a strung-out and emaciated appearance was the coveted look. Thanks to a few rebellious kids in Seattle, the 90’s also gave rise to the popular grunge look, evidenced by flannel shirts and an overall unkempt look. On the other side of the spectrum, the spandex and fluorescent color trends of the 80’s stuck around for a good part of the 90’s. Lycra was introduced, becoming perhaps the biggest trend of the decade. Midriff-bearing tops also became fashionable – which coincided with the rise of pierced belly buttons.

Beauty: One of the most popular 90’s hairstyles was the “Rachel cut,” named for Jennifer Aniston’s character on Friends. Other popular hair trends included the bob, bangs (a la Brenda Walsh), and bleach blond color (remember Donna Martin?). Kate Moss epitomized the androgynous ideal, which led many women to take a minimalist approach to makeup.

The New Millennium (2000 to present): An era of choice and expression

Body Type: We’re currently in an age where women have more choice than ever before, and curves are being celebrated in the fashion industry.  And yet, the price of beauty can still be extremely high. This is evident in the huge surge in plastic surgeries that have taken place in the last decade – Heidi Montag, anyone? We’re seeing a re-emergence of almost every major fashion trend of decades past – from shoulder pads and menswear-inspired attire, to florals and wild prints. We aren’t all copycats though, the emergence of low-rise, super skinny jeans is unique to our generation.

Beauty: When considering hair and make-up, there is not one big trend. For possibly the first time, the definition of beauty doesn’t seem to be so concrete. Hair extensions are a big trend today, allowing women the freedom to have virtually any hairstyle they desire. Make-up can range anywhere from the new coral makeup trend to subtler nudes. Many women opt for a more natural look or go for a bolder smoky eye – the choice is theirs.

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In this lesson, students will engage in an in-depth discussion that examines the demand in the advertising industry for thin models under the age of 18 and the impact that this practice has on the body images of consumers.

A number of video clips provided with this lesson are from Girl Model, a film that pulls back the curtain on the modeling industry by following the stories of an American scout, and an aspiring model who is discovered in Siberia at age 13 and sent to work in Japan. Note: This film has subtitles in many parts.

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By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • Discuss their ideas about the ideal beauty standard.
  • Identify the connection between the demand for models under the age of 18 and the demand for very thin models.
  • Determine the potential impact on the body images of consumers who regularly see advertisements that depict models under the age of 18.
  • Evaluate who benefits and who is harmed when young models are used to represent adult women.
  • Recognize what the practice of using children to advertise women's products says about how society feels about women and aging.
  • Explain in persuasive essays their positions on the use of children to advertise products for adult women.




Language Arts, Social Studies, Current Events


  • Internet access and equipment to show the class online video


One 50-minute class periods, plus time outside of class to complete persuasive essays.


Clip 1: "Scouting New Faces" (length 5:00)
This clip begins at 2:50, showing the back of Ashley, a model scout. It ends at 7:50, when Ashley says, "Perfect. Thank you."

Clip 2: "Unattainable Images of Beauty" (length 6:40)
The clip begins with the question "What are the most common markets for models to be sent to?" It ends when Rachel says, "...which in the long run will just make us feel wrong."

Clip 3: "Modeling in Japan" (length 10:47)
The clip begins at 31:10 with Nadya going to a casting in Japan. It ends at 41:57 with Nadya telling her mother on the phone, "Keep the money for yourself so you can eat."


1. Ask students to imagine that they are scouts for a modeling agency. Have them take a few minutes to write down descriptions of the "ideal beauty standards" that would guide their search--age, size, shape, etc.

2. Have students compare their descriptions with partners, and then invite a few pairs to share their thinking with the class. List on the board the characteristics of the ideal female model that are common among students. Ask the class:

  • As a modeling scout, why do you think these characteristics are ideal? Does the list reflect your personal ideas about beauty, or just what you think people want to see in advertising?
  • What has influenced your ideas of what an ideal female model looks like?
  • How does the class list describing the ideal female model make female students feel about their own bodies?

3. Show the class Clip 1 (length 5:00), which shows a model scout searching for new faces at an open casting event in Siberia. Focus viewing by asking students to imagine what it might be like to be one of the aspiring models shown in the video. After watching the clip, discuss:

  • What thoughts would be going through your mind if you were one of the girls waiting to be evaluated at the open casting?
  • What was your reaction to the scouts discussing what they did not like about each girl while the aspiring models were present? How would you handle such criticism and rejection?
  • Is Nadya's appearance consistent with your idea of what defines an ideal model? Why or why not?
  • Later in the film, Ashley the scout says she chose Nadya in part, because "they love skinny girls in Japan and she has a fresh young face. She looks young, like almost a pre-pubescent girl." What do you think the connection is between the demand for young models (girls as opposed to women) and the demand for very thin models?
  • In your view, advertising for what types of products should feature 13-year-old models like Nadya? Explain your thinking.

