Women’s preference for curves is nothing to be happy about

// 22 July 2009

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A new study by a food company has shown that British women now prefer to be curvy than thin. Apparently Kate Moss’ physique is much less desirable than that of Kate Winslet or Nigella Lawson. Laura Bryant, from the company that commissioned the survey of 2,000 women, said: “[British women] are more concerned about getting a curvy hourglass shape like their grandmothers instead of being the perfect size 10 which shows a marked shift in attitude from the 80s and 90s, when success and failure when slimming was benchmarked against fitting into certain sized clothes.”

Apparently this is some kind of triumph. However, the real question is why women still desire to have any other body shape other than that which they actually have. What is with the inability to accept one’s own natural shape – be it thin, thickset, or any other variation? Why do we continue to long for the shape that belongs to another woman, to measure ourselves up against the physique of celebrities or even friends?

Rather than holding it up as a victory that women prefer a curvier body, we should ask why any body shape is still seen by women to be more desirable than another. With all of the progress women have made, the way in which we relate to our bodies – as if they are this external thing to be moulded and dieted into which ever shape is in vogue at the time – is still stuck in a previous era.

The mindset that a certain body type is ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ while another is ‘good’ or ‘right’ is not only untrue, but dangerous regardless of whether or not that body type is smaller or larger. Yet we women encourage each other and are encouraged to make value judgments about our own bodies and the bodies of others. Surveys like this ask women which body they prefer or are inspired by, if we actually have any choice over our genetically predisposed body shapes.

There’s no doubt that the results of this research will be used to push more products which continue to appeal to women’s insecurities and fears about their body shapes and their desire to achieve someone else’s shape. The fact that it might be done using curvier women is no better than if it’s done using stick thin ones.

Please no more surveys of this kind. Let’s have some studies done into what needs to be done to eradicate women’s desire to compare and contrast ourselves with each other so we can get to the point where all know that there is no body which is better than another.

Comments From You

Karen // Posted 22 July 2009 at 5:42 pm

Hi, interesting article but can I just point out that when you are the “perfect size 10” but only exactly 5ft tall like me, it still causes people to ask when the baby’s due (!) . The number of salesmen in shopping centres that have tried to sell me something and then tried encouraging me to buy it by saying how wonderfully safe it is for pregnant women like me (AAARGGGHH!), if I had a fiver for every one, I wouldnt have to go to work. Somehow, some days I look in the mirror and think “yeah I’m an ok shape I suppose” and other days I just want to scream when I look at the “fat” woman looking back at me. My boyfriend loves my shape and is always telling me to ignore the media but it’s just getting more and more difficult. I have body dysmorphia on top of my depression which doesn’t help so I could cheerfully throttle salesmen some days! Why can’t I be beautiful like other girls I say, you are says boyf, cobblers I reply. Oh well!

John Varvatos // Posted 22 July 2009 at 7:05 pm

I think this article is a tad bit disingenuous.

You cannot just say be content with your ‘body shape”, when there are so many factors in determining your body shape. If you seat down all day, eat all you want, and never workout, I am pretty sure your body shape will not be your “natural” body shape. And if you workout every waking moment because you “enjoy it”, I can guarantee your body shape would also not be “natural”.

With the amount of processed foods we consume on a daily basis, we have strayed far from a natural diet to have natural body shapes!

Obesity is by no means healthy or natural, nor is anorexia. So rather than say “let women be content with their ‘natural’ body shapes”. It might be better to frame the statement as “let women be content with the body shape that comes with a ‘healthy’ lifestyle”. The emphasis on “Healthy”!

Lola Adesioye // Posted 22 July 2009 at 7:23 pm

I disagree John.

I am a naturally curvy woman. I have thick set thighs and a bottom. I could put on weight, but my shape would be the same, just larger. It does not matter how much I work out, I still have a bottom and I still have thick set thighs.

My sister is tall and lean, with long legs and a very straight-up-and-down figure. If she were to put on weight, she would be larger, but she would still have long legs and still be straight up and down.

Not all larger women have the same shape, nor do all thinner women. So your body shape is your body shape. My sister could never be curvy, and I could never be her physique. It’s physically impossible unless either or us have plastic surgery.

I am not talking here about weight, which is a different matter.

Rob M // Posted 22 July 2009 at 7:34 pm

I think this article is a tad bit disingenuous.

Nah, it’s not, man. She said ‘natural’ once, and qualified it – ‘genetically predisposed body shapes’ is right. Healthy or otherwise, overweight or under (however you want to decide upon what those are), unless you’re at the near-death extremes, you’re not gonna deviate that much from what you are.

So rather than say “let women be content with their ‘natural’ body shapes”. It might be better to frame the statement as “let women be content with the body shape that comes with a ‘healthy’ lifestyle”.

Nah, ‘twouldn’t. The latter’s still on about chasing a shape. The former’s grand, and doesn’t slightly suggest anything unhealthy.

Polly styrene // Posted 22 July 2009 at 7:59 pm

So when WILL your body shape be *natural* then John Varvatos? And what exactly makes it *unnatural*?

And most importantly – why is anyone else’s *health* your business? And why do only women have to be *healthy*?

Anyone who wants to obey John’s strictures may however be interested to find that the healthiest people are overweight….


