The term “body image” refers to one’s perception of one’s own body. Because it involves perception, body image is not always in accordance with actual body size and shape. Despite the subjectiveness of body image, it plays a significant role in self-esteem particularly in women. Over the last 20 years, body image has received great attention in its relationship to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and compulsive eating. But, the attainment of an “ideal” body image is not a late 20th century phenomenon. The manipulation of body shape and size whether it is through dieting, fashion, or other methods, has been around for centuries. Over that time, a variety of ideals have evolved many of which involved painful or unhealthy methods to attain. This being the case, the question is, why have women subjected themselves to such manipulations particularly at the whim of societal impressions of what’s beautiful at the moment? Historically, women have had little power or status. However, through the attainment of an ideal body image, women have been able to achieve the symbols of power and status as defined by the era in which she lived.
Beauty as a representation of power goes back to the beginning of civilization. Famous women such as Delilah, Cleopatra, and the Queen of Sheba used their beauty to exert power particularly in their relations with men. Over time, beauty has continued to provide women as a means of attaining power and status whether it was to secure a husband during the 18th century and 19th century or rights and a job in the 20th century. Appearance through fashion and physical manipulation provides a path to influence and achievement . To this end, women endured many physical discomforts and even dangers to alter or give the appearance of ideal shape and form. Chinese women would bound their feet despite the fact that it was painful and caused clubfoot. Small feet on a wife were a symbol of the husband’s ability to support his family without his wife having to work . The drive for upper class status and power has been an important motivation behind fashion and beauty in America, which offered the ability to ascend to higher echelons of society. By emulating the wealthy in dress and style, people of varying social classes achieved increased acceptance and opportunities .