I am re-posting this fun counterfactual in honor of October 19th Love Your Body Day. Crossposted at Jezebel.
I was thinking the other day about fashion advice for women with different body types. The advice is almost always aimed at getting women’s bodies, whatever shape they might be, to conform with one ideal body type: the (skinny) hourglass figure. The advice video below, sent in by Tara C. and aimed at women with “pear-shaped” bodies, does exactly this (excerpts and commentary after the clip):
So, the advice, as I mentioned, is all about trying to hide the shape of her actual body and make it appear to be more hourglass. To “transform it into an hourglass,” they say:
- “slim your hips and thighs”
- “draw attention to the upper part of your body”
- “balance your figure” with shoulder pads
- “a roomy top will de-emphasize your bottom”
- “offset your hips”
- “avoid side pockets, they add bulk where you least need it”
I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where the fashion industry encouraged us to “emphasize” our differences from one another, instead of trying to make us all look the same. If you were pear-shaped, for example, the advice would be all about highlighting that awesome booty and tiny waist and shoulders. Work that pear-shape!
If you were broad-shouldered and thin-hipped, the advice could all be aimed at broadening your shoulders (shoulder pads and fancy necklines) and thinning your hips (dark colors and no pockets)! Work that triangle-shape!
If you were apple-shaped, advice would be aimed at looking rounder with even skinner arms and legs. Work that apple-shape!
If you were petite, advice could be aimed at looking smaller; if you were tall, advice could be aimed at looking larger.
If you had short legs, advice would tell you how to elongate your torso; if you had long legs, advice would tell you how to shorten it.
I think this would be a super fun world to live in.
Title slide image from Lemon Drop Clothing.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Meems — April 5, 2010
It's very hard to get away from cultural (and perhaps biological) body type ideals. Something you don't really address is personal comfort. I'm somewhere between "hourglass" and "inverted triangle," not due to having broad shoulders, but because I'm large busted. I don't emphasize my chest because it draws some very uncomfortable attention, and I prefer to have men look at my face when I'm speaking to them.
Soyini — April 5, 2010
Most advice tells women to de-emphasise their hips, bottom and thighs. But I'm Afro-Caribbean and for us having big bottoms, hips and thighs are a plus. While it doesn't solve the problem for some women, in particular those who don't fit into this category, it does give me a unique perspective with with to view Western Beauty ideals.
Meg — April 5, 2010
From what I remember reading, and I apologize for not taking the time to look it up to share, there are biological/evolutionary reasons why people tend to prefer the look of hour-glass women (all else being equal), whether the fashionable look is for a slim hour-glass or a more curvy one.
However, I do very much like the idea of playing up differences and my own preferences tend to vary from what I find the supposed "ideal".
I say, that, though as someone with an hourglass figure. So, perhaps mine is a case of the grass looking greener on the other side of the fence.
Lizzzzzzzzz — April 5, 2010
Michelle Obama has flaunted her pear shape and come under fire for it. There's one specific outfit from last year that I heard several comments about, but I am unable to find it just now.
K — April 5, 2010
I wish we could stop using the word "skinny," which has moderately negative connotations and implies that someone is underweight. I think all of our words for body shapes carry positive or negative connotations, depending on how well they match our current beauty standard. But why not use a word with a mildly positive connotation, like "slim"?
Jess — April 5, 2010
I'm not sure I like the parallel they draw at the end between full-figured and pear-shaped. They are definitely not the same thing.
Suzanne — April 5, 2010
I love the addition at the end about how men with 'fuller' partners are less likely to stray--according to one study. Whew! My mind has been put at ease.
Jess — April 5, 2010
I wandered a bit on youtube, and found that the apple-shaped video is even worse. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsufPCUJnNU&feature=related
It shows you how to create "the illusion of a waist" (because apparently apple-shaped people don't have waists?). And worry not, waistless apple-shaped persons, "being a bit thick around the middle is easy to disguise". Phew! Good thing I can camouflage my unsightly "thickness", now.
Then it ends with a fun little anecdote about how the world's smallest waist is the size of a jar of mayo. In a video aimed at people who are self conscious about their waists not being small enough. Good job, howcast.
And I thought torso and stomach were two distinct things? They don't seem to differentiate them.