Rob M // Posted 22 July 2009 at 8:09 pm

Anyone who wants to obey John’s strictures may however be interested to find that the healthiest people are overweight….


Um… No, that’s really not what that says. ‘Really not’ to the extent that it actually says the opposite…

John V // Posted 22 July 2009 at 8:13 pm

“‘Genetically predisposed body shapes’ is right.”

The assumption here is your genetic predisposition is completely independent of outside stimuli. That assumption is false. Go through different cultures, and you come to realize their “genetic predisposed body types” are invariably linked to their diet and their environment. Yes, their are differences among the people, but they mostly all converge to one specific body type. It is easier to observe this convergence of body type in different indigenous cultures.

“I am not talking here about weight, which is a different matter”

Once you mention shape and body type, most people will link it to weight. So to talk about body shape independent of weight really does not tell the full story. It just comes across as a sensational piece that really does nothing else but to be sensational.

And let us not forget, if your parents are obese, you are more predisposed to being obese. In the quest for accepting your ‘genetic predisposed body type” as is, should you sit back and be comfortable enough in your obesity not to pursue an healthy lifestyle? Look at the US for example, childhood obesity is at an all time high, which invariably makes most obese kids the same “body type”. Surely we should not find comfort in this as pure genetics.

You cannot remove the discussion of weight from body shape or type.

John V // Posted 22 July 2009 at 8:29 pm

I actually agree with the article, women should be comfortable in their own body types or shapes. I just do not believe we can actually talk about body types and shapes independent of weight in today’s culture.

To Pyrene,

Why is their “health” my problem?

In the same vain “why is their body image your problem”

Things like that take away from the conversation, they trivialize it. Which I am pretty sure was not the point of the article.

And I do believe men ought to be healthy too!

Jess McCabe // Posted 22 July 2009 at 9:19 pm

I agree completely, Lola, it’s no better for women to replace one beauty standard with another one.

Holly Combe // Posted 22 July 2009 at 9:38 pm

Exactly. I thought this Facebook group was a prime example:


Here’s the text for the group:

“The past few years have seen a change in fashion models. At last the Skinny model is being seen as hazardous and unhealthy. And rounder curvy types are making a come back all over the place.

We see magazine cover pages with photos of Catherine Zeta Jones, Salma Hayek or Jennifer Lopez proudly showing their generous curves. Curvy women such as Shakira, Beyoncé and Diam’s, are becoming more and more the new fashion icons.

However we are talking about boobs and bottom. Having a fat stomach is ugly and down right dangerous to your health. Being curvy is no excuse for being fat. Exercise and stop being lazy. after all ‘Curvy is hot, but fat is not.'”


Holly Combe // Posted 22 July 2009 at 9:45 pm

…Or, rather, it’s a prime example of one standard being replaced with another, alongside a stern reminder to not to get too ahead of ourselves and do anything really stupid like relax and stop trying to train our bodies to fit with some rigid ideal that isn’t compatible with every body type.

Rob M // Posted 22 July 2009 at 10:05 pm

In the quest for accepting your ‘genetic predisposed body type” as is, should you sit back and be comfortable enough in your obesity not to pursue an healthy lifestyle?

Yes. Yes, you should.

No, wait, sorry… No. It’s a “no” to that one.

It’s a semantic nothing, this argument, really, innit? Everyone agrees. The “healthy, obv.” bit is implicit as far as I’m concerned, and I think it’s odd to read it as being kind of actively absent. But imagine a *’natural’ meaning healthy, natch in there, and everyone’s chums. Hurrah!

Anne Onne // Posted 22 July 2009 at 10:10 pm

John, on the contrary, perhaps your reply is more disingenuous. It’s pretty clear that we’re not talking of whatever physique all of us would be on the archetypal Stone age hunter-gatherer diet. Even then we’d all be different shapes, since part of what we are like is down to our bone structure and propensity to lay on muscle as well as fat. I might get skinnier or put on weight, for example, but I will never have the fine bone structure of some women, or the thickset bone structure of others.

Evidently the argument isn’t that people should wallow in and try to maintain some theoretical anorexic or extremely morbidly obese condition if it is killing them. the argument is that one’s health is firstly their business not everyone else’s, and that secondly, people should not be pressured to hate their body in order to attain some perfect figure that they physically could not even with a ‘healthy’ diet and excersise.

And even if women could attain a particular physique with a lot of dieting and excersise, the point is that women should not be pressured to simply to fit someone else’s idea of beauty. A lot of men could have a reasonably toned body if they chose to spend a lot of time exercising and drinking protein shakes, but most men don’t get the same amount of pressure (nor should they!) telling them they are worthless, unsexy and unhealthy if they are anything other than chiseled.

Most people complain that smokers aren’t given enough rights to smoke wherever they want (ignoring that smoking actually hurts others who can’t avoid passive smoking), citing the fact that it’s their body and their choice to do something unhealthy if they wish. It’s true, so long as you don’t affect anyone else directly, you should have that right. Yet nobody ever applies this argument to weight.

By your definition, nobody has a natural body shape, since most of us eat processed foods to some extent, many of us lead a sedentary lifestyle, a lot of people have eating disorders, lots of people excersise, etc. Your definition of ‘natural’ would be that of someone living off berries and hunted game in the forest somewhere, theoretically like our stone age ancestors.

