We know that cultures aren’t static. They’re constantly changing and evolving over time. This got me to thinking about ways cultures change over time in dramatic ways. Beauty standards aren’t universal and each culture has ideals of beauty that are subject to change over time. When someone asks what the standard of beauty in America is, one might respond by saying the ideal is a fit figure with a nice summer tan. But like other values, this wasn’t the case 100 years ago, for example. Interestingly, the two factors that have molded beauty standards are time and money and can reveal a culture’s changing relationship with these two important values.
1) Skin Colour. Many years ago having pale skin was a sign of wealth and good breeding. People with darker skin tones were designated as savages, marginalized and treated as slaves or worse. Later people began spending hundreds of dollars trying to get a tan. Now many people realize the harmful effects of tanning and the trend has begun to shift toward the opposite direction. It’s interesting that pale skin was considered desirable because it meant you were wealthy enough not to have to work. Today tanning is quite cheap and affordable to most anyone (although a 10% Federal tanning tax starts today) but having the disposable income and time to spend on yourself is a luxury for some.
2) Body Size. Many people are aware that fuller figures were once in fashion. The reason they were so desirable? Like light skin, this fad was also linked to wealth. A bigger body meant you had enough money to feed yourself and your family. Now, a tiny, toned body means you have the time and money to go to a gym (or hire a personal trainer) and eat healthier, expensive foods. This trend is also slowly heading in the other direction as more and more people are being encouraged to embrace their curves and magazines are applauded for featuring plus-size models.