Long time, no write! I’ve been busy finishing up my thesis (and, well, procrastinating on finishing my thesis), packing, and moving across the country! And it’s finally summer, which tends to mean more time outside enjoying nature and movement and less time on the computer. But I will try to maintain a once/week posting routine (with *try* being the operative word).
Today I want to talk about bodies. Specifically, I want to talk about body shapes, because I think they represent a toxic wormhole to dysfunction that too many of us buy into. Here’s the first question I have, and I think it’s the biggest: what’s the point of labelling body shapes? Really think about this. What purpose does it serve? Does being a pear vs a cucumber tell me anything about my health? Or my worth? Or how fit I am? Or how funny and kind and silly I am? We all know, intellectually, at least, that the answer to all of those questions is a resounding “no”. One could make the argument, I suppose, that knowing if you are “apple” shaped could alert you to potential issues such as insulin resistance (which often leads to fat accumulation in the tummy), but there are plenty of women who are apple-shaped and are metabolically healthy. There are also women with insulin resistance who aren’t apple-shaped. Somewhat hilariously I am pretty close to the vaunted “hour glass” (more on that later) but PCOS has lead to fat gain in my tummy which lead to a doctor telling me that my “apple-shape” is a real indication of PCOS–yet my shape is still hour-glassy. In fact, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that would pick me out of a line-up as the apple-shaped one. But apple-shape=PCOS is the prevailing wisdom so I guess that’s the concept she had available to her.
Insulin-resistant apples, aside, what’s the deal with the body shapes? Off the top of my head I’ve heard (in all seriousness) of pears, apples, cylinders, bricks, inverted-triangles, and hour glasses. But the only place I’ve heard them, literally the ONLY PLACE THAT USES THIS TERMINOLOGY is the woman-oriented media that uses body-shaming content to sell both things (ever notice how many ads are at the front of Cosmo?) and ideas (that our worth is dependent on our looks, that consumption is the path to happiness, that feminine bodies are inherently wild and out of control and must be tamed through expensive and time-consuming pursuits). See, some time ago we collectively (through the help of businesses like Cosmo–let’s not forget that our fluffy magazines are businesses that only exist because they simultaneously tear us down and offer us redemption in their glossy pages, and receive outrageous ad revenues for it) agreed that the “hour glass” is the ideal to which we should all aspire. So those of us with luscious hips and thighs should wear shoulder pads (seriously, I’ve read this SO MANY TIMES IN THE 21st CENTURY) to balance them out and trick people (read: the men who will finally complete us) into thinking we have a perfect hourglass figure. And those of us with soft, lovely rounded bellies should wear empire waists to hide them. Or are we supposed to create a waist with a loud statement belt? Depends what’s hot that season, I guess. And the swimmers and weight-lifters with divine shoulders should wear dark colours on top with wide, ruffly skirts to give the illusion of thick hips to give us that perfect hourglass figure. And the sturdy, immovable (oh, what wonderful qualities!) bricks among us (because what women doesn’t want to be called a fucking brick?!) are basically fucked. I guess we could do shoulder pads, with a frilly skirt (finally a use for stupid peplum!), AND a statement belt. God help you if you lean toward practical clothing, though. Ta da! Now everyone can have matching hourglass figures! Until you get naked or go swimming or go to the gym, or just can’t fucking deal with it and throw on leggings and a sweater and then EVERYONE KNOWS YOUR SHAME.
And what about us hourglasses? We’re set, right? No insecurities to drive us to wear ridiculous clothing combinations to trick potential suitors into thinking we have acceptable bodies, right? Phew! Ehhh not so fast. One of the things about the curvy hourglass is that it’s just that: curvy. For our cups to runneth over we must be generously proportioned. And you know what that means: starve yourself on Whole30 and sweat it out in BodyWraps and pray to god you don’t have to pee in the next 6 hours because these Spanx may need to be cut off.
So, I ask again, what’s the point of labelling body shapes? It’s one more way in which we are taught that we aren’t enough. We are too big here, and too small there, and my god, no one will ever love these thighs. What if we celebrated the way our bodies are arranged? Why can’t pears highlight their righteous hips and asses? And inverted-triangles show off their strong shoulders with a nice halter top? Why must we all cookie-cutter ourselves into someone else’s ideal? And what happens when we get naked? Do we only do it in the dark? Do we apologize for our imperfectly proportioned shoulders?
Nothing makes me sadder than a woman claiming she’ll stop [insert unsustainable, body-hating weightloss behaviour here] when she’s finally “proportional”. Proportional to what?! You’re already proportional! Your hips are in perfect proportion to your shoulders which are in perfect proportion to your waist. Because these are YOUR proportions. And they are lovely as they are.
Let’s do a quick little thought experiment together: First, think of three women in your life. Maybe your sister, your best-friend, and your ex-girlfriend. Now think about their body types. Maybe your sister’s a lovely pear, and your best friend who swam all her life is definitely an inverted-triangle, and your ex-girlfriend has a lovely hourglass figure. Now think of three men in your life. Maybe it’s your friendly next door neighbour, and your brother in-law, and that cute coworker you flirt with on Fridays. What are their body types? Let’s see there’s…well. Hmmm. I mean, I guess the neighbour is…um, dude-shaped. And your brother in-law has a bit of a belly, but he’s essentially…dude-shaped. And, hmm, come to think of it, that cute coworker is also, funnily enough, dude-shaped.
Something’s a bit fishy when we have women starving themselves to battle their apple/pear/starfruit body-shapes and yet we don’t even have words for men’s body shapes.
I’ll leave you with Gemma Correll’s brilliant (and significantly more concise) take on this subject.
I initially meant to write about a whole bunch of things about the body–how we talk about and think about our bodies and others’, what is reasonable to try to change and what isn’t–but this got pretty long so I’ll leave those topics for another time.
I’m going to go take this Existential Nothingness-shaped body and enjoy the sun.