Obesity and anorexia are as natural as anything else in that they are physiological results of a combination of human behaviour or genetics. They’re a result of our genetics and hard wiring not adapting to a different habitat and different behaviour.

Yes, weight is more than just genetics. It’s about lifestyle, about the type of food someone eats, what they can afford, what kind of work they do, whether they drink or take drugs or smoke (the prior can add weight, the latter reduce), whether they have access to exersise facilities or ‘healthy’ food or have the leisure time to put this first. It’s often a class issue. But, a high weight, and even significant fat do not, in themselves mean someone is ‘unhealthy’, and someone being slim does not make them fit or healthy necessarily. Many of us, whatever size we are, are unhealthy or unfit to varying degrees. We all deserve support and resources so that if we choose to excersise and want to be healthy, we can do it. But nobody deserves to be judged by someone who does not know them over what they appear to be.

Fat may be a simple matter of calories in versus calories used, but how our bodies use calories is complex. Plenty of people in the ‘overweight’ category don’t actually eat much more than people who are ‘skinny’. They may exercise and may be physically fit and healthy, and still be overweight. It may just be that their metabolism is a lot slower. And how they choose to deal with that is their business. Considering the size of portions today, it’s sheer hypocrisy for someone skinny to eat whatever they feel like and expect someone with a slower metabolism to eat tiny portions so that they fit their image of what a person should be like. It’s just unrealistic to expect everyone but oneself to spend their whole life on a diet to look like a model. When no matter how skinny they might be, they just wouldn’t look like the ideal.

After all, they say that they who are without sin should cast the first stone. I’ll bet there are very few people who never treat themselves, never skip exercising, eat all the superfoods etc, and anybody who does can probably afford the best health care and personal training. Nobody has the right to judge someone else’s physique or bully them for being a shape that they personally do not like.

Obese people are people like anyone else. They know the facts. If someone is worried about their health and wants to make changes that will make them feel better and healthier in the long term, then good for them however much they weigh. But this is between them and their doctor or trainer. Most of the debate around weight isn’t moored in medicine/science, nor is it based around helping people with all sorts of diets, excersise regimes and body types feel healthy and find a sustainable lifestyle. It’s mostly about what size boobs and butt men are supposed to find most shaggable, and how far women are supposed to go to fit a physique that they could never physically manage.

Holly Combe // Posted 22 July 2009 at 10:42 pm

There are plenty of genetically predisposed body types that are socially viewed as somehow unfortunate and you don’t have to be “obese” to fall foul of fashion. As Lola said, one can get bigger or smaller but, essentially, have the same shape. That’s why all the enthusing about “curviness” is such a red herring, as far as I’m concerned. Some of us will never be “curvy” (regardless of whether we gain weight) without the aid of implants, some kind of bum-inflating wonderpants and a corset. Our bodies just don’t lay down fat in that way. Similarly, it’s no good for some silly Facebook group to tell women with tubby tums how bad they are in comparison to women with big bottoms because losing weight off their tummies won’t suddenly magically redistribute it onto their bums.

Anne Onne // Posted 22 July 2009 at 11:00 pm

Excellent points about how some of us will be ‘curvy’ and some not, no matter what we eat. Our figures are as much a result of our bone structure, how our muscles are laid down, and where our fat is predisposed to deposit as our diets and lifestyle. The physical ideal is impossible from this perspective for many people, so it does us no good to compare ourselves to people whose very bones etc are completely different to our own. Only by acknowledging that all bodies are different can we free people from the pressure to look like a narrow subset of bodies, whatever the type.

Also, our grandmothers didn’t all have Marylin Monroe figures, let alone ‘naturally’. Corsets, stays, girdles and the like are hundreds of years old and I doubt you can call their results ‘natural’. The idea that women in the past were all perfectly curvy or slim is a piece of ’50s nostalgia that never was.

sianmarie // Posted 23 July 2009 at 8:48 am

what anne one and holly said! and lola! can’t really write as eloquently on the point as they have.

as long as we have this voice above us telling us one shape (and this shape is always artificial really, we all know that most the celebrities cited as curvy aren’t that “big” really and spend a lot of time with personal trainers – they look curvy in relation to women like kate moss and misha barton…but most are still a size 10, such as kate winslet) is better than another shape then women will always be oppressed by being asked to engage in the neverending battle of attaining the “perfect” body. that this “perfect” body has changed is completely expected, to keep women on their toes about how we’re supposed to look. imagine how much time and energy women would have as a whole population if we (and i use the word “we” loosely) didn’t spend so much time and energy dieting, exercising, waxing, making up, dying our hair, etc etc. i really believe these are massive tools of oppression, as these drain women of the energy to fight bigger demons than calories.

i hate it so much! i will never be curvy, i’m just not built that way, and no one in my family is really built that way. apparently, according to the new headlines of what is the best shape, this means i am not a real woman as “real woman have curves”. it’s absurd! real women are women – whatever their body shape and however they look. being a woman is not dependent on having a fashionable body shape.

rant rant rant.

