If you saw the recent TV play The Scandalous Lady W, about an aristocratic 18th-century peer with a fetish for watching through a keyhole while his wife had sex with various men he had "introduced" her to, it may have set you thinking about various issues, as it did me.
It was a true story and truly shocking. Not because of the very explicit sex but because of the fact that, less than 250 years ago, in England, a woman was the property of her husband and he could insist on her having sex with his "friends" while he watched and she had no recourse to law.
In the play, the aforementioned Lady W was played by the talented and very tiny and very svelte actress Natalie Dormer. The interesting thing for me was the contrasting body aesthetics of the 17th century and now.
Had there been TV or film in the 17th century (don't laugh, just see where I am going with this), Lady W would have been played by an actress with a far more curvy and voluptuous body, in keeping with the aesthetics of the day. But current aesthetic norms dictate that she was played by the doll-like and very slender Ms Dormer.
We arrived at this aesthetic norm in the 1960s, courtesy of a slew of very thin models of whom the most famous and high profile were Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton. The photographers of the day played their part, preferring (even if not gay) models with prominent bones and angular, boyish bodies because they looked so much better in the clothes when snapped in monochrome. Unlike painters of earlier centuries, who preferred curves and flesh on which to to lavish their paint.
The hegemony of the ultra-thin bony child-woman/boy-woman continued for the remainder of the 20th century and into this millennium in a chicken-and-egg race to be thinner and to earn more approval from the Press. The perfect example of this, is the late Diana, Princess of Wales. When she first emerged blinking, into the spotlight of public scrutiny, she was a lovely and slightly curvy size 12. By the time the Press had picked over and exposed her body's numerous "faults," she had developed a slew of eating disorders.
Every "celeb" now receives the same treatment - one minute too thin; the next, particularly if shot at a bad angle, too fat. Even if they are deemed just right, these poor women frequently have to starve themselves or throw up frequently in order to avoid the vile labels in the celebrity and women's magazines and on some women's pages.
And despite a valiant campaign by Dove to make curves appealing, the Plus size Woman is still considered an aberration.
A lot of the most stringent criticism is meted out under the guise of health advice. Obesity, bad; very thin, good. Yet, the reality is that it is about aesthetics. Yes, being genuinely overweight is a health risk and I am certainly not advocating anyone (male or female) being overweight; but a lot of curvy women would be a lot happier with their body image if we all came out and admitted we are still craving an aesthetic which was developed in the last century to suit the requirements of black-and-white photography.