Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Skinny vs. Curvy Ideal

This picture on the right has been making the rounds on Facebook. And, everyone has an opinion, of course, as to which one is more "beautiful". I apologize for the crude language at the top.

I'm not sure what happened between the 1950s and 1960s, but clearly there was a change in ideal body size for women. It went from curvy (Marilyn Monroe) to skinny (Twiggy). And, then in the 70s and 80s the athletic figure was more the norm. Or at least the idea of "aerobics". And then it went back to skinny and the heroin chic of the 90s.

Where are we today? Further afield? The average size of the American woman is something around a size 14. The average size of a female model is a size 2 - and that's on a 5'10" frame.

What's happened in the interim? Why has it swung from one side to the other. Well, a more voluptuous figure used to mean wealth. A woman with a few extra pounds on her frame generally indicated she came from a family who could spend money on food. When food became plentiful (at least, in western society), being uber skinny was the desired form. That meant the woman had self-control.

Today is no different. In a society where obesity reigns supreme, being underweight (either naturally or by "hard work") is the desired figure. But, who is desiring this? And, why should it matter?

Women who are naturally skinny are offended that people think they starve themselves to fit some arbitrary beauty ideal. Women who fit more in line with the 1950s body size ideal are offended that they no longer are, culturally, considered "beautiful".

But, both are beautiful. It just depends on the viewer. On one hand, we are culturally trained to see the size 2 as beautiful. But, when we see them in a more natural setting, they can look more like a concentration camp victim.

As for the more voluptuous woman, seen in a staged, magazine layout setting, they look beautiful. But, when portrayed in more of a "People of Walmart" setting, they look gluttonous.

So, what's today's body ideal? Skinny or fat? Does it matter or does it depend on the staging? Do you consider yourself to fit into a beautiful body size regardless of what's "popular"?


mudnessa said...

I think today the model type is so prevalent in entertainment it's confused everyone. I am 110 pounds and am skinny (obviously) but there is no way I can fit into a size 2, ever, haven't for years. I am only 5 feet tall, that makes the difference. The model size 2 isn't made for real life. Apparently Kirstie Alley recently said she was down to a size 4, maybe she is maybe she isn't. Bigger girls (who are actually not bigger but the normal) who looked up to her feel like they don't have her as a plus size role model anymore, I on the other hand don't see her as smaller than me. The models and fashion just aren't made for real life and it is just confusion and creates likelihood of everyone of every size to have body image issues.

Dianna said...

You don't look like a concentration camp victem if you are a size 2. Some people do wear that size and it doesn't mean you starve yourself to do so. I wish they showed all different sized models because women come in all shapes and sizes and none is better. We should have a more realistic models. No one idealizes the model figure. I have always been skinny and believe me I did NOT get positive comments about my body size. It is worse than my friends who were overweight because no one was afraid to hold back. I got called anorexic told that no guy would ever want to date a stick figure that I would just blow away in the wind. Haha very funny. My own Grandma asked if my parents fed me. I had very low self esteem in high school because of the negative comments. I know I am on the low end of the size women come in but that doesn't mean something is wrong. I hate that picture because I got so many comments about how being a twig wasn't attractive.

Anonymous said...

Food for thought. My post-two-baby body frustrates me but I spent 75 days on bedrest last year, keeping bun-in-the-oven #2 in. I tend to focus on being 30 lbs overweight, not the fact that it has taken so long to regain strength after bedrest, c sect, and sleep deprivation. And of course how great it feels to walk to the coffee shop without passing out. Funny how little we catch how flawed our self talk is, no matter our supposed rejection of the bruises and lack of sense of our societal norms. I don't know if I'm making sense. I guess I just was struck by how infrequently we ask ourselves to rethink this self talk.

Anisa said...

I think staging makes a HUGE difference. If you care about yourself - and take care of yourself, it doesn't matter if you're a 2 or a 22 - you're going to look beautiful. If you wear trashy clothes (and shop there), expect you might end up on People of Walmart, regardless of your size.
My mother is considered "obese" but she is confident, takes care of herself, dresses well in clothes that fit her and is very beautiful. My neighbor is skinny, wears too tight, too skimpy clothes, shows her bra straps - I think she looks awful. And of course, I see the reverse too.
Size doesn't matter, it's what you do with it that does. ;)

Kate said...

It may also be worth noting that eating cheaply today will push your body in a direction that makes it "unattractive" by today's standards, just as it did 60 years ago in the US, or 300 years ago in Europe. Fast food and junk food are cheap on the per calorie basis. Berries, low fat dairy, fresh vegetables arranged artfully on a plate, etc, are quite expensive on the per calorie basis (unless, of course, you grow them yourself). It seems to me that what is considered attractive tracks the expense of the diet, regardless of which body type that diet tends to produce.

Anonymous said...

I modeled a long time ago. Sometimes I was too thin, a few times I was too busty, being told I'd probably only get cheesecake gigs, however because I fit the local wedding gowns, I was often called back for their shows. One agent though my arms were too toned (early 80s LOL).