Mary // Posted 23 July 2009 at 10:36 am

John, you sound like you haven’t looked at women much. Me and my partner are both size 12: she’s got bigger boobs, slim hips, and amazing legs (honest: I’m not biased at all.) I’ve got smaller boobs, a very defined waist, and carry all my weight on my hips and bottom. She’s an inch taller than me and we weigh within 5lb of each other, but there are plenty of clothes we can’t share because actually a fairly limited supply of things fit both of us. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about different body shapes. And if you go up a few sizes, the differences in where people carry the weight is even bigger.

But basically, same old, same old. Women: focus on your appearance! Your appearance is the most important thing about you! You can achieve anything you want, as long as you don’t stray too far from the narrow confines of acceptable appearance whilst you’re doing it!

George // Posted 23 July 2009 at 2:16 pm

Whole discussion is very classist, ableist, ageist etc. Even with the best will in the world, these perfect figures (whether plump or slender) are usually only achievable by certain physically able women with personal trainers between the ages of 17 and 27 – but are still held up as the ‘healthy’ option. What are you going to do if you are 6 foot tall and stick thin, or in a wheelchair, or 82, or training to be a rugby player? Not much, is the answer.

Moreover, any discussion of “normal” bodies really should be discouraged, whatever the context. Similarly, I don’t think “healthy” should be used in this sort of discussion without a careful definition.

Holly Combe // Posted 23 July 2009 at 2:48 pm

George, there has been discussion about why these “perfect” figures are unattainable for so many of us (eg: genetic predisposition in terms of body fat distribution) but you’re right that reasons directly related to able-bodiedness and age were omitted. I think class is a harder one to pin down. All I can say is that I, for one, am certainly not coming into this discussion as someone who would be able to consider paying to go to the gym, getting a personal trainer or buying the finest food.

I think you’re absolutely right about the use of the word “healthy” but I’m not sure a discussion of “normal” bodies is being encouraged here. I’ll need to read through again to see if I missed anything but I think anyone trumpeting the idea that so-called “normal” bodies -whatever that means- are somehow better than non-standard, fat, thin, or muscular ones (etc) would have been challenged.

Saranga // Posted 23 July 2009 at 3:03 pm

This post and discussion has come at spot on the right time for me. After a good 10/15 years of thinking I’m too fat and (attempting to) diet I’ve finally decided fuck it, life’s too short. I have wide legs, I’m not obese and I’m healthy. Lola’s post has helped remind me that I’m not a freak. cheers!

Sam // Posted 23 July 2009 at 7:34 pm

John V, define “obese”.

I believe the usual standard given is BMI. A scale invented by a mathematician (who knew little about human bodies in an age where everyone knew a hell of a lot less than we do now) a couple of hundred years ago. How sensible for us all to be focusing our energy on becoming “healthy” by that standard. It’s frankly rather embarassing that medically advanced countries still judge the health of individuals based on an antique mathematic equation that makes no allowance for individual differences, but ho-hum, that’s a whole other debate.

The whole “health” argument is ultimately rubbish anyway. Unless you’re going to give people a barrage of medical tests, you will never be able to judge their health by their outward appearance or their weight alone. I’m sure my naturally skinny friends who eat nothing but fast food, biscuits and ice-cream are not doing so well on the health front, while those of us who grow and cook our own food and happen to be a bit larger are “unhealthy” based on ludicrous assumtions that automatically link weight & health.

But yes, it’s so much easier to say “There’s an OBESITY EPEDEMIC and we’re all DOOMED because we’re FAT and not HEALTHY!!!” Dun dun duh!!!

Lola Adesioye // Posted 23 July 2009 at 7:58 pm

Thanks for the discussions everyone… really interesting comments.

Sam – I agree with you. My BMI has always been in the upper range, but I am a UK size 10 – 12 and actually am healthy when it comes to things like lung capacity, blood pressure etc. And before the days of BMI, I was on the upper limits of weight. And I exercise regularly. But i have been on the upper limits of weight in my range since i was about 10.

My dad, who is v slim, has smoked for most of his life, drinks a lot of wine and has for the most part led a traditional African diet – lots of red meat etc. Yet, he doesn’t have health problems. So yes, even the concept of ‘healthy’ is hazy.

However, I do think people should aspire to be healthy if there is an societal idea (even if an artificial one) of that means.. but that’s different from body shape. a thin woman like my sister can be healthy and a curvy one like me can be healthy.

The idea that there is any one body shape that is ‘the best’ is what bothers me the most. Health has nothing to do with your body shape.

George // Posted 23 July 2009 at 9:12 pm

Holly – I think my comment was a directed towards other commenters, not towards you.

With respect to the issue of class – I don’t think that it’s particularly well-defined. I would shy away from generalisations, but I do think that people within lower income brackets probably have a harder time getting their superfood smoothies … I guess it just pays to be aware that not everyone can “just get healthy”, whatever that might mean.

polly styrene // Posted 23 July 2009 at 9:12 pm

Re: weight and class.

Now that high calorie food is plentiful, and cheaper than *healthy* food, it’s more likely that someone in a lower income bracket is going to be overweight than a middle or upper class person. So one reason being thin is prized is its association with higher social status. In the past of course the position was reversed – being thin was an indicator of poverty and low social status.

Interestingly though, people in higher income brackets have longer life expectancy now and also did in the past when poor people were thinner than rich people. So we shouldn’t assume that a correlation between increased weight and ill health (which only really exists for obese people anyway) means there’s also a causative relationship between weight and ill health. There are a lot of other potential factors at play.

