We’re living at a weird time. There’s 24-hour gyms, personal trainers, millions of various fitness classes available not only in nearby fitness studios but also online. There are video games that are aimed at making you exercise more. But there are also more snacks and fast food places and convenient food deliveries available than ever before. We keep hearing in the media about obesity rates skyrocketing but we’re also all obsessed with looking fit. But what is fit? What’s a healthy body? Is there one ideal for all? Let’s take a walk down memory lane and see what was considered healthy throughout history.
Strong Is Healthy
During the Middle Ages being strong and muscular was definitely a bonus for both men and women. Most people had hard physical jobs be it working in the field, chopping down trees or doing household chores. There were no electrical appliances so everything was done using human strength. Interestingly people were shorter on average than they are now. And that was healthy then.
We think of dental hygiene as something relatively new yet it’s a part of our everyday regime to stay healthy. We want good teeth and use lots of products to keep them strong and white and shiny. Everyone wants a Hollywood smile. So owning a bunch of dental hygiene products and spending hundreds of dollars on whitening your teeth is considered healthy. In ancient Rome, dental hygiene wasn’t exactly something they fussed about too much, yet according to historians, archaeologists and recent excavations from Pompei, Romans used to have very healthy teeth and no cavities. How did they do that without flossing and whitening? They ate a healthy diet that had almost no sugar in it. There’s more than one way of having healthy teeth as you see.
Most of us have bad posture because we keep sitting at our computer or staring at our phones all the time. In the 18th century, Victorian women wore corsets to correct their posture or just to encourage their bodies to get accustomed to good posture. Another reason for wearing corsets back then was to keep your organs in the correct places and therefore have a healthy body. Today we find the idea of corsets to be ridiculous, but then it was healthy.
The Gibson Girl
From the beginning of the 20th century, the meaning of “a healthy body” shifted and became more about beauty standards than actual health. It’s something we still do even in the modern-day. We associate beauty with health. Back then the picture of health was a Gibson Girl – tall, poised and with a perfect hourglass figure.
In the 1920s the ideal body shape was slim. Women didn’t really care about having hourglass figures. If anything, a more androgynous look was favourited. Women wore undergarments that flatten their curves and dresses with dropped waists that didn’t accentuate their hips.
The Great Depression
On the other hand, during the great depression, everyone was warned against getting too skinny, it wasn’t desirable anymore. Women were encouraged to eat enough and have a more voluptuous figure, even though everyone was struggling to get enough food because of the dire economic situation.
In the 60s being healthy was all about your diet. Vegetarianism was beginning to become popular and people considered a meatless diet to be healthier for their body. And sure it worked if you ate lots of legumes, fruits and veggies. But lots of people took the easy option and just ate lots of vegetarian comfort foods like pasta and cakes.
Low-Fat 70s and 80s
During the 70s and 80s, a ‘healthy’ diet for women meant eating as little fat as possible and restricting your calorie intake. Aerobics was huge too. And being tan also was considered healthy. These days it just sounds like an unsustainable, restrictive diet that lacks in much-needed fats and micronutrients with a side of exhaustion and sunburn. Yet just 40 years ago that was ‘healthy’.
Low Carb 90s
In the 90s and ’00s suddenly fats were fine but carbs were evil. Carbs were actually considered to be unhealthy and if you wanted to have a healthy body you would avoid carbs like the plague. Which again, now sounds insane. Because we know that we need all the food groups.
Right now we’re in a clean eating craze. We’re encouraged to read labels, eat fresh veggies bought from farmers markets. It’s all about free-range eggs and organic produce. You can be vegan, vegetarian or just eat clean but also make sure you’re moving around and not just sitting at a desk. It sounds like a good mix. It seems like we’ve logically gotten to a point where we know that we need everything in moderation. But that’s what we think now and there’s no way of knowing what will be considered healthy 10 or 20 years into the future. If there’s one thing we learned from this is that “healthy body” standards change with the times so it’s best not to get hung up on trends.