top of page

Birth Control Made "Thin" be "In"

What's the difference between a voluptuous 1940's pin-up model and the rail-thin silhouette of the 1970s? It may have been hormonal contraception. When birth control was introduced in 1960, it changed more than just the size of the average American family. It had a reach that infiltrated popular culture and gave way to the acceptance of bony frames as attractive. This is because typical oral contraceptives or birth control pills caused the user to subsequently have less muscle development, thus giving them a much smaller frame. This occurrence probably gave rise to the thin body type thereafter. "Thick" is not inherently fat as anyone with an understanding of body mass composition knows. To put it as simply as possible, muscle is also a form of human tissue that has mass, when there is an interfering factor like a hormone that prevents muscle development, there is less mass, meaning a lower weight to that person's body from muscle. Now, let's unpack what this means for society.

The introduction of oral contraceptives in female athletes has been known to cause striking pitfalls in performance. This is exemplified by the case of Mary Cain and her significant decline athletically due to following the expectation of her coach to use birth control. Her issues were likely a result of the reduction of muscle from the hormonal effects, overtraining, and a poor diet. Birth control additionally interferes with some nutrient absorption, but don't take my word of it, this is what the National Center of Biotechnology Information has to say about it "...shown that the key nutrient depletions concern folic acid, vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamin C and E and the minerals magnesium, selenium and zinc" ( If the nutritional deficiencies don't impact the user then the findings of Science Daily that "oral contraceptive use impairs muscle gains in young women" ( seems to back up this theory.

Now to apply this finding toward media-based influences, or rather reflections of what was considered ideal, a comparison of figures could be used that represent differing eras to be taken into account from when "the pill" became popular and before. For the purposes of this article, I chose the examples of the hourglass figure of Sophia Loren in the heyday of her career during the 1950s to contrast with that of the narrow framed model Twiggy a decade later. Think of who you'd want to ask to help you move a couch, I'd pick Loren personally. Another example might be if Bettie Page (5'5 130lb) and Bo Derek (5'3 125lb) were to arm wrestle when both were in their prime. I'm nearly certain Page would be the victor. There's more to it all though than just considering the changes to the models who were featured in pop culture. The shoulders seem to be the most telling of the change the pill caused to the persons who relied on it and the effects on muscle composition.

These days the birth control options available are far more varied than the former single hormonal medication. Barrier methods, creams, and surgical options make the pill, once the dominant family planning technique one of many. Which might, in turn, explain why the much loved "Venus" bodyline is coming back into mainstream beauty standards. Currently, the number one form of birth control in the U.S. is female sterilization, and there has been a 0.3% decline in the pill since 1994 according to The Superdrug Online Doctor. For reference check out this infographic on birth control in the world, (

The moral takeaway for the conclusion is simply this, don't pin all of your self-value on what is in-style currently. There are too many outside variables to ever have to feel like an oddity. It seems what is considered to be the ideal beauty of the time is merely the most common 20 something happenstance during that decade. If pain pills and antidepressants, both of which have the side effect of weight gain become the next commonality, then heavyset frames will become the new trend too. These things really are all temporary, which can be both reassuring and foreboding, depending on where you fall in the grand scheme of things. I suppose that it is important not to take your youth for granted and not to hold on to it too tightly either. In the meanwhile, I'm just glad spray tans are over.

bottom of page