Get this: There’s a scene in an ancient Roman comedic play called Eunuchus in which the main character talks about a woman he’s in love with not fitting in to the thin body ideal of the time. Here’s the main character Chaerea telling someone about the 16-year-old girl he’s in love with:
She is a girl who doesn’t look like the girls of our day whose mothers strive to make them have sloping shoulders, a squeezed chest so that they look slim. If one is a little plumper, they say she is a boxer and they reduce her diet. Though she is well endowed by nature, this treatment makes her as thin as a bulrush. And men love them for that! […my lady has…] unusual looks…a natural complexion, a plump and firm body, full of vitality.
(Hm. That kinda sounds like…me! Past life?) But seriously, what do you think this means in terms of women today? In 1984, Glamour did a groundbreaking body image survey which found, in part, that 41% of readers were very or moderately unhappy with their bodies. When we re-did the survey 25 years later in 2009, not much had changed: 45% of women said they were unhappy with their bodies. I’m not saying that body obsession or bad self-esteem are helpful, healthy or even natural–but if it’s been going on since the time of the Caesars, perhaps it was going on around the campfires of the Paleolithic, too.
Could it be that women especially are hardwired to care so much about how we look? What do you think?