Have You Noticed The Weird Assumption We Make About Skinny People? It's Got Some Crazy History.

Here's a skinny history of the "thin ideal" in America. From the Victorians to the graham cracker to Lucky Strikes, learn how being the "right" weight gained its moral edge in our culture. As usual, the "Stuff Mom Never Told You" team delivers some very funny as well as educational punch.

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Narrator: Although Barbies bear a lot of blame for promoting unrealistically skinny body images among girls and women, by the time she debuted the 1959 American toy fair in New York, thin had been in for quite some time. To understand the development of the so-called thin ideal among women, and to lesser extent men, we have to go back in time to the Victorian era. I'm not going to talk about corsets because unlike what you might think, corsets were not so much used to make women look impossibly thin like a Barbie doll, but rather to help hold up and shape the heavy garments of the time. The Victorian era is when we start to see a connection being made between one's weight and perceived morality. This cultural idea started to take hold that being overweight was bad because it was indicative of being overindulgent, being gluttonous, and lazy, all of which went against Victorian virtue.

Then you see the emergence of people like Silvester Graham of Graham cracker fame who, starting in the 1840s, preached to women in particular the need for a plain abstinent diet as the key to health and morality. Boy, this morality tastes bland. Then a little later in the 1860s, you have the wildly popular Banting diet, which a guy named William Banting developed as a way to fight off evil corpulence. How did he do it? By lowering the intake of carb-heavy foods. If that sounds familiar at all, ding ding, Atkins dieters, you are correct (and you smell like bacon). There are also a number of compounding factors that reinforces this thin ideal in the early 1900s including the industrial revolution, which ultimately increases the number of sedentary jobs, making weight something that American actively have to fight against gaining, thus you see the emergence of the culture of physical activity and exercise.

You also have the emerging field of food science and the discovery of the calorie that helped us quantify our health. Top it all off, we have the standardization of clothing sizes. Before clothes were mass produced, women went simply to a seamstress or made their own clothes. With clothing sizes, you finally know how your weight and size stacks up to other people. In 1908, a Harvard professor famously declares Australian swimmer Anette Kellerman to the world's perfect women because her physique so closely resembles Venus de Milo. But wait folks, things are about to get skinnier. Once we move into the 1920s in the flapper era, women have thrown off their corsets, but the ideal has gotten thinner. Some women were even binding down their breasts to make those flapper dresses lay as flat as possible.

You see the thin ideal especially reinforced in cigarette ads. Look no further than Lucky Strike's 1929 campaign "Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet." Tag line, "To keep a slender figure that no one can deny." As if cigarettes weren't evil enough. From that point to present day, women's fashions have changed, trends have come and gone, but the one constant throughout all of it is that thin has remained in. Thanks a lot, Victorian piety. And you know what, you haven't helped things either. And then I realized, oh, I'm talking to a doll.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

At "Stuff Mom Never Told You," Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin make their hilarious way through a ton of good stuff about "the science, psychology, and culture of modern women." Don't miss anything they say on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr too.

Jul 25, 2014

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