How the 'perfect body' for men went from chubby to skinny to muscular over the last 150 years

Perfect male hero poseLamillyThe ‘perfect body’ has changed dramatically.

Our concept of “the perfect body” is constantly changing.

Factors like the physical requirements of jobs, availability of food, and cultural trends have influenced our perceptions of humans’ physical form. And in the future, journeys into space or the merging of humans with machines might change what we think of as ideal.

Artist Nickolay Lamm has done a significant amount of work on how understandings of an “ideal” female body differ from reality. He wanted to take a look at how Americans’ standards for the ideal male body have changed over time as well, so he started collecting photos that depicted that body from the 1870s to today. Then he created models to show how that shape changed over time.

These generalizations don’t represent everyone’s preferences, of course. And this particular project was focused on body shape and didn’t take into account other physical characteristics like skin tone, facial features, or hair colour. But these illustrations help show how what we think of as the “ideal male” has changed significantly over the past 150 years.

1870s: In the late 19th century, being overweight was a sign of wealth, since it suggested one had the means to feast.

Lammily

This photo shows the members of a 'Fat Man's Club' in Connecticut in 1894. The club was founded in 1866, and members had to weigh at least 200 pounds. The idea became popular and spread across the US.

Lamilly

1930s: By this time, excess weight started to get associated with lower classes. Hollywood actors -- who had to be fairly fit to look good on camera -- started to represent a new ideal.

Lammily

A relatively average-sized, generally (though not extremely) muscular body became the ideal.

Screenshot

1960s: By the late '60s, a counter-cultural wave had begun to reject the look associated with the corporate mainstream.

Lammily

Rock stars with long hair and skinny bodies started to represent the ideal.

1980s: In the '80s, a more hyper-masculine, gym-built form started to gain popularity.

Lammily

Bodybuilding went mainstream and action stars rocked huge muscles.

Jack Mitchell/Getty

1990s: By the '90s, hyper-masculinity went back out of style, and the everyman came in.

Lammily

A more blue-collar, working man's look -- one that didn't require pumping iron -- became the look men tried to cultivate.

The ideal now is still relatively similar to that of the '90s -- lean yet muscular.

Lamilly

But the ideal will continue to transform, often in response to the state of the world.

Lamilly

And of course, that ideal usually differs from the average real body, both for men and women.

Lamilly

In the future, new technology may give us more control over how we look. Who knows what will be in favour then?

Lamilly

Will Heilpern wrote a previous version of this post.

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