Anne Onne // Posted 23 July 2009 at 9:40 pm

Props to George for a good summary of why it’s important to be careful about defining ‘healthy’ and avoid the term ‘normal’. And that for many people, exersising like a celeb simply isn’t an option. Not to mention that some people have dietary needs that may complicate things further.

What it all boils down to is that many people can’t realistically attain a certain body shape, some because they can’t try, others because even if they did they couldn’t, and that in the end, nobody should be aiming for an arbitrarily determined look any way.

Imagine if all this focus was on helping everyone (especially those who are differently-abled or have a lower income etc) work on their well-being and health and fitness and making facilities and support and healthy food more available, and on changing the relationship we as a society have with the food industry.

i hate it so much! i will never be curvy, i’m just not built that way, and no one in my family is really built that way. apparently, according to the new headlines of what is the best shape, this means i am not a real woman as “real woman have curves”. it’s absurd! real women are women – whatever their body shape and however they look.

LOL and if you DO have curves, they might not be the right sort of curves! Big breasts are good! Tummies are bad! Bums must be rounded! I’m reminded of the Shakesville post titled ‘Even Jessica Alba doesn’t have Jessica Alba’s body’ (and the rest of the ‘impossibly beautiful series, highly recommended), about how even the ‘curviest’ most ‘gorgeous’ celebrity women are taped and padded and Photoshopped to fit a standard that in reality nobody can.

It’s sad that it’s even worse than us all being supposed to aspire to the body shape very few women possess through no end of dieting and exercise and surgery, we’re supposed to aspire to a body shape that no woman actually has!

In reality, we shouldn’t have to. Many of us physically could never look like that, even with excersise, surgery etc, and we shouldn’t have to, or feel guilty for not putting in all that effort or hating ourselves for not fitting an image. I think Sianmarie has an excellent point: this is time and emotional resources women are expected to put into appearances that could be put elsewhere

I think Mary also shared an excellent example. I know most of the women I know are all shaped differently, even putting weight aside. Some have short legs, some have long. Some have flat stomachs, some don’t. Some have thickset joints, some have fine ones. Some have defined waists, some don’t. Some have wide hips, some don’t. Some have wide backs and shoulders, some have narrow backs and shoulders. Some have big breasts, some have small breasts. Some have long necks some have short necks. Some are sinewy, some are muscular, some are soft.

Nessa // Posted 23 July 2009 at 10:46 pm

Women everywhere finally decide stick thin isn’t healthy or desirable, so instead of settling and being apathetic, a new ideal is held, equally impossible to attain without work.

Women of course need to constantly be working to be something they’re not, otherwise patriarchy wouldn’t be patriarchy and we, like men, could be happy with just being the sex we are (and not the sex which is only valid if it satisfies male gaze).

Meg // Posted 24 July 2009 at 7:50 am

John, there is no one body shape* that comes with a healthy lifestyle. I am short with wide hipbones and ribs. I have small hips (strange eh) and thighs and medium breasts and a large stomach and bum. I have had this same basic shape since I was four, though of course over the years I’ve grown up and filled out. When I was a teen, I was extremely conscious of my weight, and dropped several pounds, though my doctor said I was healthy. I thought that at my “proper” weight, I would have a flat stomach, no love handles, a smaller bum. Like the pretty girls in porn and fashion magazines and billboards and movies and fitness ads and everywhere else in the media that “healthy” girls are shown. Instead, I lost weight evenly all over my body. At 120 or 150, my body is the same shape though it is a different size. I will never be curvy** or waifish, no matter how much weight I put on or take off, no matter what I eat or how much I exercise or what kind of exercises I do. I know because I’ve tried and failed and felt worthless as a result. People like you, who insist that there are certain shapes that embody a healthy lifestyle, certain shapes that are better than others, probably have no idea how much undue emotional pain you’re causing teenage girls who aren’t equipped to deal with your mistruths. But you are, and now you do know, so please knock it off. Thanks.

* Which most women know means shape, not weight. Sorry if you did not get the fashion mag ‘education’ of apple vs. pear vs. whatever other categories they felt like slotting us into that day, but people have been talking about shape and weight separately for decades at the least. There’s no need whatsoever for you to start conflating them now.

** Appropriately-curvy, that is. I have plenty of curves but I’m told they’re all in the wrong places.

Altaira // Posted 24 July 2009 at 5:25 pm

wow. it seems that a lot of the women reading this are overly sensitive.

I would never have thought that someone saying that women should just try to be healthy would cause such a stir.

I don’t believe that John ever said that there was one body shape that came with being healthy, only that health influences body shape.

I know that I personally become much more bottom heavy when I gain weight, and more evenly proportioned when I am more fit.

FYI. There IS an obesity epidemic. I work in the healthcare sector, and we see more and more kids and adults suffering from chronic metabolic illness associated with obesity.

I am not saying that heavier women cannot be healthy. I have several friends who are heavier, who eat well, and exercise, but prefer to maintain a larger body size.

It makes me really sad when women think that being a feminist means banding together towards anything that men say about their bodies, and not really listening to or thinking about their arguments.

I find a lot of these comments very reactionary.

Further, in response to this:

“Women of course need to constantly be working to be something they’re not, otherwise patriarchy wouldn’t be patriarchy and we, like men, could be happy with just being the sex we are (and not the sex which is only valid if it satisfies male gaze).”

