Skinny, Curvy, and Still Not Fitting the Mold

By Chelsey Anderson

Whether you’re a seasoned body image activist or an average consumer of Western media, no doubt you’ve noticed the battle between the “curvy” and skinny body ideal. After decades of being bombarded with images of extremely thin models and starving ourselves to fit the waif-mold many women and organizations–such as the author of Fat!So?, Marilyn Wann, and movements like The Body is Not an Apology, have worked to bring about size and fat-acceptance.

Despite the push for variety, we’ve been left with few messages in the mainstream media that reflect real representations and acceptance of women of substance. “Curvy” has become an ubiquitous term for anyone who doesn’t fit the skinny definition, while still promoting a narrow ideal by highlighting specific features and rare hourglass figures.  Meanwhile, popular catchphrases such as “Real Women Have Curves” have pitted women of all sizes against each other in a battle between who is “real”, who is desirable (sexy), and who isn’t. We’ve fought to see a wider variety of body types in the media, and to accept that some women are fatter, flatter, and shaped in innumerable ways, but have we actually made progress? Is the promotion of curves a legitimate backlash against an industry with a narrow and thin definition of beauty? Or is the promotion of curves yet another unattainable standard under the guises of caring about women’s self-esteem, health, and body image?

Beyonce, Kim Kardashian, and Jennifer Lopez have been the most famous poster-women of the “curvy” ideal. Beyonce touts how she rebels against traditional beauty standards by having a voluptuous figure, Kim states she knows she will never be a size zero but loves her butt and thighs anyways, and Jennifer responds to criticism by saying, “I have a butt, I have boobs, and I have a woman’s curves.”  Even petite Scarlett Johannson has been classified as a curvy woman; yet she fights ongoing criticism by some of her body while others tout her as one sexiest woman alive.

Typical online conversation and memes such as When did this become hotter than this? pit skinny bodies of today’s celebrities like Nichole Richie against bombshells of the past like Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page in an attempt to show that larger women can also be attractive, but at the expense of other women deemed less “hot”.

When we look at photos of women are highlighted as the curvy alternative, are they really representing a huge rebellion against mainstream beauty and body ideals? True, these celebrities carry more weight on their bodies, but only in socially acceptable places. Although curvy celebrities are quoted saying loud and proud that they have curves and have nothing to be ashamed of, their fat stays in all the “right”places–flat stomachs, long necks, no sags, and no visible stretch marks, just a fuller figure than the overly-thin models, singers, and movie stars before them.

In fact, a study referenced in The Independent found only 8% of women fit the hourglass figure. The majority of us are either top-heavy, pear-shaped, or ironically, rectangular; 47% of women are actually shaped the opposite of curvy, with a waist less than nine inches smaller than their hips or bust.

While it’s important to address the overwhelming push for thinness purported by our media, the current curvy ideal can also bring up feelings of inadequacy. Christina Hendricks of Mad Men has said, “Anytime someone talks about your figure constantly, you get nervous, you get really self-conscious. I was working my butt off on the show, and then all anyone was talking about was my body!” The “love your curves” movement has been spearheaded by image after image that fail to acknowledge the elephant in the room — fat in the “wrong” places is still unacceptable.

Women in the US and UK are increasingly lining up for breast enhancement procedures because we are told only certain shapes of fat are sexy. Butt lifts and implants have also seen a jump, with some women unfortunately losing their lives in the chase for the perfect voluptuous figure. What about those of us who are flat-chested with a belly?

Or those of us with arms that are flabby with stretch marks? What if our fat doesn’t form an hourglass figure? Where are the celebrities and spokespeople openly admiring their round bellies, small hips, cellulite, and sags? The few larger women, who have typical rectangular or apple body types, such as Gabby Sidibe of Precious, Melissa McCarthy from Bridesmaids, and Shannon Beiste from Glee are rarely pictured or portrayed as sexy, desirable, or even feminine. Ironically, they are noticed for their talent in spite of their figures.

