Then and Now: Bikini Body Edition

What more iconic representation of female beauty standards is there than the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition?  For 50 years, the infamous publication has chronicled the cultural ideals of feminine allure and sex appeal.  Let’s see how things have changed over the past half-century.

To start, here is a side by side comparison of Sports Illustrated models.  First is a shot from the 2014 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition gallery, followed by the cover from the 1965 Swimsuit Edition:

Lily Aldridge


Quite a difference, no?  Notice how much “sideboob” and hip action is going on in the 1965 photo, as compared to the clearly visible ribcage on the model from this year.

Here are flashback even earlier, to a 1956 photograph from a Long Island photoshoot.  Admittedly, this isn’t Sports Illustrated, but it’s Marilyn Monroe – arguably even more epochal than any SI model.


If she weren’t so recognizable, today this might easily be mistaken for a plus-size swimwear advertisement.

Not even a decade after Monroe posed for the classic photos above, SI introduced it’s first ever swimsuit edition in 1964:

1964Not much like what you see today.  And three years later came this 1967 cover model:

1967Interesting fashion choices aside, she’s still a far cry from today’s standards.


This cover from 1970 doesn’t reveal much:

1970But the 1971 Swimsuit Edition sure did:


(Homegirl actually reminds me a bit of Mindy Khaling.  Trust me, that’s a compliment – I consider Mindy somewhat of my spirit animal.)

Around 1975, someone decided it was “sun’s out, boobs out!” Notice the difference between this and the above photo from 1967, with the red swimsuit:



Fast forward a decade to 1980 and 1981, with Christie Brinkley gracing the cover two years in a row:


The bikinis have become significantly more revealing (and those high-cut bikini bottoms….so glad we moved past that.), but the cover models still have a “soft,” feminine look about them.

1987 (left) and 1989 (right) showcase more horrendous swimwear treads, but the models still have bodies that are significantly curvier than the example from 2014:




The 1990 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar brought us this Baywatch-inspired look:

1990 calendar

As did this 1990 cover from a similar magazine, Inside Sports:


Once you get past gawking at how high their bikini bottoms go, you might notice that these women are still a far cry from any cover models you see today.

Next up, a 1994 reunited trio of past cover models.  Admittedly, two of the three were in the first trimester of pregnancy at the time…but then again, they’re models:


And then we have 2001:


There’s a slight difference, wouldn’t you say?

And finally, back to this year, with another shot from the 2014 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit gallery:


Not much difference in terms of body size or shape, but now the images have become so overtly sexual that the model is posed with her legs spread open.  Because, you know, the 3-inch triangles of fabric covering her lady-bits aren’t sexy enough as is.

There you have it – a brief history of female beauty standards, as chronicled by one of our nation’s most infamous publications.  It’s interesting to note the  correlation between the progression of the obesity epidemic (obesity rates jumped significantly between the tail end of the 80’s and the early 90’s, and had doubled again by the beginning of the 21st century) and the timing of the featured models becoming thinner, leaner, and overall less “soft”-looking.  Could it be a compensatory reaction? Perhaps the change is also tied to the advent of modern photo-editing techniques?  What about the increasing availability of pornography (especially via the internet) and the impact of those images on beauty standards?   Whatever the reasons, our cultural ideals have changed significantly, and I’m not sure it’s for the better.



Marilyn2And now…

Lily Aldridge

My, how the times have changed.



Question: What do you think? Have our standards changed for better or for worse?  Do you think the cultural ideals have changed for men’s aesthetics, as well?



2 thoughts on “Then and Now: Bikini Body Edition

  1. This post was awesome! It’s scary to see how the times have changed. I knew they had, but when you see it all laid out like this it’s eye-opening.

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