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‘The Gibson Girl’ was the personification of the feminine ideal of physical attractiveness as portrayed by the satirical pen-and-ink illustrations of artist Charles Dana Gibson during a 20-year period that spanned the late 19th and early 20th century in the United States and Canada. The artist saw his creation as representing the composite of “thousands of American girls.”

The Gibson Girl image that appeared in the 1890s combined elements of older American images of caucasian female beauty, such as the “fragile lady” and the “voluptuous woman”. From the “fragile lady” she took the basic slender lines, and a sense of respectability. From the “voluptuous woman” she took a large bust and hips, but was not vulgar or lewd, as previous images of women with large busts and hips had been depicted. From this combination emerged the Gibson Girl, who was tall and slender, yet with ample bosom, hips and buttocks. She had an exaggerated S-curve torso shape achieved by wearing a swan-bill corset. Images of her epitomized the late 19th- and early 20th-century Western preoccupation with youthful features and ephemeral beauty. Her neck was thin and her hair piled high upon her head in the contemporary bouffant, pompadour, and chignon (“waterfall of curls”) fashions. The statuesque, narrow-waisted ideal feminine figure was portrayed as being at ease and stylish.

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It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT! One of the biggest “hot topics” of today is the unrealistic beauty standards for women. We are constantly surrounded by Photoshopped images and celebrities who spend a vast amount of time and money sculpting their bodies to “perfection.” Though the discussion is at the forefront now, the topic is nothing new. One of the most iconic instances of these near-impossible beauty ideals is the infamous turn of the 20th Century Gibson Girl.

The Gibson Girl is named for her creator, artist Charles Dana Gibson. In the 1890s, Gibson worked for LIFE magazine, where his girl first appeared. As she gained popularity, his work was soon printed in all the major magazines. There is speculation that the girl was modeled after his wife or his sister, but according to Gibson, she was not one girl, she was every girl, and that’s what made her beautiful. He saw her as the embodiment of the American melting pot- she was a combination of countless nationalities and races (of course, in this era, that still meant a very pale caucasian). In a way, the Gibson Girl was the first “All-American Girl.”

Gibson believed that the more races were mixed together, the more beautiful women would become, as he predicted only the best features from each would be passed down. He theorized that as a result, women of the future would be far more beautiful than the women of his day. In his drawings, Gibson combined what he saw as the best features: delicate facial features, soft hair in the latest bouffant style (but still with natural wisps and tendrils falling gracefully aside) a full chest and hips paired with a slender waist, positioned into the highly corseted S-bend. She was perfect, but not absurdly so, in a way that felt almost attainable.She wore the latest fashions, but was not at the level of the royals whom Europeans often turned to for beauty standards.

If her so-close-yet-so-far looks were not enough to attract admiration, Gibson gave her a personality to match. She was active and independent, playing sports, going off to work, not desperate for the help of a man. She was playfully teasing towards men, for how could they possibly hold the interest of such a woman? She did get swept up in romance, though, becoming a wife and mother. She was not content keeping house, though, and continued to spend her days with women as equally tenacious as she. Yet she was not political or controversial, steering clear of the rising suffragette movement, or stating any strong opinions of women’s rights. She was the perfect blend of modern and traditional.

The Gibson Girl was the perfect embodiment of “Women want to be her, men want to be with her.” It is due to this mass appeal that so many women strove to physically emulate the Gibson Girl. After all, who wouldn’t want to be the girl that so many people adored and admired? Of course, creating the look in real life was not nearly as simple as it appeared. The S-bend corset became extremely popular, yet this corset style forced the body into arguably the most unnatural shape of any other corset throughout history. Reality meant that it was near impossible for women to adopt the relaxed and care-free attitude of the Gibson Girl.

There were a few actress and celebrities who came close to the ideal, several of whom actually served as models for Charles Gibson, most notably Camille Clifford, whose near-perfect hourglass figure was the drawings come to life. Of course, this only enhanced the idea that the look was attainable for the average woman. Just like every beauty ideal, though, the Gibson Girl look eventually fell from favor. By the 1910s, society was shifting. The women’s rights movement was gaining momentum, catapulted by women joining the workforce en masse. The Gibson Girl was soon viewed as too proper, uptight, and locked in tradition. However, to this day the image remains the icon of the Edwardian age.

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How could we not talk about family, when family’s all that we got?
Everything I went through you were standing there by my side
And now you gonna be with me for the last ride.

See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa (ft. Charlie Puth)