The “Curvy” revolution was meant to be about loving your body AGAINST media norms. If women, who look like the closest living thing to the Barbie ideal, are continuously portrayed as body outlaws, what does that say for the rest of us? If women who have a more average, fatter body type are rarely shown as sexy (if they are shown at all), how does that affect our ability to appreciate our own bodies?

In Hollywood and mainstream media, being anything over 110 pounds causes a flurry of comments, blog posts, and headlines. Women in the spotlight who are curvier rock for broadening the body acceptance conversation. However, the depiction of what it means to be beautiful still leaves much to be desired, and we must stop pretending that our modern understanding of “curves” is revolutionary and inclusive. Bodies come in amazing varieties. We can curve out at our waists, arms, legs, as well as our butts and chest, or we might not curve much at all.  Simply increasing the acceptable inch limit for boobs and hips, and calling it an alternative for the thin ideal, does no one justice. We’ve taken a step in the right direction…let’s keep moving forward.

14 thoughts on “Skinny, Curvy, and Still Not Fitting the Mold

  1. At the end of this day, isn’t it enough to be the best version of ourselves? Look, we shouldn’t let ourselves go and not take care of our appearance and call ourselves beautiful. I think we should take our body, a vessel that our Creator gave us, and take care of it to the best of our ability. We are all genetically different – I think there is nothing wrong with trying to enhance our physical features so we can feel beautiful and confident in ourselves. What I do have a problem with is people telling us what is beautiful and what is not. I mean doesn’t “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder” still hold true?

  2. What bothers me is that with so many americans fitting the “curvy” body type why the heck can’t us curvy girls find clothes that look nice and fit us? Why do I walk through stores and see S/M/L only?

  3. Let’s just say that Hollywood, cosmetic organizations, and clothing lines all use women’s insecurities to sell women their “products.” Whether it’s weight gaining powders, breast implants, diet pills, curvy jeans, skinny jeans, spanks, women are constantly told what to look like. Maybe this is related to the fact that 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese, women today have very little self-esteem and are ready to buy in to anything that makes them feel good. It just so happens that the entertainment industry sees this and uses this to their advantage – hence the “curvy” movement. How many women do we see in our everyday life are as tall and emaciated as high fashion models? Little to none. How many women do we see in our lifetimes that are as perfectly proportioned as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, or Beyonce? Little. So we have a wide variety of women in between these ideals. Women who are either thin (very lean, flat chested, narrow hips, long muscles), average weight, overweight, obese, with apple, pear, inverse triangle shapes, or other figures. Some women have very athletic bodies: shoulders wider than their hips and/or very muscular. Where do they fit? So let’s stop HATING on SKINNY women and CURVY women. WE SHOULD BOYCOTT this so called movement and just ignore Hollywood because they don’t are what you women feel. They are not non-profit organizations!!!! THEY ARE HERE TO MAKE MONEY OFF OF YOU and I wish women would finally understand this! Stop hating each other.

  4. What an interesting perspective! It’s true that many people don’t realize that ‘curvy’ sets an entirely new set of standards that can be just as harmful to body image. Thank you for this interesting post!

  5. Really agreed with the article!

    I think it is waaaay too simplistic to state that somebody´s beauty is determined by what size they are. There are plenty of women who fit the criteria of obesity and have no trouble finding men as sexual partners. Different people are attracted to different types and it would even be a little offensive to men to say that they are only interested in one type of woman.

  6. Here’s the bad news–if you’re looking for men as sexual partners–yes, only certain parts of the female body are considered attractive when larger. I’m with Lidjia==we’re not all beautiful, even in our own oh! so special ways. That’s okay. Everyone deserves respect and courtesy, but we’re not all guaranteed romance, hot sex, or even admiration.

  7. Due to hormonal issues and genetics, I have big boobs for my size; I’m 5′, 34D, 30” waist, and 32″ hips. My guilty pleasure is Keeping Up With the Kardashians—but every time I watch that show I wish I had an hour glass figure with a tiny waist and voluptious “apple” bottom.

