Once a rarer sight than a small boy in a top hat, female six-packs are now everywhere you look: bearing down on you from advertising billboards, glistening hopefully on Instagram, sweating fastidiously down the gym.
Truly, ’tis the age of the she-ab. Not long looked upon in the same regard as, say, a pair of massive swinging hirsute knackers – i.e. strictly a boys-only affair – a steely six-pack has become a must-have badge of honour for the modern gal about town.
But how did we come to live in such enlightened times when it comes to the female tummy? Dunno m8, but regardless, here’s our stab at a sociological history of the female washboard stomach.
Chabpter 1: Cavepeople times
Back in cavepeople times, people lived in caves. It was a tough life. There were no Fitness Firsts. Personal trainers were almost unheard of. Branches of Holland & Barrett were few and far between.
Caveladies had little to show in the way of six-packs
As a result, caveladies had little to show in the way of six-packs. Very little photographic evidence from this era has survived to this day, but as you can glean from the image below, while prehistoric women were certainly trim, they were badly letting the side down on the toned front.
Chabpter 2: Ancient Rome
When you think of a gladiator, you probably picture Russell Crowe roaring “Are you not amuuused?” in a plummy English accent for some reason. But in actual Ancient Rome (which, fun fact, was located in Italy, not the Home Counties), many gladiators were female. They were known as gladiatrix (singular) or gladiatrices (plural) or g-lady-ators (probably).
The above image is an Ancient Roman relief depicting two such gladiatrices. You can’t really tell from this rendering as it’s a bit shit, because Ancient Romans didn’t have Sharpies or Adobe Illustrator, but you can bet that both these highly trained warriors had stomach muscles you could park an Ancient Roman bike in.
They had stomach muscles you could park an Ancient Roman bike in
In fact, using that same image-sharpening software they have on CSI – y’know, like when they stare at a screen and say “Enhance… enhance… enhance…” – we can reveal previously unseen details:
And there we have it. The dawn of the female six-pack.
Chabpter 3. Feudal Japan
About 1,700 years later, the next wave of superbuff women arrived in the shape of the onna-bugeisha, or female samurai. Trained to the same intense degree as their male counterparts, they also would’ve sported abs you could lose a coin down the side of.
Unfortunately, artistic depictions of the time once again let us down here:
However! If we “enhance… enhance… enhance…”
Bang. And there we have ’em. Abs-olutely ab-ulous.
Chabpter 4. 17th-century Europe
This is where the wheels started to come off. As you can see from this painting by Rubens, the women of this period were complete strangers to planks, crunches and sit-ups. (NB a painting was like an Instagram post except slower, and you had to go to a posh person’s house to see it.)
Honestly. Middle of the day, they’re not even dressed yet, and they’ve still got bedsheets all tangled around them. If ever some gals were in need of some #fitspo, it’s these half-arsed slackers.
Chabpter 5: The Roaring Twenties
With the invention of the flapper, things swung back the other way: stick-thin waifery was in, fuelled by a steady stream of booze, fags, more booze and jazz – nary a protein shake or kale smoothie in sight.
Tsk. You’re not going to develop stomach muscles you could crack nuts with by lounging around smoking Mayfair Menthols, young ladies.
Chabpter 6: The Atomic Age
Hallelujah! Hitting the gym and henching your abs exploded in popularity during the 1950s, with many women becoming inspired by America’s trailblazing female bodybuilder, Pudgy Stockton (below).
Of course, Pudgy might’ve inspired a few more women had she changed her name to something just a teensy bit more star-like and media-friendly. Grumbleguts Magoo, perhaps, or Bloaty O’Hairpiece.
Chabpter 7: The J-Fon Era
It’s hard to make out just how defined Fonda’s tummy-guns were
Pudgy might’ve led the way, but it was actress-turned-workouter Jane Fonda who truly brought the concept of women getting tonk, buff and swole into the mainstream. Her 1982 video Jane Fonda’s Workout went on to become the best-selling VHS tape of all time, shifting even more copies than Look Who’s Talking Too, Small Soldiers or Turner & Hooch.
However, due to pesky leotards being omnipresent gymwear during the 1980s, it’s hard to make out just how defined Fonda’s tummy-guns were:
But! If we once again simply “enhance… enhance… enhance…”
Kaboom. Six thumbs up, Jane – that’s one thumb per ab!
Chabpter 8: The MTV Age
Since the mid-’90s, pop stars have been the key driving force in making the female six-pack A Thing That Magazine Thinkpieces Get Written About. In recent years, Madonna, J-Lo, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Rowland, Crazy Frog and Ellie Goulding have all shown off abs you could build a small cottage on.
Did this all just happen overnight? Nuh-uh! Look at these three album sleeves from the last 30 years, and you can see how the female six-pack has evolved within pop .
The first sleeve depict’s Madonna’s tummy on her 1989 album, Like A Prayer. The second, Janet Jackson’s tummy on her 1993 album, Janet. The third, Taylor Swift’s tummy on her upcoming album, Go On, Whack It As Hard As You Can.
Chabpter 9: Nowadays
Every woman has rippling abs now. It’s just a fact. Seriously, even if you think you don’t, you actually do. You just haven’t looked at your tummy for ages. Go on, have a peep at it. See? You’re ripped like a motherhumper.
Maybe it’s time for six-packs on our backs, necks or bumcheeks
So what’s next for the female six-pack? Where do we go from here?
Instagram is now so overcrowded with them that ‘casually’ hoiking your top up for an ab-flashing gym selfie is no longer a sure-fire route to gazillions of likes. Should we now all be instead aiming for eight-, ten- or even twelve-packs? Maybe it’s time for us to try developing six-packs on our backs, necks or bumcheeks?
Who knows what the future holds! We certainly don’t. But one thing is for certain: the she-ab is here to stay. And if you don’t like it, well you’ll just have to learn to ‘stomach’ (!!) it.