4. Tell students that the use of young models is something that happens around the world, not just in Japan. A survey of working models in New York and Los Angeles indicates that the majority of models begin their careers when they are younger than 16. (Source: The Model Alliance) Show students Clip 2 (length 6:40), which is an excerpt of an interview with model Rachel Blais. Focus viewing by having students listen for what she says about how using young models in advertising affects the body images of consumers.

5. After watching the clip, discuss:

  • What impact might the fact that the image of what a woman should look like is represented by the body of a model under the age of 18 have on how adult women see their bodies?
  • How might the ideal of beauty presented by young models get people to make purchases?
  • Who benefits and who is harmed when young models are used to represent adult women?
  • What does the practice of using children to advertise women's products say about how society feels about women and aging?
  • Do you agree with Blais's view that models under the age of 18 should not be used in the advertising of products for adult women? Why or why not?

6. Ask students whether they agree with Blais's view that models under the age of 18 should not be used in advertising for products for adult women. Have them capture their thinking on this issue in persuasive essays. If Twitter is available, ask students to submit questions to #askagirlmodel (for example, "how old were you?" and "did you trust the photographer?") and use the answers as supporting points in the essay.


1. Create advertisements for products for adult women that depict the beauty of adult women in your community. Discuss the ads in small groups. How do they compare to professional ads for these types of products? Would they be effective in convincing consumers to buy the products? Why or why not?

2. Work for change in the advertising industry. If students believe that models under the age of 18 should not be used in advertising for products for adult women, have them send letters to companies asking them not to use young models and include excerpts from their persuasive essays to make their points.

3. Use the modeling industry as a case study for learning about labor rights and protections. Begin by showing the class Clip 3 (length 10:47), which shows what happened when 13-year-old Nadya went to Japan by herself to begin modeling. Discuss what stresses Nadya had to endure as a young girl taking care of herself and working in an unfamiliar country. Tell the class that Nadya's agency did not provide the paid work that was promised and sent her home more than $2,000 in debt. Students can further investigate the challenges faced by working models by reading an October 22, 2012 blog post by model Rachel Blais, who appears in the film, and by watching POV's interview with Rachel. Have students summarize the labor rights issues for models described by these sources, steps being taken to improve labor conditions and the obstacles that make progress difficult. Ask students to think of lessons learned from their studies of historical labor rights movements that could be applied to improving conditions for models today.

4. Look more closely at the use of young models in fashion photography. Show students a brief video of model Cameron Russell speaking about her work as a model. During her talk, she shows images from her early years in the industry that contrast modeling pictures with informal shots from the same timeframe that more accurately reflect her true age. Ask students for their reactions to these images. How accurately do Russell's modeling pictures reflect her everyday appearance? Does seeing these contrasting images change the way students think about pictures of models found in magazines? Why or why not? How do these images contribute to the lesson's discussion about the practice of using models under the age of 18 to advertise products for adults?

5. Examine the use of Photoshop in fashion photography. Show the class the video "The Photoshop Effect" and discuss how the model looked before and after Photoshop was used. What techniques were used to change her appearance? Do students believe that such practices are deceptive? Should they be banned? Should retouched photos be labeled as such? Why or why not? What potential harm could come from using Photoshop to alter someone's appearance? How would students respond to the question posed in the video: Have we created an unattainable image of perfection that is widely accepted as the standard for beauty?

6. Discover how society's ideas about "the ideal woman of the moment" are used to create mannequins. The POV short film 34x25x36 shows what goes into mannequin design and reveals cultural beliefs about the ideal female body. A related lesson plan further explores body image.


This site provides tools to help women and girls "understand and resist harmful media messages that affect their self-esteem and body image."

Girl Model
In addition to information about the film and filmmakers, the site includes links to related organizations and resources and blog posts, including one about New York Fashion Week by model Rachel Blais.

Media Literacy Clearinghouse
This site provides education resources that promote critical thinking about media messages.

The Model Alliance
This organization seeks to improve working conditions for models by focusing on labor rights, health for models, protections for child models and sexual harassment issues and providing the perspectives of models on industry issues.

POV: Infographic: The International Model Supply Chain
POV lifts the veil on the international modeling supply chain with a graphic representation of industry statistics.

POV: Media Literacy Questions for Analyzing POV Films
This list of questions provides a useful starting point for leading rich discussions that challenge students to think critically about documentaries.


Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects

SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

SL.9-10.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.

SL.11-12.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.

W.9-10, 11-12.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization and analysis of content.

W.9-10, 11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.

Content Knowledge:A compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning).

Geography, Standard 9: Understands the nature, distribution and migration of human populations on Earth's surface.

Language Arts, Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.

Language Arts, Standard 2: Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing.

Language Arts, Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.

Language Arts, Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.

Language Arts, Standard 10: Understands the characteristics and components of the media.

U.S. History, Standard 31: Understands economic, social and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.


Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive's director of education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource website (now PBS Teachers) and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and northern Virginia.


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