Aside from modeling, if I dropped below a size 9, many asked if I'd been sick. Now that I'm in my 50s, my opinion is it's all about the tummy: Is it fairly flat, and does the waist curve in, or at least not have handles. If so, most would find this attractive, but not everyone. And some just like to call women unattractive because they're mean and passive-aggressive.

Terra said...

I'm 5'4 and 110 after two kids. I'm fairly toned and I absolutely cannot fit a size two. I know that half the celebrities who claim to be a certain size are talking about high end companies where a normal size 10 is literally labeled a 0 - you learn this in fashion design.

As for what's attractive, I think it USED to be in the eye of the beholder. When I first met my husband I was 92 lbs, naturally, and he hated it. He thinks my weight now is perfect.

But I think the younger generations have been so saturated with images of what is "supposed" to be attractive and healthy that they now are beginning to truly believe that's what women should look like. I liken it to the labiaplasty epidemic in Australia. They don't allow the wide range of normal labia in porn over there, they basically photoshop a hairless, tiny, closed lipped pudenda on every single porn image. Young men grow up thinking that's what women look like, end up being confused and unfortunately grossed out by the time they see the real thing, which then so humiliates young women that many of them are rushing out to get cosmetic surgery on their genitals. I really think media and fashion is changing people's tastes through the sheer amount of messages that come through.

Unknown said...

I look like the model in the chair in the second picture. That is exactly how big I am and how I'm shaped (when not vast with child like I am at the moment). I've always felt good about myself. I have my moments and I find it incredibly frustrating that so little clothing is designed for women who look like me but in general I've always felt that I look good.

I haven't weighed myself in years (much to the consternation of my OB who really wanted to know what I weighed before pregnancy) because that way lies madness. I measure my health by other measures like: can I do my hour long yoga practice? How far can I ride my bike? Can I haul the 40# sacks of chicken feed around? How long can the dog and I run around the yard?

I also find that no matter what size I wear, and it's fluctuated between an 8 and a 20 over the years so I have some points of comparison, I'm shaped the same way. I always have a big ass, big breasts, and a small waist. Clothes don't fit me any better when I'm a size 8 than a size 20.

Anonymous said...

I believe that if you eat healthy food, and get a good level of exercise (read : activity) in your life, and SMILE then you will *look* healthy and attractive, regardless of your size. Some people are naturally larger or smaller, and that's perfectly fine. I think skin tone, eye clarity, posture, etc, are much more important to attractiveness.

ravenfeathers said...

as the size 16 mother of two size 00 young ladies, i can say with confidence that there is no "right" size or one size that is "healthy". health has nothing to do with size; they are disparate measures. as for whether it is socially acceptable to be fat, no, of course it isn't. but it should be, because all stigma does is spread hate and promote bullying.

Jennifer @ Fast, Cheap, and Good said...

There is healthy "heavy" and "skinny," and there is the reverse. Either position where the person is healthy is beautiful: body that clearly moves around regularly, whether that is hauling chicken feed or running on a treadmill; skin and posture and hair that indicate a healthy diet; confidence in demeanor.

I don't find the lank hair and pendulous fat of obsese malnutrition sexy, nor do I find the emaciated lack of muscle tone in skinny malnutrition sexy.

Be as healthy as you can, and your body is sexy and pretty and pleasing.

Deoxy144 said...

I've never exactly been skinny. Now two kids have left me with more of a belly than I like, but I keep reminding myself that according to my BMI and waist to hip ratio, I am in the healthiest possible category for my height. Even if culture doesn't think my weight is perfect, Mother Nature does. I still have days were I get frustrated that my looks are not culturally ideal, but I really want to set a good example for my children, so I try to stay positive.

Interestingly, I think I look way better naked than clothed. Even clothes that fit well create unnatural bulges unless you're willing to wear shapewear constantly, which I am not. Maybe everyone should just go around naked so we all have more of an idea how people really look!

Brad K. said...


Blogger just ate my comment. Gack.

I think the turning point was that a combination of women's liberation and the sexual revolution of the 1960s turned attention on women away from the aspects of mothers and mothers to be.

In the 1940s through 1960s, general affluence (as America generated wealth by consuming cheap energy), the average quality of food available to the general population improved, with fewer epidemics and food poisonings, and an increasing reliance on having adequate and nutritious food continuously available. Refrigeration, health inspections, and standardized food handling all contributed to the euphoria -- and to divorcing America from the concept that a modest amount of body fat was a required survival tactic, when you could afford the food to maintain that condition.

By the time of the end of WWII, "pinup" pictures and fashion sense were already focusing mass media attention to breasts and body shape as the primary aspects of "value" about women. Women's lib and the sexual revolution of the 1960s grew out of that juvenile fixation.

The picture on the left emphasizes the smile and character, and industrial-strength invitation. The picture on the right identifies that the only aspects of value to this lady is her breasts and genitals. And that would be pitiable, if true.

So that is my story. Improved health care dependence and food quality, and fashion-driven impetus to look like the indolent rich have combined to create artificial focuses on what used to be an evaluation of ability to withstand giving birth and nursing one's children safely and well.

