Weird History Here's How Western Male Beauty Standards Evolved Throughout The 20th Century  

Rachel Souerbry
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Ideal body types are a lot like fashion trends – they change with almost every passing decade. Although the focus usually seems to be on female bodies in the media, male beauty standards have changed a great deal over the course of the 20th century.

Most people are aware of how much pressure women face to have the "ideal body," but how much do you know about the pressure faced by men? Throughout the 20th century, men have also dealt with beauty standards that were difficult to attain. Everything from current events, Hollywood movies, war, and what was considered an ideal job influenced how men were supposed to look. Lammily, the folks who gained fame with their redesigned Barbie doll – the one that had real, human, attainable proportions – have created a compendium of images of ideal male bodies from different decades in the 20th century. 

Using Lammily's recreations, this roundup of men's body types throughout history highlights the most desired features of different decades as well as the reasoning behind those desires. But at the end of the day, beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder. To that end, the images here represent the broad trends in male beauty ideals; naturally, not every identity or sought-after look is represented.

1870s: Heavyset Was A Sign Of Wealth


1870s: Heavyset Was A Sign Of ... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Here's How Western Male Beauty Standards Evolved Throughout The 20th Century
Photo:  Lammily/Wikimedia Commons

Being heavy in the late 1800s and very early 1900s meant something very different than it does today. It was an era where food was not as easily accessible, and food with a higher fat content was more expensive. In addition to demonstrating that a man had the means to eat well, girth also indicated that a fella didn't need to do physical work – he either had a cushy white-collar job or was wealthy enough to not work at all. 

Being "fat" wasn't just a sign of wealth; it gave men a sense of pride. There were actual "Fat Men Clubs," which held meetings and even competitions to see who weighed the most. Although the trend lasted for several decades, it was the last time in recent history when heavy men were widely considered to be attractive. 

1920s: Hollywood's Dashing Leading Men Had To Be Slim


1920s: Hollywood's Dashing... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Here's How Western Male Beauty Standards Evolved Throughout The 20th Century
Photo: Brewster Publications/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In the 1920s, a lot was being demanded of male movie stars. Hollywood had decided that cameras added weight to the stars, and since it was no longer fashionable to be heavy, both male and female actors were asked to slim down. Men were doing a lot of their own stunts, and that wasn't always easy. They had to be ready for a tough day of work physically, so they were very often lean yet strong – you could call it functional muscle. Because it was around this time that Hollywood started setting the tone for beauty ideals, "a slim dashing figure" became very stylish.

1930s And '40s: The Strong Hero With The Body Builder Chest


1930s And '40s: The Strong... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Here's How Western Male Beauty Standards Evolved Throughout The 20th Century
Photo:  Lammily/Wikimedia Commons

Once the 1930s came around, Hollywood was all about "the v-shaped muscular mesomorph." Men like Clark Gable (pictured on the right) and Charles Atlas were seen as the ideal, with strong upper bodies but not too much bulky muscle. 

Charles Atlas was the first "body builder," creating new and innovative methods of developing muscle. He inspired many during the tough years of the Great Depression and WWII, times when people could really use a hero to look up to. 

1950s: The Sleek Executive


1950s: The Sleek Executive is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Here's How Western Male Beauty Standards Evolved Throughout The 20th Century
Photo: Zennie Abraham/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

The ideal body type in the 1950s was all about power – tall men with broad shoulders ruled the decade. The idea was that taller men had a more imposing presence than short men, and being imposing went a long way towards getting ahead in the cutthroat world of corporate executives. 

There wasn't as big a push to be muscular, and trim waists were seen as ideal. The broad shoulders were the main goal besides height, and, at the time, suits were actually cut to be boxier and looser fitting to keep with that big image. Think Don Draper from Mad Men.