The 1960s Female Physique
May 13, 2015 6:44 PM   Subscribe

How does one attain a 1950s/1960s body?

A lot of women in the 1950s and '60s had a kind of physique I find incredibly attractive. I'm not sure exactly how to describe it — wasp waist, maybe? What I'm specifically referring to in a horizontal line right at navel level that gives the waist an especially "nipped in" look.

Here are a bunch of example photos:
Bettie Page
Ursula Andress
Marilyn Monroe
1960s model

As the last example highlights, none of these women are especially low in body fat. And very few women (models, celebs) of today have this defined line I'm talking about, no matter how fit or skinny.

What I want to know is how is this kind of look achieved? All the above photos are of women in bikinis, so the "nipped in" look is there whether they're in corsets or not, but I am curious if this is the result of the daily wearing of undergarments that women just don't wear anymore. I am also wondering if there is some kind of weird exercise women used to do that would create this look.
posted by Brittanie to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
They're sucking in their stomachs really, really hard for the photo. People don't do this for pictures anymore because at this point everyone knows what it is and makes fun of it, but try it in the mirror, you'll see.
posted by ostro at 6:56 PM on May 13, 2015 [14 favorites]

Agree with ostro, it's the way they are holding themselves and sucking in their stomach.
posted by Youremyworld at 7:08 PM on May 13, 2015

Best answer: I think it's a combo of "sucking in stomachs" and barely leaning forward or twisting, but also that's what people were more attracted to or what was more popular during that time, so therefore those models with those body types were more popular. A lot of it is just body shape that you're born with and posing. I have a similar rib cage shape and wide hips, but there are plenty of people that don't have that look, and therefore weren't featured as highly as models during that time period.

(For example think of the ideal Renaissance woman... which focused on smaller breasts, soft features, and wide set hips. There's no exercise to get that shape, you just have it.)

Additionally, if you just look at average people during that time period (1960s) many people did not have that body shape but the clothing emphasized that shape. For example high waisted dresses will full skirts. I do think that this shape can be achieved with corsets and tight lacing, although the health downsides of that seem much worse than any sort of benefit.

And speaking of today's models, it's the same thing. It's not what people want to see, so they are styled, posed, etc differently. The same look could still be achieved with a similar body-shaped model and posing.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:16 PM on May 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

They may be "sucking in" but through history the corset has displaced women's organs to produce a smaller waist. Even today Kim Kardashian posts photos of herself in her "waist trainer."
Here's an article specific to 50s fashion, corsets, and what is ultimately body modification:
50s small waists
posted by littlewater at 7:18 PM on May 13, 2015

Best answer: They're all about 5'5" and 120 lbs, with small waists but larger hips. I don't think wearing girdles would account for the waist-hip ratio. Seems more popular today to have hips that don't flare out as much but a higher butt. They are sucking in their stomachs, but that still doesn't account for the small waists. (Photo collection of stars in swimsuits.)
Monroe wore corsets/girdles in movies, but almost never in off camera life.
Hip twists to butt lift movement seems to work the waist.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:19 PM on May 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think some of it is just your natural figure, but you could also try clothing with a high, narrow waist and wide bust/hips, which was also the style in the 60s. For some examples: the jeans in this 60s ad, this Modcloth dress, this pencil skirt (so not the top I'd pair with it though - I'd go with a Velma-style tight turtleneck for more boobage) - or if you don't want 60s style in particular but just want to get that figure, ALL THE WAISTCOATS.
posted by capricorn at 7:32 PM on May 13, 2015

This probably isn't what you want to hear, but I think that 80% or more of it is genetics and rest posing.

We are what we are. I realized awhile back that I could either look muscular or heavy, because my natural build is mesomorphic. I learned to love a muscular look for myself. There's no point to obsessing over a particular physique if it's contrary to your genetics. Exercise to do cool stuff and the right look for you will naturally follow.
posted by Kurichina at 7:35 PM on May 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

The models you're seeing were naturally gifted with close to the ideal physique for the time - that's why they got to be models - and then posing, lighting, costuming and behavior did the rest.

For everyone else, they got close to the ideal by wearing girdles and dressing in fashionable garments that lent them that shape.

Just remember - it's not like everyone just had that body, and that's why it was the ideal. It's the other way around. The ideal was established by an image-making industry, people who fit that ideal were promoted as icons, and everyone else did their best to follow suit. That's why you won't find models/celebs with that body type today. That body type is not the current ideal, so people with that body type will not be promoted as models/celebs. They are in the regular population now. I can think of people I know who have the "nipped in" waist, but it's not something they achieved by going to the gym, and it's not something that is going to land them in Vogue or Playboy. It's just not the flavor of the moment right now.
posted by Miko at 9:16 PM on May 13, 2015 [7 favorites]

This probably isn't what you want to hear, but I think that 80% or more of it is genetics and rest posing.

