1950s “Beauty”

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Most everything I’ve written has been either set in the 1950s or on another world that is in the early Renaissance stage of development. As such, I have taken care to try and make sure everything fits. I’ve read more than I care to about cameras and recording devices from the 50s. I’ve read about cars and slang and all the culture of it. I’ve hunted down pictures of Mississippi and New Orleans from the turn of that century up to the 1970s. I’ve read about medieval life, plumbing, and underwear. I’ve tried to understand real sword fighting and real battles, not glorified movie sword-banging.

What was considered the standard of beauty then and now is different. It always will be, as people change and tastes do. But the other day I saw a picture on Twitter of a woman from the 1950s in a 1950s bikini (or perhaps underwear), and it said, “This was considered beautiful.” The main difference between her and what is promoted now was her size — she was what I’d call normal size, but not fat. My first reaction was a simple shrug. I don’t particularly care for the current crop of famous “beauties” — I don’t like women with Holocaust arms, horse teeth, and no breasts, which seems to be the deciding factor. One of the reasons I think Hollywood pushes anorexic thin as the norm is because skinny is a lot easier than a pretty face. There isn’t a famous woman alive who is as pretty as Vivien Leigh when it comes to her face.

Of course, there aren’t a whole lot of male actors who would join the armed forces like Clark Gable*.

However, aside from pointing out that most famous women now are kind of gangly and horsey, I have another point: Yeah, the 1950s woman was considered beautiful with more weight than a woman would be today. But how much more bitch do you get, pound for pound, now? I guarantee it’s a lot more. Perhaps men are more willing to excuse physical differences for someone who isn’t pleasant. I guarantee you that none of the attractive women from the 1950s would wear a shirt or shorts with the word “Bitch” on them, or drive a car with that bumper sticker. (Or “Juicy” or “Sexy”. Protip: If you have to wear clothes that say “Sexy” or “Hot” or “Juicy”, you really aren’t. I don’t walk around with a shirt that says “Smart and Well Hung”.)

Straight men tend to be attracted to “feminine.” This includes pleasant. There should have been a note attached to that image I saw: “Not being bitchy was considered attractive in the 1950s. How Quaint!” Even a liberal bag like Joss Whedon understands that: Saffron, when trying to pass herself off as a good wife in “Our Mrs Reynolds”: does wifely things (cook, clean, listen, be nice), presents herself for sexual activity (“I’ve made myself ready for you”), and was portrayed by a pre-Mad Men Christina Hendricks: hips and (fake, sorry guys) breasts, long hair. This goes both ways, of course, which is why women don’t like whiny bitch men. I think it might have been Victor Pride who spoke of a man whinging, “Why is she with him, he’s a douchebag” and said, “Because she doesn’t want to date a great big faggot.” Faggot in the Louis CK sense (“I wouldn’t call them [gay men engaged in a 69] faggots, unless they started saying faggy things, like ‘People from Phoenix are Phoenicians.'”), here, as obviously the woman didn’t intend to date a homosexual.

Not to say the scale can’t go too far the other way. Nobody likes an insecure Napoleon type guy who is always pissy, and nobody wants to date Aunt Pittypat either. But if you’re not physically attractive to the opposite sex, you’ve got to bring something else to the game. Being a physically unattractive, boring, irritating goblin isn’t going to win many points.

* Little known fact: Other than Ronald Reagan, who naturally has the second highest rank (George Washington outranks everyone), the actor with the highest military rank? Jimmy Stewart — he was a Brigadier General. Also, Leslie Howard, the man who played Ashley Wilkes, died in combat in World War 2. Actors were of a different class then.