For decades, whether thin, curvaceous or athletic, female sexiness has maintained convention. Soaking wet women seductively walking out the sea wearing skin-tight bathing suits; an innocent looking woman glancing at a camera holding a cream covered strawberry. Leather and bikes; sweat and tight leggings; silk stockings, thongs, smoky eyes.
How much has the body positive movement, social media and millennial feminism impacted our ideals?
A shift from vulnerability
Old Hollywood sex symbols possessed both glamour and vulnerability. According to blog Messy Nessy, vampy Theda Bara became Hollywood’s first femme fatale. Gaining prominence during film’s silent era, her gothic dark lips and eyes portrayed seductive mystique. Away from the movie sets, Theda grew tired of playing the same promiscuous, sexual act.
In the 1920’s, actress Clara Bow dominated female sexiness, followed by stars like Jean Harlow, Rita Hayworth and the infamous Marilyn Monroe. These Golden Age icons balanced suggestive clothes with innocent eyes and poses. Their bodies had definition but no traceable abs; classic viewpoints of femininity. Monroe perhaps took this to the extreme. Vulnerable off camera with her mental health conditions and failed marriages – equally vulnerable in voice pitch and mannerisms.
Today’s celebrities and Instagram models arguably express opposite female sex appeal. It’s about looking and feeling strong – honing weight-lifting and openly sharing skin. Women don’t want to act coy and naïve to their beauty – it’s more: look at me, look at the work I’ve put in to make my butt this large and waist this small. I’m embracing female empowerment by not feeling afraid to take risqué photos. Vulnerability tends to persist in ‘real’ captions – admitting to tiredness, stretch marks and insecurity.
In Old Hollywood, many believed acting wasn’t a serious profession – documentaries I’ve watched suggest some thought the art was a form of prostitution. Most sex symbols of the time wanted to receive more credibility and step away from their ‘hot girl’ status. And though still true today for a few bombshells, social media has replaced men’s magazines as an outlet for wanting to be recognised for sex appeal. A lot of women dream of the adulation Kylie Jenner receives for her boobs and derriere.
Natural to exaggerated
Throughout history, the ideal female physique has modified. Beauty is almost a jackpot – those born with a look that matches their generation, the most blessed. The appearance of wealth has a direct link to beauty standards. The Italian Renaissance for instance: a woman with wide hips and rounded stomachs depicted wealth and was therefore seen as attractive. You could say thinness and muscle are also tied to wealth – health requires education, expense to choose organic and nutritious produce, plus a monthly gym membership or money on home workout equipment.
Thanks to Instagram, modern women need vast incomes to project online sexiness. Prior to the flawless IG aesthetic, plastic surgery was a concealed, subtle art form. Sure, we had Pamela Anderson and her enhanced breasts, but celebs overall tried to create a natural, God-given guise. Nowadays, some stars still refuse to acknowledge surgery, yet they’ll purposely exaggerate features to the point where its ridiculous to assume they’ve not had work done. Extremely wide hips, enormously plumped lips, minuscule noses and non-existent waists. The Kardashians market a plastic lifestyle: money, image, fame and vanity are the makeup to success. Beyond paying to widen a body, there’s additional need to have incredibly smooth skin.
Even if a woman avoids the plastic route and lift weights to sculpt her curves, she’ll likely face pressure to behold the large butt, thin waist trend. Progress will be a never-ending journey, always wanting to document a bigger difference.
Has social media impacted female sexiness?
From the above examples, social media has undoubtedly affected female sexiness. Though in other ways as well. Partly due to the body positive movement, millennials are fighting against typical sexuality. There’s now a push for inclusive models – more ethnicity and body sizes. Victoria Secret rapidly lost sales because it refused to adapt to diversity. Business Insider Australia says sex continues to sell but women expect a message and story behind sexual imagery.
When I was in college, I purposely wore tights clothes to highlight my curvy figure. It was fashionable to wear hot pants, long cardigans and vests too small. I did have a ‘stomach’ and when I breathed in, no ab lines appeared. I began exercising around 19 and shed a little weight. Fast-forward to now and I’m two stone lighter and as a result, skinnier. Consequently, I don’t feel as sexy. In social media terms, I’m not Bella Hadid, Arianna thin, Jennifer Lopez curvaceous or Kayla Itsines athletic.
And I think that’s an issue for other women on Instagram – which box of ideal do you identify with? If you don’t fit in, are you simply average? If you’re plus-size and voluptuous, do you need to work in breaking stereotypes and emphasise high confidence?
Do women still want to impress men?
Perhaps the greatest shift in ladies sex appeal, alludes to whether they’d rather impress men or other women. Instagram quotes will say no, “Impress yourself” – naïve in theory to think society doesn’t influence us by even a fraction. Conventional lists note: natural makeup, smiles, proportionate waist-to-hip ratios and wearing red as sexy traits men love. Additionally, confidence, mannerisms, kind personalities and intellect.
There are many girls a woman can be online:
- French chic – minimal clothes, makeup and styling; snaps pics at coffee shops and beautiful street corners.
- Fitness influencer – posts definition, gym videos and healthy meal prep.
- Fashionista – putting together daring outfits and new ways to wear things.
- Body confident – regardless of size, not afraid to reveal her skin and upload sexy photographs.
Within ten minutes on Instagram, I can applaud a girl’s gym body, admire a woman’s outfit and praise uplifting self-love. Female sexiness was once a singular narrative – I don’t think we’ll ever see another Monroe sex icon. In terms of sexiness, currently the muscular, curvy look is reigning supreme.
Coco Chanel defied her peers and didn’t wear corsets or impractical clothes – she dressed her straight up-and-down body in outfits that moved. Imagine, stepping outside to hordes of ladies wearing restrictive dresses and huge feathery hats, as you alone wear a man’s shirt and plain fabric. Not only did she attract successful men (once dating the richest man in the world), she forever changed fashion and continues to impact how we perceive female sexiness. So maybe the sexiest women of all, aren’t the ones conforming – they’re the ‘it’ girls soon to set the next precedence.