I would posit that “beauty”, as it relates to thinness and fatness, is not only specific to a culture and a particular historical era, it is also very context-specific. For instance, athletes in a specific sport tend to rate each other’s physical attributes and the attractiveness of those attributes as consistent with a physique considered most functional and conducive to their sport. Admittedly, a perfect example of this phenomenon can be found within the subculture of my own somewhat creepy sport of road cycling, in which we envy other riders in direct proportion to the girth and veininess of their thighs and calves, which is just one of the unspoken reasons that cyclists shave their legs, aside from the dubious physics of body hair as a significant contributing factor in aerodynamics. There are members of my cycling team who scoff at the comical homoerotic implications of straight men secretly admiring each other’s glutes and thighs, yet this happens silently on every group ride. Ironically, women who come to bike races as spectators often giggle at the sight of a man with tree-trunk legs and a scrawny upper body! Yet this is the preferred aesthetic in my sport.
On the flip side of my observation, gymnasts, swimmers, ballet dancers and Sumo wrestlers all have starkly contrasting perceptions of the ideal “beautiful body” in relation to the physical demands of their sporting aspirations. Separate from the context of the sporting life, cultural definitions of “beauty” outside the athletic realm make me a tad nauseous, such as the unrealistic cliched version of “beauty” promoted by Madison Avenue and Hollywood, e.g. Victoria’s Secret super models and perfectly-proportioned fitness models with six-pack abs who look as though they were genetically engineered by the Tyrrell Corporation. It’s all nonsense!
In the final analysis, all that matters really is how we feel about our own bodies when we look in the mirror, within the context of our age, genetics, lifestyle, and goals, as well as whether or not the people that truly matter in our lives perceive us as “attractive”, which is unfortunate if you happen to be a movie star like Tom Cruise or Jennifer Aniston, because the entire world is judging you on the basis of your physical appearance. But the rest of us should not be held to the same standard. We don’t get paid millions of dollars to look astonishing every time a camera is pointed at us. Speaking for myself personally, I only care whether or not my wife finds me physically attractive. The rest of the world can smooch my wrinkled old 55-year-old tush, which is not half bad for a guy my age, I think. Cycling does after all have its aesthetic benefits, but I also make sure to keep up with my push-ups, so that my legs don’t end up looking like Schwarzenegger’s while my upper body looks like someone who was just liberated from a concentration camp!
Not only is “beauty in the eyes of the beholder”, I propose that beauty is whatever you think it is, which should not be dictated by the media and popular culture. It’s far more important to be healthy than to be considered attractive by a consensus of the population at large.