JoyfulAnn — April 5, 2010
I feel like I may count as a pear shape (bigger thighs and rear, slim waist, small breasts), but to me that woman they were dressing did not look like a pear shape, she looked like a classic model figure with a small bottom. I don't know, it just made me kind of sad that they didn't use a women with fuller hips as an example of how to dress women with fuller hips. I really doubt that model they were using had a hip circumference 10 inches or greater than that of her waist.
I suppose it should bother me more how much society tries to teach me the proper way to "hide" my figure so that I more closely resemble the hourglass ideal, but it doesn't because personally I think that I do look better when I "balance" out my figure with flare jeans and wear dark colored bottoms.
The quote at the end, that did irritate me though. Is that supposed to make me feel good? They had just stated that the average American woman has 42 inch hips, so who qualifies as having "fuller" hips, women above that average?
cmb — April 5, 2010
my friends and i actually do this. we think we look better together when we look very different. conformity is for zebras.
Allison — April 5, 2010
But if everyone were encouraged to dress for their body type, and emphasize their appleness or peariness or triangletude, then we'd probably just turn it into conformist rigid shape roles. Then we'd have apples who wanted to dress like pears being ridiculed for being trans-shapers.
Imagine coming home and finding your pear-shaped child wearing apple-bottom jeans--it's just a phase, right?
Top-Tri magazine asks, "Does your triangle boyfriend act like a pear? Take our quiz! Plus: the girl who burned her shoulder pads!"
(PS I like the multi-shape-accepting world idea... just saying we'd probably find some way to mess that up too.)
joanna — April 5, 2010
How the hell did you guys ignore that last part?! "Men with fuller figured partners are less likely to stray...according to one study." I think I'm going to be sick.
Sue — April 5, 2010
"I think this would be a super fun world to live in."
-- I do too, in theory, and I've tried to imagine it in the past, but I confess, I'm too brainwashed to fully imagine it.
--It should be pointed out that although the standard is much more draconian for women (as always), there is a male physical ideal, too, and having a big butt and scrawny chest are not part of it.
--The advice in the video was a pretty standard. A slightly less insulting way of conveying the same advice that I've read is to "choose clothes that more or less follow the shape of your body." To me, an A-line dress or an empire waist is more flattering on a pear-shaped woman than a nipped-in waist or a peplum.
But as I said, I'm brainwashed.
Megan — April 5, 2010
Wow this is strange. My fiance and I were just talking about this last night. I was looking at an article about finding the right swimwear for your body shape. I do have an hourglass figure, but there are still certain parts of my body i would like to emphasize and certain parts i would like to draw attention away from. they didnt have any advice for me. but we were laughing at it becuase it was basically like "you have an ass? here's how to hide it. oh you dont have an ass? here's how to make one. you have narrow hips? here's how to make them look wider. you have wide hips? make them narrow!" if felt like thy were saying your body is all wrong, no matter what it looks like. you can never be right, but you can pretend by buying all this shit ! we were laughing and making fun of it, because sometimes thats all you can do to keep from crying.
Liz Beetem — April 5, 2010
Hah, I thought of this when I watched the most recent Project Runway episode. One of the designers made a dress with ruffles around the butt area and they repeatedly criticized it by saying 'NO woman wants her butt to look bigger or to look like she has a big butt.' And then the guest judge who was Jessica Alba agreed and talked about how she dresses to downplay her butt.
My boyfriend and I were disgusted. I am slim but I used to do a lot of squats which gave me a curvy bum. Then when I got too busy to keep up the workout routine I got a little more fat which made it even bigger. I prefer myself more slender and muscular and I want to get rid of it. But my boyfriend thinks it's hot, and other people think it's hot too.
And they sell products to make your butt look bigger! And there are songs about how much people like big butts. I realize it's a show about the fashion industry where they have an incredibly narrow perception of beauty but it's still an insane thing to claim. They could have said 'runway model' but instead they made it a big ugly universal lie designed to make women self-hating.
Alexicute — April 5, 2010
I always found if funny that all advice seems to be about how to create an hourglass, but I am actually naturally an hourglass shape and NOTHING fits me right! Shirts always fit on the shoulders but not round the waist, and pants always fit round the bum but at too loose on the waist. Even when you have the proportions others are supposed to want it still doesn't work. There is no ideal in the fashion industry!!
justa — April 5, 2010
for instance, i'm lanky with a flat butt, relatively few curves, super skinny legs, a pot belly, D cups, and slightly buck teeth (thanks to never wearing the retainer my parents bought years ago). i'm sure those 'fashion advice' folks would have all kinds of advice for me, but they can go piss up a rope--i like my body just fine and i don't give a fuck about anyone who has anything bad to say about it. i think it's not a coincidence i have people tell me on a regular basis "i just don't know how you pull it off--you look good in EVERYTHING you put on!"
