Women’s Self-Worth & Body Image in the 1920’s

Coming into the 1920’s, fashion and public image placed an even greater stress on females and their role in society. In fact, this became a personal struggle for women that began to affect their self-image, as well as view in the public eye. The 1920s were an exciting time as women were granted new rights and fulfilled new roles in society. Even though women were now redefining their role and place in society, they still had to fit into a mold. This mold demanded that women fit a certain body image, and fashion during this decade reflected this expectation. Even though women during the 1920s focused more on personal image than the generation before them, the modern woman was surfacing and many different aspects of these women that developed during this time can be seen in women today and our society.

Women in the 1920s were flooded with pressure and expectations to be thin and to control their own appetites and weight. The beginning of mass advertising encouraged this behavior and seemed to add even more pressure. According to Margaret Lowe, “one must fit a certain type in order to have friends and be socially accepted.” Thus, they put pressure on themselves to conform to an ideal thinner figure in order to fit into society, and not be looked down upon as an outcast. For women, the need to be thin and beautiful was important to them, because they needed to feel loved and accepted by others and society. This need is very much alive and apparent in our society today in the twenty-first century.

For the first time in history perhaps, women became extremely conscious of their body shape and body image. In her book, “Fasting Girls: The Emerging Ideal of Slenderness in American Culture,” Joan Jacobs Brumberg described some specifics for women during the 1920’s. “The traditional hourglass corset was cast aside for a rubber girdle to retract the hips (Brumberg, pg. 457).” The fashion industry set new standards for a woman’s body. The new luxury of mass-produced clothing led to assigning body sizes for a woman and defining a certain body type. Before, clothes were made to fit a person’s body. Premade or store-bought dresses required the body to conform to the dress. This created a new ideal of the coveted “thin,” straying away from the traditional hourglass shape.

The fashion for women during the 1920’s emphasized a boyish figure that lacked hips, breasts, and a defined waist, as demonstrated in the photo essay, “Adorning the Body.” “The traditional hourglass corset was cast aside for a rubber girdle to retract the hips” (Brumberg, pg. 453). This imposed thin and slender figure was enough to guilt women into extreme dieting measures. In addition, corsets were standard, even during pregnancy.  The former belief that fat was a sign of wealth, health, and happiness was quickly replaced by the need to constantly “reduce” (Margaret A. Lowe). This need to become thinner and slender was apparent in the 1920’s, and is still alive for women today in the twenty-first century.

Fashion and society rapidly began challenging the way and manner in which women viewed themselves and their bodies in the early 1920’s. Women received the message loud and clear to alter their bodies and image in order to fit in with society. Companies and the fashion industry fed off of these feminine insecurities and began to exploit them to turn a profit on beauty products and fashionable clothing styles. Women began to internally think and believe that they had to suffer in order to be beautiful. They constantly compared themselves to fashion models and any other thin woman they saw in a magazine or advertisement. In the past, they had been subjugated because they were thought to be physically and mentally weaker. Now, this time they were being subjugated for their superficial appearance by the fashion industry and society. Females who didn’t achieve or meet this standard of beauty were ostracized. Because of these factors, women were still not yet truly independent.





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