Is it a myth, or a fact?
Yes. Just like they do today.
It’s true. In the past, larger women were considered more attractive (and more likely to be of a higher income level, because they could afford the food.) Larger women were more likely to be able to have children and make it through famine.
Look at art from centuries ago, and many of the models are (by 21st century standards) quite large.
Ever heard of Rubens?
The word “rubenesque” probably wouldn’t have developed had Rubens’s art not been an obvious outlier.
Rubens’ voluptuaries were a reaction against centuries of wan, thin women (such as those by Cranach the Elder). But it wasn’t about beauty: thin/skeletal figures were in those paintings to support the Church’s view that starvation and suffering in general is virtuous. Rubens and the (Northern) Rennaisance was saying “fuck that. Bring on the chubby babes and have 'em feed me grapes!”
While fashions seesaw, and 1890’s 200-lb music hall beauties are replaced by 1920’s flapppers, then by 1950 starlets with ball-peen tits, then Twiggy, then 1980’s jazzercise hardbodies with shoulders pads… The cynic on me notes that there has always been one constant ideal in feminine fuckability: and it’s the woman just this side of pedophilia.
Those women are definitely fleshy but I’m not sure I’d go so far as “obese.”
I doubt ‘rubenesque’ was used until long after Rubens died and fashions changed towards thinner women.
I’m sure it didn’t but regardless, most of Rubens’s contemporaries were not in the habit of depicting women who were as voluptuous as he painted.
Would the OP clarify what he/she means by obese, and who we’re talking about in “the past”? In general, super-skinny is not the norm for attractive in human women, nor is the-fatter-the-better. There is plenty of cultural and individual variation, though, and it’s not like everybody was the same in the past any more than they are now.
All that I think it’s safe to say is that the portrayal of attractive women in visual media in popular culture in the contemporary Western world (and recent past) is thinner than seems to be the norm for human beings as a whole. I don’t even think that reflects our OWN culture, much less some break with an imagined past.
How confident can we be that old paintings showed what was the standard of beauty at the time? Is there a clear paper trail that rules out “politics”? I sometimes wonder if a painter knew that it would be expedient to praise the body type of the queen or his patron’s wife, even if it didn’t represent what he or most people at the time considered to be the most beautiful body type.
On a similar note, how pale was fashionably pale skin? Was it common for someone to go too far and end up looking silly? Nowadays we certainly see a number of people who go too far in their efforts to get a fashionable tan and end up looking all orangy. We have people snickering, “He looks like an Oompa-Loompa!”; did they have people snickering, “She looks like a corpse!”?
Within limits. IIRC there was some early Abe Lincoln correspondence where he discussed some marriageable young lady in his area, but he characterized her as was undesirable/ unattractive because she was quite fat.
And a vampire.
I would WAG that for many hetero men, of any time period, a woman needs to looks like a woman (curves of some sort) to be physically desirable. IOW, “I want to have sexual relations with this obviously female person, wow wow.” Too skinny for curves may be some guy’s boat, as is so big that you have to move things around to get to the good stuff. Obviously, this is IMHO and YMMV and you may even have cites against my opinion, so there.
Other factors would possibly also come into play, tho, just like today. Perceived qualities that are not physical in nature.
But may be hinted at (correctly or not) by certain physical attributes.
(got busy and missed edit window)
I did in college a couple of times.
The paintings of Rubens are the best example I can think of to illustrate that cellulite is not really a modern phenomenom.
Matt Ridley’s The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature brings up the research of psychologist Dev Singh as evidence that what really matters, in what men find attractive in women, is the waist-to-hip ratio.