Chenoa — April 5, 2010
I was shopping for jeans at Kohls last week. I hate wearing jeans, but I am working in a research lab, where jeans are the ONLY appropriate dress - anything nicer would get ruined. I had only bought used jeans recently - at least since I grew out of the "Juniors" section - and only Gap jeans because they're the only brand that fit me well (but jeeze, so expensive).
So I don't know if this is a department-store "low-end" jeans thing, or just a recent thing, or what, but I was so mad that I couldn't find any jeans that fit my body and DIDN'T have a "belly-slimming panel" or didn't advertise to slim my thighs or whatever. I was thinking, PLEASE, I know that size 10 isn't a "perfect American body," but let me be OK with it without telling me on the label of my jeans that I need to make my body look smaller. I mean, probably they had the same thing in size 2, so I doubt they were making a statement about the size. I just thought it was RIDICULOUS that it is so hard to find affordable jeans that DON'T modify your fat distribution.
linsey — April 5, 2010
I just want to live in a world where pants have pockets because they are useful. I miss being a smaller size primarily because men's clothes no longer work for me. I long for durability, consistent sizing (including length!) and practical, comfortable features. Sigh.
Megs — April 5, 2010
If the average American woman is pear shaped, why is this not the ideal body shape? Why is the ideal standard of beauty that which a minority of women are?
Celena — April 5, 2010
My sister is quite thin and I'm quite large. I see daily the challenges we both face. We're not in a contest to see who's got it worse... we turn to each other for support because we both understand what its like to be judged by your appearance. I wish I saw the same here.
Meems — April 5, 2010
I'm moving this down here because it's getting too difficult to follow above.
My intent wasn't to say that privilege is all about money, and I don't believe that's what I said. In the case of food, however, much of it IS about money. It's about money in that people have the money to afford "healthier" foods and it's about money in that affluent neighborhoods tend to have more access to these foods. Of course there is some level of choice available to nearly everyone, at least in the United States, but food choices are also based on more than just cost and availability - convenience comes to mind, and that is often a socioeconomic issue as well.
What was the point of your passive-aggressive comment about making assumptions? I haven't made any, so there's no reason to mention it in a post directed at me.
No physical description is completely objective. To someone who is a size 2, I may look fat; to someone who is a size 20, I may look thin. I consider myself somewhere in between. Regardless of the ambiguity, the term "overweight" is problematic because 1. You can't go around advertising your body fat percentage any more than your BMI, so our physical descriptors of other people are all based on visual assessment and no actual knowledge of weight/body fat/BMI, and 2. It's not a matter of exact body fat percentage (or any other) measurements. Individual bodies have individual stasis points, and some of those will fall outside what is considered "normal" weight. Just because someone is over a relatively arbitrary definition of normal doesn't mean that they are over the healthy weight for their body.
Taking one measurement and saying "yep, you're overweight" has very little medical value, and I've rarely encountered a doctor who took issue with my weight. They know I take care of myself and that I'm healthy; this is the weight my body wants to be, regardless of where on the scale/spectrum I fall.
Of course I know that the term "fat" is usually used judgmentally. I don't live in a cave. The point of using the word as a neutral descriptor, rather than in insult, is to reclaim it is a simple descriptor.
By the way, the only time in my life I was in the "normal" range, I had some extremely disordered eating and exercising behaviors. It was the only way I was able to maintain a weight that was, in reality, far too low for my body. We aren't statistics; we're individuals, and our health isn't determined by global statistics.
You can describe yourself however you want. That's your choice.
Charlotte — April 6, 2010
Nice HETEROSEXUALS ONLY tag at the end there. But what body size do lesbians feel more committed to???
Also, cue slew of "don't try to be skinny, because we [dudes] like you the way you are!" comments.
Gen — April 6, 2010
Except...in the hypothetical system you propose, women are still schooled on how to look. Just in a different way? Doesn't sound fun to me. At all.
Really what we need to do is stop schooling women on a 'right way', full stop, surely?
Village Idiot — April 6, 2010
I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where the fashion industry encouraged us to “emphasize” our differences from one another, instead of trying to make us all look the same.
It would be like the famous Cantina scene on Tatooine in the movie Star Wars, but hopefully with fewer firefights.
