This is an article about dolls, but also people.
The mother of all western fashion dolls came out in 1959. This is the kind of thing sold in teen girl fashion magazines at the time:
Looks pretty familiar! I may have some vintage doll dresses that look exactly like a couple of those styles, right down to the shoes and plastic ring bracelets.
Underneath, these gals were probably wearing something like this:
With names like "Figure Controller" and "Mold 'n Hold" let's make no mistake here:
This is shapewear. It's not a corset, but that's only because the underwear technology advanced to the point steel bones weren't needed.
Corsets were still around, and they shaped more of the body than ever:
Instead of starting at the underbust and ending at the hip, they go from the armpit to the thigh, lift your butt or flatten your butt depending on your needs and take 2" off your waist! These liberated ladies of the almost 1960s who could vote had more restrictive undergaments than... well, ever.
This is what was necessary to get a model into shape to wear those dresses.
The dolls from this time were made to have the same proportions of a model wearing an insane amount of shapewear because otherwise they wouldn't have looked like the models in the dresses at the top with clothes on.
For the next 40 years, Barbies had the same proportions. For 40 years, other doll companies realized having dolls of similar proportions that could share clothes would boost their sales because people could use their existing doll wardrobes on the new dolls. For 40 years, people bought, made, and passed down their doll wardrobes to their kids, so of course they wanted their dolls to all be the same shape.
40 years is enough time to create a tradition so that people forget something else is an option.
It's only been recently that people started bucking tradition and making fashion dolls with different body shapes and succeeding. When Bratz & Monster High first came out, there were lots of people talking about how they wouldn't be popular because they couldn't use existing doll clothes. I'm glad those awesome doll lines were able to prove people wrong because they broke the ground that got us all the cool different body shaped dolls today!
In the human world, at about the same time pret-a-porter (ready to wear) fashion was going from minority to majority. Lots of women still made clothes or altered their clothes to suit them better, but sewing stopped being as essential a skill.
Sewing used to be taught in public school. You can look up school books that covered sewing lessons for all grades. Everyone was taught stitch work, and how to draft patterns.
Actual sewing patterns from the everyone-sews era are wild! People were expected to look at this and be able to draw out an actual pattern tailored to their personal measurements/body shape because that was what most people had been taught how to do.
The thing about everyone being able to do this is that everyone got clothes that were perfectly tailored to them. There were no good/bad sizes or good/bad shapes as far as clothes were concerned.
Ready to wear fashion changed things. You measure a few hundred women and take the most average proportions and this is your standard shape. Sizes are then established for people with different sized frames, using the same shape. Clothes are designed around this shape and models are chosen to best show off this shape.
The problem with ready to wear fashion is that people are different sizes and shapes and 'standard' just means 'average'.
If you go into a clothing store and can't find clothes that fit you, it doesn't mean you're bad or ugly, it just means you're not average. I don't know why average is good in clothes but considered meh in every other aspect of our lives.
The second problem with ready to wear fashion is that once people stopped knowing how to sew, they stopped learning how to tailor different styles for different body shapes
If you were lucky, the fashions of your time favored your body type and you got along OK. Fashions in the 1950s-60s favored hourglass and pear shaped bodies, straight shapes were in vogue in the 1960s-70s, hourglass figures in the 80s, broad-shouldered inverted triangle shapes in the 90s. If you weren't lucky, pretty much everyone told you you were ugly even if your shape was perfect for another era's fashion.
Let's remove the advertising and explain what was really going on from the clothes manufacturer's point of view: "It isn't as profitable for me to make clothes that fit more than one body shape, so I'm going to pay magazines to write articles that call you ugly, sell people too small weight gain pills and people too big diet pills, crazy restrictive underwear to squeeze them into the right shape and make my profit margins even bigger."
This is why I LOVE having body diversity in dolls. Dolls are by definition pretty. "Pretty as a doll" means too perfect to be real.
When I make a pattern for different dolls, it showcases how the same fashion looks on different body types. There are some things that look amazing on Curvy Barbies that look fine on other body types. There are some things that look amazing on tall Barbies. There are some clothes that look amazing on Monster High dolls, or Rainbow High, or Bratz, that just don't pop the same way if they are on any other doll.
When people see this on perfect dolls they internalize that different body shapes all look good when wearing clothes that suit them. If a style looks good on Doll A but not Doll B, all it means is that Doll B needs a style that suits her instead. It's not HER, it's the CLOTHES.
Some styles just look good on a narrow range of body types. Some styles look good on different body types but they need to be tweaked with something like a fuller skirt or higher waist to really shine on that person.
I think this is something that people are slowly re-learning, and I'm so happy they are! It's not JUST the dolls, it's a variety of people catering fashion to different body shapes that aren't the most average/profitable, but the dolls help more than you think.
If a kid only sees a fashion doll with 1 body type, it will feel normal when they grow up and see all of the models with 1 body type and tricked into thinking there's something wrong with them. If a kid grows up with different shaped dolls, they're not going to be fooled as easily.
The dolls get there first.