The Hourglass Figure is Traditionally More Acceptable Than Other Plus Size Images — But Here's Why Body Shape Shaming Needs to Go
Whilst looking around at the plus-size community, I've noticed that the more celebrated bodies are the ones with the more hourglass proportions. I get it. We love our waists tiny and our hips and busts full. But are we truly body positive if we say "yassssss" to some body types but "nooooo" to others? I'm no stranger to the fact that marginalized communities tend to form hierarchies within themselves. Light skin versus dark skin; blue eyes versus brown eyes; masc versus femme. But I guess I thought the body positive movement was the one space that would be free of a self-imposed hierarchy.
In my little corner of the body positive world, I promote "healthy curves at every size" with my #PSPfit: plus size fitness challenge. A byproduct of following the #PSPfit way of life is that parts of my body have undergone changes, particularly obvious in the decreased size of my ankles and waist. And as my body has goes through these moderate changes and I have become a little less round and a little more traditionally "curvy," I'm noticing how much people are drawn to my [slightly] more defined waist.
Men at the gym are more flirty. Women comment on my "nice new shape." This photo on my Instagram got twice as much engagement as normal. I was wearing a simple t-shirt and jeans (OK, it was an awesome My Little Pony t-shirt, but I don't think that's the reason my followers were drawn in). Mostly, I had lots more people than usual telling me how great I looked.
The response caught me off guard since I've definitely posted more outstanding plus-size fashion outfits in my time as a blogger. A closer look at the photo, however, left me realizing that my waist looked a lot more defined than usual. Could this turn toward the more hourglass side of things be responsible for the many new admirers?
I'm no Kim Kardashian, so I asked my good friend Chastity, of GarnerStyle what she thought. I've seen comments on social media from girls who covet Chastity's shape, and I was curious to know how she feels about the hourglass hype.
According to Chastity:
"The body positive message can get misconstrued when people stop celebrating their body and instead, wish they had mine, but the grass is greener on the other side. For me, my body type doesn't agree with things like flying on a plane, so I'm jealous of apple shapes! I think true self-acceptance and the annihilation of fat shaming only will come when we change the way we think about our bodies, be them hourglass or apple, and accept the beauty in all body types."
In a post on hourglass shaped plus-size models being the only version of "plus-size" that we see in our media, writer, blogger and mental health professional Jes of The Militant Baker writes:
"I participated in a consumer study for a fashion company a year or so ago, and I remember sitting down at a table with a group of other plus women. We were handed 'flash cards' that had individual images of large bodied women and we were asked to sort them in order of social acceptability. The way they were sorted had nothing to do with their style, hair color, tattoos, or confidence, but rather how much they fit into the model ideal of the perfect hourglass woman. The most acceptable were larger versions of traditional models. The least acceptable leaned towards the square and apple shaped silhouettes. The conversation quickly turned into a discussion about why this was and it became very apparent that there is still discrimination even within the nontraditional body acceptance realm."
It isn't difficult to see that the more traditionally curvaceous version of the plus-size body, equipped with a tiny waist, full hips and a full bust is considered more appealing in the mainstream, and therefore more accepted amongst the majority of people. It's a beauty ideal we've seen transpose decades (just think of Marilyn Monroe).
What's unfortunate is that women are wishing they could have something that is nearly impossible for them to attain, when you consider that the hourglass figure is mostly down to genetics. As I mentioned in "Women of Color and The Myth of the Plus Size Pass," so much of what we're celebrating is simply down to an uncontrollable variable, otherwise known as genetic luck.
I've heard people who have lost significant amounts of weight speak about the different treatment they received from others as a "skinny" person. Something similar was happening to me as my body shape changed. I call myself an undercover hourglass because I do hold weight in my midsection, which hides the fact that my natural waist is much smaller than my hips. But the more defined my waist becomes, the more I can feel the increased general acceptance of my body. I'm discovering how much more my body is celebrated when there is a clear curve from my bust to my waist and then to my hips in comparison to when my gut is rounder and fuller. Meanwhile, tummy or no tummy, all I really care about is that I'm healthy, strong and living a full life. And that's definitely what I think we should be prioritizing over our waist-to-hip ratios.
Whilst I'm writing this, I can't help but think of the lyrics to the [supposedly] body positive anthem, "All About that Bass." When Meghan Trainor sings, "All the right junk in all the right places," I cringe a little. Because I guess I'd rather focus on the lyric that says, "Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top." And perhaps that's the lyric and the mantra we should all be focusing on instead of the trivial ranking (and shaming) of body shapes.
Images: Author; Chastity Garner; Giphy