Did you know that the hourglass shape is under threat (despite being a figure possessed naturally by only around 8% of women?)
There's a problem with the fetishism of the hourglass figure, and it's that so much of it is based around this mythological assumption that women pre-20th century were all possessed of 36-24-36 figures, with bountiful bosoms and waists you could wrap a hamster round. The Fail, perhaps due to its obsession with women of 'a certain era' (i.e, pre Women's Lib, when good little women were seen and not heard and spent their days making their husbands dinner and not enjoying sex) is particularly fond of flying the hourglass flag. The article linked to bemoans the impending doom of this body type, despite the fact that very few women are fortunate enough to be blessed naturally with this Holy Grail of shapes.
You don't have to be a historian to know that women have always come in a wide variety of shapes, and these shapes have all been immortalised, at some time or another, by painters and sculptors - from the abundant curves of Ruben's women to the full busts of Amadeo Modigliani's nudes and everything in between, women have always been varied. It's not a modern phenomenon - Boticelli's Venus has little waist definition in comparison to Velazquez's depiction: the beauty ideal has changed with the centuries.
The hourglass figure was particularly coveted during the Edwardian period. Much is made nowadays of the detrimental effect the modelling industry has on young girls; how the 'thin is in' ideal has provoked anorexia among so many, and how celebrating the hourglass, as the Mail article seems to suggest, is somehow a remedy to the crushing self-doubt perpetuated by the unrealistic ideals of 'size zero'. And yet the hourglass figure has proven itself to be terribly oppressive.
You see, the hourglass is determined by a woman's genetics. Being a size 10 does not guarantee you hourglass credentials; your hips and bust must be proportionate, your waist markedly slimmer. It's a matter of shape, not of size, and of fat distribution rather than content. I'm a classic pear shape (slim ribcage, small waist, large hips and bottom) and have been despite ranging from a size 6 to a size 10; as my weight has changed, my shape has not. My bone structure is such that I will always have proportionally larger hips than waist. And breasts? Fuhgeddaboudit. (As my dear mother once told me, "From the back, you're like Lara Croft. Then you turn around...")
The hourglass shape, for those women not born to it, was obtained through punishing, restrictive corsets; the damage to bones and bodily organs was torturous. Some women became unable to support their own upper bodies without the corset as their ribs and spine had become so distorted. The desire for a body shape that was not their own so damaged some women that their bodily organs became permanently displaced.
These days, we have our own instruments of torture; the push-up bra, squashing breasts into a shape nature clearly did not intend. The magic knickers, sucking us in. They may be more subtle, but the point clearly remains; if the hourglass shape is so healthy and natural, how come we're going to increasing lengths to fake it? Liposuction, breast and bum implants, all creating the illusion of a shape fetishised despite its rarity. The Mail article suggests the hourglass is worshipped now precisely due to its rarity but let's face it; it's always been rare. We have just forsaken the painful, restrictive methods favoured by our forebears to create it. And rightly so.
The article ought to be take with a pinch of salt, as always; it can't be a coincidence that in a survey sponsored by Triumph (an underwear company whose sizes start at B cup) has the hourglass figure projected as the ideal. But if the Mail thinks the hourglass figure is somehow a healthier, more attainable ideal, it's just kidding itself - only through the luck of genetics or surgery can a woman become a hourglass. Body facism comes in all shapes and sizes, and writing disparaging remarks about Agyness Deyn in a bikini is just plain nasty (and the writer dares to call herself a feminist!) "I'm rather enjoying sitting back and watching other women struggle to attain the shape I've had since my teen years" she writes, perhaps missing the point so many feminists have been trying to hammer home for so long; championing one shape over another is inherently oppressive and exclusive. Since art across the centuries has celebrated a vast variety of female shapes, perhaps we modern, enlightened types might think to do the same....?
(Oh, and as an infuriating post-script: the article actually suggests that women's waists are becoming fatter in countries where 'women are more economically independant' - Work will make you fat! You heard it here first)