    Sometimes I think things like, “Mom had an hourglass figure, what happened to me?”

    I often feel “out of proportion” due to my boobish & boyish figure. Living in LA I see many petite, bodyish figures with out of proportion fake boobs tacked on. It’s not a look I like.

    More and more, with some brain training, I’ve grown to appreciate my breasts As they ARE–natural, amazing parts of my body that have a fundamental function–just a small part of the bio-mechanical, beautiful miracle that IS my body. Without this new perspective, (I’d feel most of the time thanks to the media/culture) that big breasts are just sexual objects ON my body that only serve as an invitation for others to comment on, ridicule, sexualize, consume, and own. Oh, yeah, and that I wish I had bigger hips and a smaller waist.

  8. Eeek! Lidija, what a very harsh unhelpful comment.

    There are plenty of people who find it REALLY REALLY HARD IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE to keep themselves in a ‘decent’ shape as you say. There are people with chronic illness, difficult lives, low incomes, lack of access, help and education. I don’t think it’s helpful OR TRUE to say these people (I am one of the indecently fat people of which you speak) are not beautiful in any way. Maybe not to you and your narrow expectations of beauty but to others and even to themselves, they are.

    Just for the record, I’ve always had a thing for Gorge Costanza, a hell of a lot more attractive than Jerry.

    Open your eyes and read more about the lives of others before you judge.

  9. Brilliant!!!

    Couldn’t agree more. I am constantly bothered by the curvy ideal. The perfect flat tummy with hour glass curve that the plus size models are, is NOT a representation of the majority of women. So the plus size models are just as unachievable as the ‘regular’ models for many women. I do think it’s better than nothing, but it’s still the same issue, women are assessed by their bodies, that perfection is still required of everyone.

  10. great post!!

    in an ideal world, yes, we all would like to be noticed despite whether our size, but sadly we are often made a laughing joke in society. why else do you think there’s no fat people in the bachelor? but regarding fat people are being overlooked, you forgot adele, she’s not your average britney or christina but she is recognised, well she must be since she had the honour of singing the lateset bond theme. another thing. why do they insist that fat people are often ugly and not noticed? if you want a true plu sized star, i won’yt say kim kardashian or beyonce are good ideas. what about queen latifah? she’s what you would call plus sized and she’s very well known!!

  11. I have a serious problem with people (read – women) trying to imply that ‘we are all beautiful’. We are not all beautiful goddamit, this is a fact of life, and if we were all beautiful, then the word beautiful would have no meaning and we would not know what ‘ugly’ means. When you look at people, you know who looks beautiful to you, and who does not. Don’t lie to yourself. Whatever the magazines tell you, when you see you’ve packed on another layer of flab around your stomach after delivering your baby (like I did), you don’t tell yourself ‘oh, I’ve become a new type of beauty!’ You tell yourself oh gawd, that looks unsightly. Because it does. We can try to blame the magazines and the fashion industry, but there is scientific evidence that clearly shows there are certain physical traits the opposite sex finds alluring – since the dawn of time. For men, it’s our waist to hip ratio. For us, I dunno, height, shoulder width, general strength. I don’t know a single woman – fat, curvy, flabby or otherwise – who drools over George Costanza and thinks Howard is the hottest character in Big Bang Theory. I absolutely agree that each woman should be respected and treated as more than just a dress size. But patting each other on the shoulder while digging into our jumbo tubs of ice cream and telling ourselves society needs to recognize that obese is a new type of beautiful is not doing us any favors. We should be self-confident and sensible enough to know that our worth does not come from our looks, that it is perfectly ok for there to be people who are far prettier than us, and that we have a responsibility towards ourselves – for reasons of health if not appearance – to keep ourselves in relatively decent shape. It’s not that tough. All this self-placating reminds of that new nonsense they are serving kids in school, about how ‘everyone’s a winner’. Not everyone’s a winner, life does not work that way. What we should be teaching them is that it is ok to not win every contest, and that self-worth does not come from being better than someone else.

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