Too Close to the Bone


“Too ‘Close to the Bone’: The Historical Context for Women’s Obsession with Slenderness” by Roberta Seid gives a different perspective on the ideal body shape before 20th century versus today’s ideal body shape. This essay gives examples of women from the 15th century to the 19th century about their ideal body shapes. It tells the readers that slenderness or bony look wasn’t always praised in our history and ideal body for women had changed many times before this period.


Since the 12th century the perfect body image have barely changed. Both men and women have not desired slenderness. Thinness was admired in the 15th century Gothic cathedrals. Thin ladies were seen on paintings. In the 16th century, Mannerists’ paintings such as The Judgment of Paris, depicted nude females with long and slender body images. In the 1830s to 1850s, young women favors thin waist like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. But both the Gothic and Mannerist disliked “close to the bone” body images. The females in the paintings of both the Gothic and the Mannerist showed no sign of bones or sharp edges.


“Close to the bone” was considered ugly and sick. Roberta Seid quoted a Romantic period French epicure J. A. Brillat-Savarin on his view of the thin women. The epicure states that a woman that is thin is “a terrible misfortune… the most painstaking toilette, the sublimest costume, cannot hide certain absences, or disguise certain angles.” [Behrens, 476] Women’s ideal body for these periods were that they should be ample, curvy and with a thin waist. Slenderness indicates “delicacy and fragility.” [Behrens, 476]


But a century ago, the ideal body changed. Women with “tall, full-busted, full-figured, mature” [Behrens, 476] are considered perfect bodies. This signifies the emotional well-being, good temper, good habits and even a clean conscious for the individual. Even the clothing industry help thin woman to achieve the plumpness they need to have the perfect body by selling inflatable and deflating rubber garments. Bonny figures are undesirable and disdained. Fat was considered “silken layer” and “stored up force.” But today people have a different perspective on ideal body shape.


Roberta Seid’ essay clearly and concisely gives the reader a good summary on the changes of human ideal body shape in the past a couple of centuries. Fat or thin but never “close to the bone.”