"I feel like I'm Han Solo, and you're Chewie, and she's Ben Kenobi, and we're in that fucked up bar!" (quoting Jay from Dogma). Yup. It'd be like that. In some places, it already is! In all seriousness, it's such a famous scene because most people seem drawn to the idea, like they'd love a chance to hang out there some time.
I don't know about 'fashion,' but the apparel industry has an interest in fitting as many people as possible into as few sizing categories as possible simply as a means of lowering manufacturing costs. So, unless we all want to learn to make our own clothes, or at least modify them as a means of self-expression, most of us will be stuck with what's offered on the rack.
Conformity at many levels is the compromise we made when we collectively decided we wanted our society to be a convenience-at-all-costs rocket-sled technotopia; not much time to grow our own food, make our own clothes, meet and talk with the neighbors, keep in touch with old friends, or turn our clothing into a self-expressive declaration to the world that we love being us if we're busy moving as fast as we possibly can (hauling ass?) towards nothing in particular.
Some cultures are built for traction and some are built for speed, but we can't have both at the same time which is why ours has been steadily losing traction in proportion to our rate of acceleration. And that's directly related to the types and size ranges of clothing we find in stores (it's [b]all[/b] connected, of course).
Kehh — April 6, 2010
Personally, I try to ignore all the normalized rules for dressing body shape as often as possible. I choose clothes by gut reaction, going for colors and patterns I like, or details that catch my eye. From there I try it on and just go with what I feel comfortable in, fit or visually-wise.
I'm an extreeeme pear shape, and often get comments about how maybe I should try the black skirt instead of the houndstooth one. But really, what's the fun in that? As an artist it seems more natural to be to want interesting pieces that express something about myself.
KarenS — April 6, 2010
technicolorsheep: Privilege, at least as defined in dictionaries, is “a special advantage or immunity or benefit not enjoyed by all; prerogative: a right reserved exclusively by a particular person or group (especially a hereditary or official right).” It says nothing about choice."
This is something I don't understand, either. I have white privilege; I don't have a choice whether to be white or not. IMO, someone who is naturally slender has privilege as well... though I do see how the term "skinny" can be problematical. (Telling someone they have skinny legs isn't normally a compliment, and sometimes "skinny" might also imply flabbiness or other unhealthy traits, as opposed to "slender", which usually doesn't.)
Robin — April 6, 2010
haha don't worry you're not alone.
Village Idiot — April 6, 2010
I think Meg and Carrie should decide who wins this debate with a spirited jello wrestling match. It'd feel privileged if they let me watch!
technicolorsheep — April 6, 2010
For the sake of anything that's well and good, isn't there a way to get rid of the threaded comments? After a certain level, it makes it all very unreadable… :-)
Nina — April 7, 2010
I get sick of advice telling me how to make my hips look smaller or how to change this or that. Where I live (deep south, 50% black) a woman with a "pear shape" usually wants to know how to EMPHASIZE it, not downplay it.
lee T — April 8, 2010
Jennifer — April 8, 2010
I suspect I'm as tired of hearing about how great being pear-shaped and the importance of waist-hip ratios as some people are of hearing about BMIs. *sigh* If you believe the hype, I will die a young, apple-shaped death.
Katherine — April 9, 2010
I read an article like the one you describe! I think it was in Seventeen magazine. It was all about dressing to emphasize your dominant features. As someone who's quite tall, the one that stood out to me was one that suggested short shorts for people with long legs. I remember thinking, no, they have it backwards, that would just draw more attention to that feature. But maybe that was the point!
Amanita — April 9, 2010
Let the fellows at Land’s End (which used to confine its expertise to sailboat hardware) help us out here in their swim suit department. Announcing that “Confidence is Beautiful,” they continue “Welcome to the Anti-Anxiety Zone” and offer comforting reassurance that “We have a solution for every shape and a suit for every body.” Trying to suppress anxiety, the eye travels down the body-shape guide to Do’s and Don’ts for suiting up the Inverted Triangle, Rectangle, Circle, and skids to a stop at the Triangle’s mystifying command: “DON’T wear bottoms at your widest point, exacerbating hips.”
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Video: How to Dress In a Parallel Universe « TheGloss — May 28, 2010
[...] article on Contexts.org today brings up an interesting idea: what if instead of dressing to minimize our least-loved features, we dressed to emphasize the hell [...]
