Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dieting Through The Decades

At the time you read this 50% of women will be on a diet. The reasons for this are many. Some are for religious reasons, others will say for health reasons, some say for better clothing choices but the biggest reason by far is societies attitudes towards people of size.

Diets are nothing new. In ancient Rome there were special rooms where people could make themselves sick in between multi course meals. In the 1800's starving to embody the Victorian fad of frail femininity swept through the middle classes and aristocracy.

In the 1920's women started dieting for the sake of 'Beauty'. The curvy role models like The Gibson Girl were no longer the favour de jour and the ultra thin waistless figure of the flapper was seen as the ideal. These ultra slim figures were seen in advertising and cinema. Following on from this many 1920's fashions showed a lot of leg and had sleeve less tops so young women in their teens and twenties in much the same way as young women do now dieted to emulate their idols.

Diet books, reducing creams and other weight loss quackery flooded the market. Women's magazines ran articles, advice columns and weekly menu plans to give their readers advice on shedding the pounds. It was in the 1920's The Hollywood AKA The Grapefruit diet came to public consumption – this diet which is still used now says that grapefruit has fat burning properties.
We then moved into the thirties. Skirts became longer and feminine curves became popular once more with idols like Mae West causing headlines. Did you ever wonder where models got the idea that smoking keeps you skinny? well lucky strikes did an advert with the strapline - “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet.” This was also the decade in which The Master Cleanse diet was invented, a Mr. Burroughs came up with this blend of lemon juice, pepper and maple syrup to burn the pounds. This was alledgedly used by Beyonce to fit into her miniscule dresses for the film dreamgirls. This type of mono fast where you restrict your intake to such aan extent is dangerous and unhealthy.

In the 1940's a fuller figure was become popular clothes were seen as functional however but with WWII food rationing beginning in 1940 and not being phased out completely until 1954 British people were essentially on a state controlled diet anyway.
The 1950's gave us Dior's New Look and a tailored feminine style. Curves were on show with actresses like Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe but regardless it gave us the faith diet industry which exploded in the US with the book Pray Your Weight Away by Rev C Shedd.

Then we rolled into the 1960's. This was a decade marked by its extremes. We had the womanly curves of Jackie Kennedy at the beginning and then the super slim model Jean Shrimpton towards the end. This was also the decade that gave us mini skirts and bikini's. This was also when Weight Watchers the global diet money spinner started in the states.
Then we went into the 1970's. This was the decade for form fitting clothes leotards and one piece swimsuits were made popular by actresses like Farrah Fawcett. Slim was the aim with celebrities like Bianca Jagger taking headlines. This decade gave us the ultra low calorie Scarsdale diet and the Atkins plan.
The 80's gave us leotards again this time for the other buzz of the 80's aerobics and exercising to feel the burn. Power dressing was the fashion craze and whilst celebrities were more on the normal size this was the decade to show the real beginnings of the Supermodel. The diet industry grew massively latched and went apace with the F Plan , the hip and thigh diet and many more. This was also the decade of diet convenience foods – processed garbage in many cases.
The 90's began with slim but still healthy models. The body con dresses of Herve Leger were everywhere Then began a dangerous turn of events with the showing of the heroin chic aesthetic. Very young women looking dangerously slim it is said this began the triggering of eating disorder epidemic in young women seeking to look like these models. The Atkins diet resurfaced with a celebrity following and the war on obesity began.

We are now in 2012. The diet industry is worth 2 billion pounds a year here in the UK. And the sad fact through the decades is – DIETS DO NOT WORK. They have a 95% failure rate. Women look in magazines or view the TV and see celebrities looking ultra slim and want to follow them. Diets appear in every magazine and women take the view that if they lose weight all their problems what ever they may be will also stop. The sad part about it is until you deal with whatever demons are causing you to overeat/abuse food no diet plan will work. There are beginnings of change showing, plus size fashion shows, research into weight loss in particular the HAES (Health At Every Size) movement are SLOWLY moving things forward but it all boils down to that we need to love the skins we are in now and not hang ourselves up on unrealistic images.


  1. Wonderful post! What an excellent survey of attitudes towards body shapes over the decades. As you show, it's not really a progression from appreciating curves to not (as many people think), but rather a sort of pendulum effect, with fashions alternating by favouring one or the other. One really great example of this is Renaissance art. They really liked curvy chicks! Check out DaVinci's Mona Lisa or Botticelli's Birth of Venus. I really love the expression "there is no wrong way to have a body." I appreciate the beauty in all bodies; the different lines and shapes they can create can be striking at any size, as these different fashion trends demonstrate. But I definitely think the pressure to diet (especially when it falls in under the same cover as images of airbrushed and photo-shopped models whose body shapes are almost entirely impossible to attain for most people) can be very damaging. I think it's great to just maintain a good nutritious balance, and weigh whatever your body wants you to weigh, if that makes sense. Nutrition is more important than the number on the scale or on the tag of your jeans. That's what we should be imparting to our youth.

  2. Hi hon,

    Nice post. I'm going to post the link to my FB page. Can I just ask, where did you get that £2 billion figure from? I'm trying to find a reputable source for the size of the UK diet industry, and not having much luck so far,

    Ang x