Have you even talked to a man lately?? Men have just as many insecurities about their bodies as women do. They worry about their hair, and their skin, and whether or not a certain pair of pants makes their ass look fat. I am not a man, and I am perfectly happy just “being the sex [I am]”. But maybe that has to do with the fact that I take very good care of my health, and have pretty good self confidence… which is really what it comes down to.

Meg // Posted 25 July 2009 at 12:19 am

Altaria, if you reread, John DOES say that there is one healthy body type, and he says it explicitly:

“The assumption here is your genetic predisposition is completely independent of outside stimuli. That assumption is false. Go through different cultures, and you come to realize their ‘genetic predisposed body type’ are invariably linked to their diet and their environment. Yes, their are differences among the people, butthey mostly all converge to one specific body type. It is easier to observe this convergence of body type in different indigenous cultures.” (emphasis mine)

This has nothing to do with ganging up on the poor men and everything to do with bad ideas that are harmful to women.

polly styrene // Posted 25 July 2009 at 12:19 pm

I would never have thought that someone saying that women should just try to be healthy would cause such a stir.

Altaira (and everyone else who pushes the women should just try to be healthy line) – three things.

1)*women should be healthy* is code for *women should be thin*. End of. I’m fat, I’m also healthy. But I bet John would still tell me to lose weight in case I *develop* a weight related disease. I wonder if he spends as much time telling thin women who smoke or use cocaine about THEIR risks of heart disease.

2)Health is a privilege. Not a choice. Not everyone HAS the choice to be healthy. Saying everyone should be healthy is deeply ablist/body fascist.

3)Even if you DO have the choice to be healthy, your body is your own, not anyone else’s. And you can also make the choice to be unhealthy. And bear in mind please that a lot of “unhealthy” behaviours are in fact coping strategies.

Alex // Posted 25 July 2009 at 4:31 pm

Like others have said, body shape is constrained by skeletal structure, lose/gain all the weight you want, your bone structure is not going to change.

I’ll never be what’s considered “curvy” as my chest and hips measurements are almost identical,even though my waist is smaller so I sorta have curves…I really do!

What’s equally troubling is that people are refusing to admit Britain has a weight problem. The *average* dress size has increased to a size 12 in the past 10 years, absolutely nothing normal about that.

I’d hate to see the UK follow the US example – meh we’ll just make the clothes bigger but still call it a size 10.

Nessa // Posted 25 July 2009 at 7:39 pm

Alteira, hardly reactionary – you either believe women live under male gaze or otherwise.

I know girls/ women who say ‘Oh feminists! I’m a self confident female.’ Yet they adhere to standards set for them as women and wouldn’t dream of doing different. (If you listen closely I’m not attacking men. Feel free to further argue for their side and perceived lack of privilege.)

Karen // Posted 25 July 2009 at 11:02 pm

Sorry Altaria but I have to agree with Polly and Meg because my mental health is crap and as a result my hormones are all over the shop. I got down to and tried to maintain size 8 to go nicely with my exact 5ft height and I just could not maintain it, even though I still dont eat that much and am reasonably active. I just cant do that thin thing, believe me, I tried. And you know what, the tempoarary state of thin didnt make me happy, or improve my depression, I cracked again and bloody nearly got sectioned and have been in therapy ever since. The only thing I have done is change my aa boobs (fine if you like them) to c’s to try to counteract my natural stomach shape that I mentioned in my first post that causes all and sundry to offer congratulations because they’ve been looking at too many doctored porno images where a body like mine is a no-no and indicates pregnancy (duh!). I did it because I wanted to, not to conform or because it would answer all my mental health problems because a boob job wont. It’s like the false promise of happiness that goes with being thin/attractive/sold the latest designer shite. Happiness, true happiness is a state of mind, not body image. Sadly, not all people see that and fall for the ads that promise free happiness with every mascara, trip to weight watchers etc. Sorry to go on but as someone with the aforementioned clinical depression and body dysmorphia, people telling me that actually I can help it and just get off my apparently lazy arse and just ignore my depression because it will go away, sorry but there are too many ad people trying to tell me that already. And I’m not listening to them. Actually yes I’m size 10, I’m 5ft, got a little bit of a belly, part time goth and my therapy, after 5 years, is working. Fuck the bloody media, I’m ok, they’ve got bigger problems than me these days.

Rachel // Posted 26 July 2009 at 8:28 am

And of course when a woman gets pregnancy and has a child her body will change, usually to something considered definitely not acceptable – the dreaded flabby tummy for a start. So there are plenty of women out there who have put on weight, got a tummy etc etc as result of doing something completely ‘natural’ – ie have a baby.

I am 38 weeks pregnant and have been astounded by the number of people who have given me advice on how to get my pre-pregnancy body back once I’ve given birth. Because obviously no woman in her right mind would actually embrace the changes in her body that are the result of growing and nurturing another person for 9 months. Because obviously a woman’s body is mainly there just to be objectified by men…

What is possibly even more remarkable is all the advice that says that it’s a really good idea for a woman to make time for herself once she’s had the baby, and do things ‘for herself’ and to make herself ‘feel good’ (this is itself not a bad thing obviously…), and that these things usually involve measures to improve the way she looks – make overs, fitness regimes etc. As for me, I was thinking more along the lines of making time to eat cake ;-)

I’m really worried that I’m going to struggle to resist the pressure to worry about my postnatal body, but I’m really hoping I’m going to be able to see the changes as a reminder of how amazing my body, and women’s bodies more generally, are (any advice about *this* gratefully received!)

