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12 Photos That Show How The Ideal Male Body Has Changed Over The Last 150 Years

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Throughout history there have been many different ideas of what constitutes beauty. Some cultures revered the obese as rich and powerful, while others used height to measure their worth. Across American history, the idea of the perfect body has changed dramatically. Like any other trend, media followed with aggressive versions of what the ideal was at any given time, mostly shown to the public through:

  • Movie stars
  • Music legends
  • Popular toys

In any given era of the male body, you could find examples of it that took it to almost outlandish levels, thus influencing young minds and perpetuating the stereotype of beauty. It has gone through several very distinct changes though, even just in the past 150 years.

Artist Nickolay Lamm, the designer who brought us Lammily dolls, a more life-like response to Barbie and Ken, has recreated the “perfect” body from each era after studying photos and stars from the time in question. While not considering skin color (which explains why they’re all white) he build the 3D models seen below. 

In the 1870s, being slightly overweight wasn’t a bad thing – in fact, it meant you were wealthy and powerful.

They even had a “fat man’s club” that spread across the country. You could only join if you were over 200 pounds.

In the early days of cinema, the ideal changed due to the first few Hollywood stars. Angular jaws and a slim physique looked much better on camera, which distorts the human body already.

Actors like Cary Grant, Clark Gable and Gregory Peck were the ideal man. Dark hair, tall with lean bodies and muscle tone.


In response to the period after the war of clean-cut men returning to the workforce, the 1960s brought with it long hair and thin physiques.

The rock and roll boom brought with it men who were anti-war looked as different from the military men as possible. Robert Plant, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan all had thin, rail-like figures and inspired a generation of men to follow them.

 Like any pendulum, it swung back in the 1980s with the introduction of bodybuilding and the muscle-bound action star. Suddenly gyms were popping up across the country and veined muscles were in vogue.

Action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme shocked all the thin music lovers with their Olympia bodies. Muscles on muscles would be the goal for men across the country now.


In the early 90s, the idea of a Terminator-like body started to die away, replaced instead with a very muscular, but lean version. The triangle shaped upper body gave way to a more natural looking (but still hard to achieve) form.

In 1999, Fight Club was released and Brad Pitt became the go-to example for those looking for the perfect physique. His single-digit body fat percentage has fallen out of favor a bit now, but the idea of fitness is still dominated by ripped stars like Tom Hardy and Chris Hemsworth.

 Recently, the idea of a dad-bod has come back with stars like Leonardo DiCaprio not caring about the chiseled look of the 2000s, but it’s still a big topic of debate. Like any transition, there are some who find it appealing and some who don’t.

Over the course of 150 years, not only has the ideal body changed but so has the idea of what fitness is. From gaining weight to enter the “fat man” club (though 200 pounds would hardly be considered it now), to the steroid-filled bodybuilding era, overall body health has never been as important as it is now.

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