Is "Curvy" A Compliment Or A Form Of Body Shaming?

by Gina Jones 2

In 2013, a survey conducted by plus size clothing brand Sonsi discovered that women prefer curvy over plus size as far as body descriptors go. For me, however, the opposite is true. Being called "curvy" feels like an insult — like a pedantic beating-around-the-bush phrase used by those wanting to avoid the word "fat." The issue isn't that I'm not fat, though. I am fat and I'm happy with that fact. The issue is that, well, I'm not particularly curvy.

When somebody calls me curvy, I feel like I'm not being the right kind of fat, simply because my body isn't shaping itself into the prescribed box of acceptable curves that society tends to promote. I hardly have any hips and my thighs aren't all that thick, but I do have a large tummy and even larger breasts. I'm top heavy, and that's OK. When I'm called "curvy," though, I feel like I'm being presented with the subtle implication that not having the curves to "balance" my body out makes me less beautiful.

There are so many different kinds of fat bodies in existence — bodies that don't adhere to the hourglass shape that often feels demanded of plus size women wanting to be accepted by the public. But body shaming includes body shape shaming. Although many women fit into the "big titties, big butt too" look that Nicki Minaj so whole-heartedly embraces, fat placement differs in every single body, and not everyone can or should have to fit into an archetype. A symptom of my polycystic ovarian syndrome is that most of my weight sits low on my stomach. Too often, I've stared in the mirror with shame as my hand traces what I lovingly nickname my "hip dip" — the space on my side between my stomach and my thighs. I don't have "curves in all the right places," but I do have curves in some places, and in others not at all. This doesn't make me any less right or worthy.

Not only does the term "curvy" arguably shame some larger ladies into questioning their body shape as well as their body's size, but the descriptor is also used almost exclusively towards plus size women, ignoring the curves and the feelings of thinner women in the process. Body shaming includes skinny shaming, but we all too often forget that. As someone actively involved in body positivism, it's not hard to see that the world of "fat" and the world of "thin" are sometimes pitted against each other. By only using the word curvy as a synonym for fat, or adopting ideologies such as "real women have curves," we exclude thin women with curves and shame those without them.

For me, the word plays into traditional beauty standards that subsequently make it harmful to all women as well. Whether people mean for it to do so or not, it plays into the conception that the "perfect" female figure is an hourglass woman who follows the big-breasts-no-waist-big-butt aesthetic and nothing more. When curvy was banned on Instagram, many people felt the decision was rooted in Instagram's issues with the female body. But IG also acknowledged the connection to "inappropriate content" — inappropriate content that's arguably surfaced because the word has been so removed from what it should mean. It's become a source of so much objectification and sexualization that when searching for it on your feed, all you will discover is (apparently) porn.

In a lot of ways, my feelings towards the word curvy are similar to my feelings about the #DropThePlus campaign, which argues for plus size models (and plus size women in general) to simply be called models and not be singled out for their larger physiques. Drop the Plus wanted to remove "plus size" from our vocabularies as a means to create more inclusivity. The campaign didn't acknowledge, however, that a lot of people actively embracing the label are also helping reclaim the word "fat." We're raised in a culture of critique, but "fat" is not a negative, and treating it like one can only cause harm.

Fat is not a dirty word: It's simply a descriptor of what a body is. "Curvy," however, only seems to describe a select few individuals whilst also being used as a synonym for "fat." Calling me curvy is not a compliment. It's a way to avoid what's directly in front of you: That I'm fat, but that you feel uncomfortable calling me as much because you still think fat is a bad word.

I'm all boobs and tummy and I love it.

I absolutely understand why some women would prefer to call themselves curvy over fat. For a lot of people, curvy holds positive connotations while fat only holds negative ones. If you've been taught to believe that "curvy equals good" and "fat equals bad," why would you want to prescribe for yourself the latter descriptor? Whilst curvy can feel like a good descriptor for some, however, it also feels damaging to describe yourself as something that you are not. Being fat may bring with it a multitude of sociocultural issues, but from my experience, pretending that you are anything else will only be detrimental to your wellbeing in the long run.

Personally, reclaiming the word fat was one of the most liberating choices of my life. When I refer to myself in this way and a friend feels that I'm being negative towards myself, I correct them. I'm not being negative. Societal standards of beauty have simply forced us into perceiving that. And when that friend refers to me as curvy? Well, I'll correct them as well, because it's just a cop out from acknowledging the fatness I don't have a problem with.

Images: Georgina Jones