What’s on the mind of a twenty-something these days? Sexy candles. Yes, really. The rising trend of decorative candles and vases in the shape of naked hourglass torsos has been taking up a lot of brain space lately. Amid the height of online feminist movements such as ‘Free the Nipple’ and ‘body-positivity,’ a notable rise in home decor taking on the female form emerged. Soy wax figures are being championed as symbols of ’empowerment’ according to brands like Belle Nous and Melted Flames Studio, while vases with literal love handles are seen as a ‘celebration’ of the feminine physique by artists like Anissa Kermiche

The Kardashian Aesthetic

I have been seeing these coffee table ornaments crop up in every corner of the internet — Cosmopolitan and ELLE even gave their two pence on the most stylish on the market. It wasn’t until I spotted them at the Barbican gift shop (also found in their online store), that I realised these torsos were somehow actually taking over the world. The aesthetic achieved is that of an ancient Greek sculpture … had you chopped off its arms, head, and legs, and given it the proportions of Kim Kardashian. 

I want to note that this piece is not a contemplation on whether Kim’s proportions are natural or not, for this is of no relevance to me. Instead, I wish to explore why we have modelled the 21st-century body ideal after her own.

Feminist Beginnings

The ‘Free the Nipple’ feminist movement had been causing a stir online since 2015, protesting the censorship of female nipples on social media. The New York Times reported that in 2015 ‘the search term “Free the Nipple'” surpassed phrases like “equal pay” and “gender equality” in terms of interest, according to Google trends.’ While the momentum drops due to legalities becoming murkier in the day and age of AI, the ‘body-positivity’ movement comes in HOT by 2019. The movement became known for its aim to destigmatise larger bodies, seeking positive representation in the real world as well as in the media. 

While the last decade has been marked by an undercurrent of progressive movements, it’s important to remember it’s just that: an undercurrent. Our culture still imposes oppressive beauty standards on women, informed by the patriarchy we live in. ‘Female torso’ home decor items then seem to be the byproduct of something caught in the middle. Today, some companies are creating ‘inclusive’ versions of these items to diversify the body types represented. However, even these subscribe to the dominant classical female body proportions: a very curvaceous hourglass figure with a tiny waist that, regardless of size, is reminiscent of Kim Kardashian’s. 

Echoes of the Renaissance

Around 2018, Kim Kardashian revealed that her new fragrance bottle was modelled after a mould they made of her body. The ancient Greek sculpture aesthetic wasn’t lost on anyone — Kim herself recognised the artistic intention for the bottle to be ‘on a statue pedestal like a statue in a museum.‘ Quite like Kim, artists of the Italian Renaissance (think Michaelangelo, and Botticelli) resurrected ancient Greek sculpture aesthetics in the late 1400s to early 1500s. Don’t worry, that’s not a sentence I thought I’d ever write either. Perhaps in the same way that Renaissance artists tried to capture classical beauty ideals back then, today’s ‘female torso candles’ aim to showcase an admiration for the human form.

However, the key thing to remember about Italian Renaissance artists: they sought to capture a perceived symmetry of human proportions, according to their own beauty ideals at the time. Remember Da Vinci’s The Vitruvian Man drawing — with what looks like it has four arms and four legs? According to Da Vinci’s anatomical observations and mathematics, the Vitruvian Man had the ideal body proportions in relation to nature. This study was of course most likely based on the average white man, posing many limitations even back then. In a way, Kim Kardashian has become our own 21st-century Vitruvian (Wo)Man. 

Doomed to Repeat the Past

Before there was Kim, there was Marilyn Monroe. The two have coexisted simultaneously in recent memory not only because of their physical similarities but also due to an infamous dress. As one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s, Monroe’s signature pin-up girl look was highlighted by her hourglass figure and tiny waist. However, a focus geared towards symmetrical and petite physiques isn’t inherently insidious — except when it is. While incredibly sexualised, make no mistake; emphasised breasts and hips are symbols of fertility. A not-so-subtle nod to women’s ‘true’ purpose as baby-makers for the patriarchy. 

Stella Bruzzi wrote on the rise of the pin-up girl aesthetics in the 1950s: ‘the ultra-feminine hourglass silhouette chimed directly (in the U.S. and U.K. particularly) with postwar directives to get women out of work and back into the home.’ Lest we forget, with men fighting in World War II, women were enlisted to take on jobs to help with the war effort. When the war was over, they were expected to give up their self-sufficiency and return to their roles as housewives. Pretty women with hourglass figures pictured in domestic scenes became the dominant aesthetic to drive this directive home.

In the 21st-century Western world, we have survived no great war per se, but we have been living through times when women’s rights have taken leaps. If the history above is to teach us anything: reactionary efforts should be expected. These efforts aren’t the type to drag your hair in the streets.  There is no need. The same can be achieved by repackaging those old ideals in shiny new ways in the media you consume. Perhaps even in your own home, on the coffee table, in the form of a decorative female torso. 

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