Yep, i have a couple friends who have this figure. One of them does brisk business as a pin-up style model for all kinds of stuff.

She wears corsets for some outfits, but has kind of always had that figure as long as i've known her(which is basically since right after high school).

I think just naturally looking that way was a very large part of it. It's not the style now so you see less of it, but there's plenty of people who still have that physique around.
posted by emptythought at 10:03 PM on May 13, 2015

Some women would remove a rib.
posted by brujita at 12:47 AM on May 14, 2015

That rib-removal thing is an urban legend. There's no evidence it ever happened.
posted by Miko at 6:00 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

As far as trying to achieve the look, try looking up "The Vacuum" ab exercise, and also women's exercise regimens from the 1950s, 1960s, etc. In gym class in the late 1970s, early 1980s, I remember doing a lot of "windmills" and side bends that I'm sure were designed to give us girls this type of figure.

Also, posture can help. Try lifting your ribs and doing the classic "imagine a string pulling up your head" thing. The hollows you'll get below your ribs help give the nipped in look.

My theory is that housework helped too. I'm not advocating for the patriarchy, ha ha, but all that sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, bending, stooping, stretching and mixing food manually really works your ladymuscles.

Hope this helps!
posted by auntie maim at 6:41 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah - I looked like that till I was 30-something. I hated that I couldn't get rid of the little protruding tummy, no matter how thin and well-trained I was. So there's that.
posted by mumimor at 9:10 AM on May 14, 2015

Miko, Lois Gould describes her mother doing this in her memoir Mommy Dressing:A Love Story After a Fashion.
posted by brujita at 10:58 AM on May 14, 2015

I don't think a secondhand story in a person's memoir about someone who was not around to verify or contradict it is a good source for the idea that this was a commonplace thing or even a thing at all. It's not evidence that it happened, and it's not evidence that anyone else did it. It's the kind of thing that someone might say about themselves, or want said about themselves; it's the kind of thing a person might say to cover up the real story of a C-section, hysterectomy or other surgery scar. Because it was reported by someone - secondhand - doesn't make it true.

The historical record is far too silent on this for it to be something that happened with any kind of frequency, especially before the recent era. I have had a Google and notice the story is not repeated in any reviews, biographies, or other material about Copeland, and apparently, Gould has not been further interrogated about it. The only people who mention it are aghast readers who call it out in reviews. It just doesn't seem to have much merit as a claim, set against the near-total absence of the practice in other print records, medical records and the work of fashion historians. This is exactly the sort of dark but unsubstantiated hint that allows rumors to proliferate, but it doesn't really seem to have happened much if at all.
posted by Miko at 2:44 PM on May 14, 2015

I'm not an authority on this but messed around with it at work and consensus was that it's a modeling pose, like an arched back or pointed feet. For the navel line: arch your back, suck in, flex your abs, and either do a slight twist or bend slightly over. The line in those photos, especially the Bettie Page one, is these women's body fat accentuating the division between their abdominal muscles. It's related to the bellydance move of isolating your upper body/ribcage and moving it around to emphasize and control the S curve of your body. To get that line, you raise your upper core (while keeping your head up and your shoulders back, a la bellydance) and then fold slightly forward until your belly fat makes the crease.

It isn't that obvious in photos, but if you ever watch recordings of Marilyn Monroe dancing, she does a ton of core work and advanced body rolling. If you look at pictures of Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in the Mirror Mirror costume, it's clear that she's moving her upper torso freely to accentuate the natural curves of her body, and that she also has hella abs. Look at the lines of her body here and here and in this episode in general; look how the line of her shoulders is often independent of he line of her hips, especially in the first photo, and how she's using that torso control to exaggerate her (already hourglass) figure. Here you can see Ursula Andress dropping her ribcage into her lower abs to make the line. Bettie Page is doing the same ribcage drop in the picture you linked- her head and shoulders and upper torso/sternum and breasts look like her back is arched, but she's rotated her ribcage forward and down to make that belly line, so her spine is ramrod straight instead of arched back. Tura Satana and Jayne Mansfield had about the same amount of body fat, but you can also see the difference between Jayne doing a ribcage-hollowing sucking in her stomach pose and
Tura mid-dance showing that ab/belly definition.

So the answer I'd give as to how to achieve this look would be a ton of core work and dance that teaches you muscle isolations, and control like hip hop or bellydance.
You might also want to check out pinup modeling forums, which will know way more than me! Good luck.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 3:17 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

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