The beauty ideal is socially constructed and changes over time.
In 1912, Miss Elsie Scheel of Brooklyn, New York, was deemed the “most nearly perfect specimen of womanhood” among Cornell’s four hundred coeds. Scheel was twenty-four years old, stood five feet seven inches tall, weighed in at a healthy 171 pounds (her favorite food was beefsteak), and possessed a decidedly pear-shaped figure (it measured 35-30-40). Nevertheless, Cornell’s medical examiner […] judged her “the perfect girl,” having “not a single defect” in her physical makeup.
–Lynn Peril, College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Coeds, Then and Now, p. 256*
Miss Elsie Scheel’s BMI would have been 26.8, placing her squarely in today’s dreaded “overweight” category. At Banana Republic, to pick a random contemporary store, she would wear a size 8 top, a 12/14 bottom, and probably a 12 dress with the bust taken in. And she was the “most nearly perfect specimen of womanhood” among 400 young, mostly white women in 1912.
Peril writes that the NYT was citing fashion experts in 1923 — just 12 years later, but in the post-WWI flapper era — who said a 5’7″ inch woman (presumably also white) should weigh 110 pounds and measure 34-22-34. (Also, “The ankle should measure 8 inches” [p. 256]). The NYT did not consult the student body or the medical examiner of Cornell, current or emeritus; one wonders what this group would have made of a 60-pound reduction in specimens of “perfect womanhood.”
*This book merits the Sweet Machine Seal of Snarky Feminist Approval