Future Beauty

Okay, back to the “what do people in 2032 look like?” thread. Part 1 talked about how economics may have an impact on our shapes; today I’ll look at fashion. In this case, “fashion” doesn’t mean clothes (that’s another post down the line); it means what people do to their bodies to be fashionable.

This is more a thought experiment than the issue of economics. The influences of fashion on body shape and body image are all over the map. Given the economic circumstances of the people I’m writing about, however, it’s useful to look at body image in America during two relevant periods: the Gilded Age (late Victorian Era) and the Great Depression of the 1930s.

During the Gilded Age – which was gilded only for what we’d now call the 1% – the ideal of both male and female beauty was big. Beautiful women had big busts, wide hips and big backsides, set off by corset-assisted wasp waists. If a lady wasn’t blessed with a naturally ample rear, she could build one with hoops or bustles.

The concept of a single ideal male body shape is largely a 20th Century phenomenon. The successful (and thus, attractive) man of the Victorian Era was often decidedly stout; however, there was still room to admire classical Greek and Roman male forms. Male athletes and adventurers became the equivalent to matinee idols. While they didn’t carry around what we now consider a gut, these he-men didn’t look anything like today’s pumped-up pro athletes or extreme sportsmen.

In both cases, the fashion leaders and ideals were of shapes not attainable by average people. Normal people ended up short and skinny (from malnutrition in their early days or expensive food during their adulthood), while men who undertook physical labor ended up with the mesomorph body style (wide shoulders, big chest, lots of muscles, small waist and hips) that  ironically has become today’s standard of male beauty.

Things had changed by the 1930s. Movie stars and the “smart set” had evolved into shapes much closer to those of normal people. Athleticism and gracefulness had become more important than bulk since it was no longer necessary to link beauty to food availability. What set these people apart from the masses was their presentation: beautiful clothes, fancy cars, glitzy nightclubs. (Sound familiar?)

When poverty and malnutrition were major problems in Great Depression America, why didn’t the fashion leaders become, er, “grand” again? I’m sure if I poked at it enough I’d find some scholarly treatment of the subject. However, my gut tells me it was at least partly based on the real and expected durations of the eras.

  • The Gilded Age lasted for a couple generations (the end of the Civil War into Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency). Not only did the classes have time to evolve different body shapes, but there was no expectation things would ever change.
  • However, the Great Depression lasted just 10-12 years and was seen by most observers as a temporary condition. The worst effects lasted only five or six years thanks to the New Deal. There wasn’t the time or inclination for the classes to become physically different creatures.

How This Works in South

  • The new order of things has been around since the mid-2010s, with the most extreme changes coming since 2020. People who were already adults when things changed are thinner now but haven’t become smaller. Children born outside privilege since the mid-2010s are now physically smaller than their counterparts in the 10%; this will stay with them through adulthood.
  • Movie and web stars and fashion models are also evolving. Skinny is out (normals are skinny, after all). The Keira Nightleys and Natalie Portmans of the world (beautiful faces, adolescent bodies) are being replaced by women who are put together more like Bollywood starlets. Fashion models are edging into size 2-4 territory and are beginning to look like women again. Male exemplars are still based on the superhero model.
  • In the Gilded Age, a suntan was the mark of the laboring classes and considered déclassé. By the 1930s, a suntan was the mark of someone who had the leisure (and wealth) to be sporty, travel, and lounge by the pool, while the working stiffs had to stay inside the office or factory all day. So it continues into the world of South. However, since a melanin-darkening drug (the “tan pill”) came on the market, the tan-as-fashion-accessory has been devalued.
  • People in their twenties in 2032 have rejected standard tattoos as fashion statements; after all, how hip can they be if Mom and Dad have them? (Our hero Luis guesses the age of a female barfly based on her faded, static tattoo.) While unmarked skin is now a sign of youth and hipness, some alternative cultures have adopted the follow-ons to “dead” tattoos: LED tattoos and e-ink. Both can change color, while e-ink can change shape.
  • Of course, Big Pharma has been working hard to find new ways to cater to the body-image needs of the well-off. The “tan pill” is one example; another is the skin-tightener pill, which causes a person’s skin to shrink slightly, ironing out those nasty wrinkles. (Luis’ friend Ray uses them.) Breast augmentation through gene therapy is also popular among the 10% since the discovery of the breast-size genes. It’s difficult to do well (and thus expensive), but women end up with natural-looking and -feeling breasts without having to be born with them. There are also injectable therapies for cellulite and male-pattern baldness.
  • The hot hairstyles in 2032 are short for both men and women. For 10%-level women, it’s driven by the standard cycle of media stars deciding to change things up randomly just as the common folks catch up with the last look. For everyone else, it’s practical; haircuts cost far less than styling and are easier to care for when you work 12-hour shifts.

Did I screw the pooch on any of these predictions? Anything I missed? Let me know.

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