Ruth // Posted 26 July 2009 at 12:07 pm

“What’s equally troubling is that people are refusing to admit Britain has a weight problem. The *average* dress size has increased to a size 12 in the past 10 years, absolutely nothing normal about that”

So someone who is a (UK) size 12 (yes, like me, and I’m only 5 ft 1, what a whale) *obviously* has a ‘weight problem’, and isn’t ‘normal’, but is refusing to admit it. Yeah, right. Must be why I haven’t had a day off sick in 3 years (last time was throat infection btw, my joints didn’t give way under all the lard). Must see my GP right away.


polly styrene // Posted 26 July 2009 at 12:10 pm

“What’s equally troubling is that people are refusing to admit Britain has a weight problem. The *average* dress size has increased to a size 12 in the past 10 years, absolutely nothing normal about that.”

WTF????? Size 12 is NOT OVERWEIGHT. If I was size 12, I’d think I’d died and gone to skinny land. When I last WAS size 12, I had a BMI of about 23 – which is well in the so called *normal* range (even though as I’ve pointed out before you actually have the longest life expectancy if your BMI is 26-30).

I’m now size 18, my blood pressure is fine, I have it tested regularly, and I don’t have diabetes or any other weight related illnesses. My mother, who was never over a size 12 except when she was pregnant, had high blood pressure and heart disease. She DID smoke up until the age of 45 though. And also was born into a very poor working class environment.

Anne Onne // Posted 26 July 2009 at 3:53 pm

FYI. There IS an obesity epidemic. I work in the healthcare sector, and we see more and more kids and adults suffering from chronic metabolic illness associated with obesity.

There’s also a drug epidemic. There’s an increase in stabbings and shootings. A sexual health crisis. An alcohol problem. A poverty problem. A Smoking problem. An ageing population with cancer as a huge concern. A Swine Flu pandemic. And pregnancies, which also affect one’s health in many ways.

There are many choices people make which can increase their health risks. Many issues people can be worrying about. Funnily enough, it’s nearly always fat that people obsess about. There are many which are also affected by their socioeconomic background or age. But funnily, despite the fact that smoking and drinking are probably worse for you than being a bit overweight, people are much quicker to criticise fat people than those who smoke and drink. Nearly everyone argues that smokers have a right to smoke. Why do fat people have less claim to respect just because some people find it unsightly?

Besides, if you work in health, then you know that someone’s weight and excersise regime is between them and their doctor and anyone else they choose to share it between. It’s not some stranger’s god-given right to harrass them about it, yet many people have no problem attacking ‘overweight’ people in a way they don’t smokers or people who drink or take cocaine etc.

Juliet // Posted 26 July 2009 at 4:49 pm

Anne Onne and Pollystyrene, EXACTLY.

Alex // Posted 26 July 2009 at 6:43 pm

Average , not personal, dress size we are talking about ~28 million women.

If the average size has increased, the nation as a whole must have gained weight as I’m absolutely positive the overwhelming majority of 28 million women haven’t experienced a growth spurt recently.

polly styrene // Posted 26 July 2009 at 8:02 pm

Alex: the average dress size may well have increased (though I’ve read it’s a 16 not a 12, so I’d like to know where your statistic comes from). That still doesn’t mean that someone of size 12 is overweight though.

I know that if I was a size 12 my BMI would be about 23 -I’m about 5′ 5″ and I’d have to drop to about ten stone to be a 12. Although that could vary depending on how people distribute body fat, I think it’s very unlikely that anyone who’s a 12 would have a BMI of over 25, which means they’re not even officially overweight.

Some years ago, a size 12 was the standard size for a model. I remember a girl I went to school with doing modelling for clothes catalogues – she’d be considered hefty and massively overweight now, when models are a size 4. The “acceptable” body size for women is getting smaller, not bigger.

You also have to bear in mind that as a population we’re getting taller on average. And you’d expect taller people to have larger frames.

Alex // Posted 26 July 2009 at 10:42 pm

The answer to what is the average dress size in Britain depends on who you ask and when. I double checked, some legitimate sources say 12, some 14 and laypeople say 16….which is the case in the US, but they are heavier, and shorter, than Britons.

I have heard this sited multiple time in multiple sources, including fashion magazines, so I’m going with it.


The average British woman today is 5ft 5in, an inch taller than 50 years ago; her bust and hip measurements have grown by an inch and her waist by 6½in. She has grown from a size 10 to a size 12.

As for tall girls, I’m 6’1 and a size 8/10. Like many tall girls, I’m not scaled proportionately scaled to my height.

I dunno what it is maybe there is some threshold as really girls, 6’3+ , do tend to have proportionally scaled frames.

polly styrene // Posted 27 July 2009 at 8:20 am

Well according to the ever reliable (sarcasm) Daily Mail Alex, the average dress size is not only a 16, but (WTF somebody wanted to survey this?) size 16 women are as happy as size 10 women.


