American Beauty

by Lois Banner,Knopf. $l7.95.
As everyone knows, fashions in women’s clothes and women’s looks change over the years. In the early nineteenth century, the aunt of Oliver Wendell Holmes was sent to a school where
They laced her up. they starved her down.
To make her light and small.
but by the end of the century, young women were making great efforts to gain what they called “flesh.” Followed the boyish ideal of the 1920s, and then the overbosomed Playmate. At present it appears, muscles are in vogue. Do these changes represent anything more than the fact that change is the whole purpose of fashion? Ms. Banner believes that they do, and she investigates the matter intelligently, persuasively and with a bit more solemnity than is necessary.