Ollie — January 18, 2011
To be fair to Howcast, I'm pretty sure they do all their stuff based on requests. And they present all their how-to's with the matter-of-fact tone of voice you see in this one, even the one's they do that are meant to be absurd. The tone they use suggests that what they're telling you is normalized and we should all follow along, but in actual fact I think they intentionally avoid taking a stance on the issues they discuss. This video /could/ have had a disclaimer that said "you should always love your body for what it is, but if you wanna look like everyone else this is how..." But then /all/ their video's would be riddled with /all sorts/ of disclaimers. It would detract from their goal which is to provide very concise how-to video's on every-day things.
Lindsey Alyce — February 5, 2011
This fashion advice reminds me of Capote's delicious descriptions of Mag Wildwood in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Gender is in your jeans « Memoirs of a SLACer — March 1, 2011
[...] Jeans” for men despite the fact that nearly nobody looks good in them (unless they want to accentuate their differences). Now men can buy super-tight jeans that were made for them but fit like they were made for their [...]
NiceLady — October 19, 2011
Maybe I want people to notice I have a nice big ass.
A Fashion Advice Counterfactual » Sociological Images | Todaystyleshow — October 19, 2011
[...] here: A Fashion Advice Counterfactual » Sociological Images [...]
Jasonokeefe — October 19, 2011
Hm. The author doesn't know what a pear shape is. Hint: There's no skinny waist.
MelissaJane — October 19, 2011
Really interesting that among your examples, you notably did not include "If you were overweight, the advice would be to let that excess flesh jiggle! Show off those rolls and bulges with sleek, form-fitting fabrics. Work that weight!"
Even in fantasy-land, it's hard to shed all our biases, I guess.
Anonymous — October 19, 2011
I think the majority do want to de-emphasize features that aren't their cultural ideal. Surely I can't be the only one who dresses to appear thinner a lot of the time?
Korean Sociological Image #64: Hourglass-shaped Drink Bottles « The Grand Narrative — October 21, 2011
[...] Sociological Images for excerpts and commentary. And indeed, one additional way in which women are subtly(?) reminded [...]
Lovely Links: 10/21/11 — October 21, 2011
[...] industry encouraged us to ‘emphasize’ our differences from one another, instead of trying to make us all look the same. If you were pear-shaped, for example, the advice would be all about highlighting that awesome [...]
poet — October 22, 2011
That's an interesting thought! An area where this is already happening (and detrimental in this case, if you ask me) is the distinction between genders. That's supposed to be emphasized by hairstyles and silhouettes... if that were to disappear, and instead differences were to be highlighted on an individual level, we'd probably be happier with our bodies and at the same time less restricted by social norms!
Body Activism | Sociology of Women — October 26, 2011
[...] A Fashion Advice Counter-factual - Just a small attempt to invert the thinking around “makeover style.” The blogger asks “I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where the fashion industry encouraged us to ‘emphasize’ our differences from one another, instead of trying to make us all look the same?” [...]
G — November 2, 2011
I think the reason that fashion advice is aimed at women more so than men is that men have been brainwashed by society that if they care to much about clothes or the way they look, they must be homosexual.
The fear of homosexuality and the sanctions and punishments, both mental and physical, imposed by other men and some women on men who diverge from standard heterosexual normativity is, in my opinion, the main theme that runs many mens' lives.
Unfortunately, our society (including most academics and researchers) have failed to recognize the role of homosexuality in regulating men - whether they be in the boardroom, the bedroom, on the battlefield, in the shopping mall, or online.
Blix — November 20, 2011
Why does everyone want to look the same yet we get caricatures done? Hmm.
eve — November 21, 2011
it's really very helpful to find some articles that includes topics similar to this one that entails fashion advice for "healthy individuals"..I mean when you are browsing the internet topics like this are so rare..so up top for writing this article..
AnonY.Mous — October 21, 2012
Fun idea...but only if women are free to play among and between shapes, and to opt out of the game altogether. An "apple" rocking a pear-shaped look on Wednesday, wearing whatever's clean on Thursday, emphasizing the apple on Friday...
Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 3: Historical precedents for Korea’s modern beauty myth | The Grand Narrative — January 4, 2013
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Sian — February 11, 2013
I think women kind of emphasis their natural shape anyway because in the end the clothes that emphasis it generally seem to be the ones that look best.
Naurice — October 1, 2014
I love the idea of emphasizing our differences, maybe if we as a people decided one day to except every one for who they are and where they came from the world would be a more equal and satisfying place to live.
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