I’m not attacking you personally (some people are naturally very slim, I used to be one of them) and I don’t know your BMI is – you can find out at the BBC here http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/healthy_living/your_weight/bmiimperial_index.shtml

But being underweight is as much of a health problem as being overweight. Very low weight women have a much increased chance of developing osteoporosis, among other things. The chance is Alex, not only are you probably no more healthy than a size 12 or size 14 or size 16 woman, you could actually be less healthy.

hmc // Posted 27 July 2009 at 8:48 am

“As for tall girls, I’m 6’1 and a size 8/10. Like many tall girls, I’m not scaled proportionately scaled to my height.

I dunno what it is maybe there is some threshold as really girls, 6’3+ , do tend to have proportionally scaled frames.”

I am 5’11” ish, and a size 12. Most people would probably estimate that I am a size 8/10 because I look slim and those are supposedly the ‘nice slim’ sizes. However, when I was really a size 8 I was dangerously underweight and my periods had stopped. I think this goes back to what has been said further up the thread – everyone has a different shape. It is ridiculous to suggest that (most/all) tall women are naturally really thin – unhelpful, in fact, since most of the tall women we see in the media etc are models and therefore perpetuate the idea that tall people should be disproportiately thin.

JenniferRuth // Posted 27 July 2009 at 9:05 am

Just checked my BMI – it’s 21.9

I’m wearing size 12 jeans.


Mary // Posted 27 July 2009 at 11:51 am

The population’s average age has increased too, Alex, as has the average age at which women first have children. Both of these things will affect the average size and shape of the female population, but neither of them tell you anything about an obesity epidemic or the population’s relative health.

Denise // Posted 27 July 2009 at 1:46 pm

BMI has long been discredited because it doesn’t take into account body composition. Muscle is denser than fat, so a BMI chart could classify you as overweight when you’re not, and in fact it was wrongly classifying many athletes as overweight because their bodies were composed of more muscle than fat.

The important thing is distribution of body fat. It’s been shown that health problems are more likely when fat accumulates around the abdominal region. Women with a waist measurement of more than 88cm (35″) and men with 102cm (40″) can be more at risk for cardiovascular/metabolic diseases.

It’s not what you weigh, it’s where the fat gathers.

Alex // Posted 27 July 2009 at 4:08 pm


Most BMI calculator do not account for frame size, so I’m always considered underweight, that’s what I mean when I I say I’m not scaled to my height. Dad is lean at 6’3 and has a 42″ chest, I’m lean and 6’1 but my chest is only 33″. If I was proportionate to my height I’d have a 36″ or 38″ chest.

Dress size does not account for height, it’s chest-waist-hips, so going up in size in the same line/brand only makes them wider *sigh*, most of my sleeves fall short and supposedly knee length skirt are more like mid-thigh.

Jehenna // Posted 27 July 2009 at 5:11 pm

Dress size is also inconsistent between manufacturers and styles of garments.

I have a size 20 jumper that fits very snugly but normally I wear size 14 tshirts, which are a little loose.

So am I a size 14 or 20?

I’m neither. I’m a human being that chooses clothes that look nice on me and doesn’t give a toss about the size or the BMI.

On a good day, anyway. On a bad day, I’m refusing to even try on the clothes because I know I’m going to feel fat and hideous no matter what size I’m trying on.

That’s fat and hideous, not unhealthy. There is a very big difference.

JenniferRuth // Posted 27 July 2009 at 5:41 pm

Jehenna makes a really good point. What does “the average womean is a size 12” mean when a size 12 is a different size every shop you go too?

Anna // Posted 27 July 2009 at 6:31 pm

Dress size is stupid; I’m from size 4 (the ever-hyped size zero) to a size 8 in most shops, sometimes a size 10, and in one shop I’m a size 16. So yeah. I’m either anorexic or overweight, if you’re going by size. One wonders if it’s time to standardise it a bit..

Lilly // Posted 27 July 2009 at 8:01 pm

I’m quite sure (but not 100% sure…) that this site has been mentioned on The F-Word before, but it’s still great:


Many of them leave you speechless…

polly styrene // Posted 28 July 2009 at 7:36 am

Denise I agree with you about the problems with BMI, but it is still widely used. What I was trying to illustrate is that if you’ve got a low body weight you shouldn’t be assuming you’re healthier than someone bigger than you. For instance Jennifer Ruth (despite being a size 12!) is at the low end of what’s considered the “healthy range”.

HMC illustrates this by talking about her periods stopping when her weight dropped. Unfortunately a lot of women who’ve had eating disorders will develop quite serious osteoporosis as a result – so we’re not doing women any favours healthwise by making them feel they have to maintain unnaturally low body weights as the media does. Most of the women we see in the media are in fact underweight and women who are perfectly healthy are called “fat”. Like this ridiculous article in the Mail last week about a woman who was “ashamed of pigging out” to be a huge size 14 (sarcasm).


NB I do realise that eating disorders have complex origins and aren’t just to do with “dieting”, but there’s far too much pressure on ALL women to be underweight, never mind “healthy”.

polly styrene // Posted 28 July 2009 at 8:22 am

On the subject of the problem with “health”, here’s a really brilliant piece by Amananta.


Oh and a shameless plug for a piece I wrote a while ago on the same subject.


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