Have you noticed that not one of the ads or articles for breast enhancement, or for Viagra, etc., claim to make better, or healthier, babies? I have.

Annie Jones said...

I am 5'7" and in my adult life, I have been as thin as 107 pounds and as heavy as 170 pounds. Both are natural weights, meaning I have never tried to intentionally lose weight in my life. When I was younger, I was thin because of hypothyroidism. Since having that remedied, I am no longer thin.

I can only speak for myself, but I'll take bigger over smaller any day of the week. I am more comfortable (physically, emotionally) at a heavier weight (currently around 160). I also feel much more feminine now that I have curves. I NEVER want to go back to being that thin again.

Brad K. said...


Reading over my comment, just a word.

I think Women's Lib overcompensated in denigrating reproduction as the defining role of women in society. That motherhood was actually denigrated in the marketplace of fashion, of dating, of selecting mates.

Other efforts of Women's Lib were healthy and broadening, expanding opportunities to women and enriching both society and culture. At the same time, fashion wasn't, and isn't, recognized for the dehumanizing and patronizingly callous false values places on mere appearance.

I don't believe either Cosmopolitan or Playboy publications and empires could have come into prominence without the other.

I am disheartened that my Wal-Mart Supercenter still makes money selling Cosmo, but not Butterick patterns.

Robj98168 said...

I celebrate my fat cells. I worked hard to get them!

Julia's Child / Sarah P. said...

The older I get, the more I appreciate muscle tone on any size figure. Teenage girls, even in my very healthy town, are often lacking in muscle tone. Even though they are seldom overweight, it bodes ill for their future health.
I like to see some muscle, ladies!

koolchicken said...

I'm 5'10" and the most I've ever weighed was 154 pounds (my ideal weight is supposedly 150). But for the most part I tend to hover around 143 pounds. I always found it amusing that when I'm closer to my "ideal" body weight people tell me I look chubby. But as soon as I loose a few I hear "you're too skinny". Personally, so long as I can fit into my favorite outfits I'm a happy camper. I don't care about much else.

People in today's society forget that years ago if you got sick and lost too much weight you would die. Add to that it was a sign of wealth to have a few extra pounds. Actually it's still that way in some other countries. My MIL (born overseas) actually once said to me she was glad I finally put on a few pounds. She said it wasn't right for a doctors wife to be so slim. She told me she was glad she could now show photos of me to her friends, apparently my thin frame made her son seem a poor provider!

Greenpa said...

Terra: " I really think media and fashion is changing people's tastes through the sheer amount of messages that come through."

I think it's worse than that- to me, the "fashion industry" is like the "financial sector" of the economy- it's a world completely divorced from reality; reading only its own internal references, with huge power over the real world.

When the fashion industry announces "this is so" - the great majority of the world believes them, and acts accordingly. Just like when the bankers, a few years ago, convinced the entire Congress that the world was about to end, unless taxpayers gave them a couple trillion extra dollars, for free. And we believed them.

I'm not aware of any valid studies done entirely outside the fashion world on what "people" actually see as attractive. For one thing, that would mean finding individuals whose concepts haven't been shaped by external inputs from media- very hard to do these days, even in remote India, where they watch old US TV reruns on the village TV set.

The biologist in me suspects that if you could find unbiased humans, they would tend to prefer a healthy body with some evidence of surplus energy storage- fat. Energy available for baby making.

Amy McPherson Sirk said...

I am hypothyroid so I'm overweight. It just goes with the territory. But even if my extra pounds weren't from this disease, my body is just fine the way it is. The size and shape of another person does not have any affect on my life so why do people care what another person's body looks like? Thin, fat, in between, we're all unique and valuable simply because we are here. The thought of someone harming themselves to get to a particular size makes me sad. Be yourself, you are perfect just the way you are.

lisa said...

Who even Knows what a size 2 or 12 IS anymore. I know a size 6 aint what it used to be. As women got bigger (In MY clothes-trying-on life, aka post 1980), size 6 also got bigger.

Maybe we should just go by underwear size. I've only gone up one size since junior high. And not until I had gained almost 50 pounds. (Okay, I mighta squoze into them for longer than I should have, and the elastic definitely helps. haha)

Anonymous said...

I think there's a lot of wisdom in that wealthy/self-control switch you made out in your blogpost. I have come to the same conclusion aftre looking through what feels like myraids of photographs showing the women of my family back to 1908, and talking to those still available as to what it meant for them to appear that way in their pictures. 'Fat' also was good in badly insulated houses, one great-grandaunt told me ;-)
That put aside, I myself get totally p*** off when people asume I was either being sick (as in: anorexic) or at least spending a lot of time and effort to 'maintain' my weight and a BMI of something around 17 on a good day. It can be less... and that at almost 40 and a pregnancy in which I gained 35 pounds. No, I don't do anything, it is just that my body seems to have a mind of its own, and that is set upon a certain weight. I have met other women who weigh about double my weight who tell the same story.

Len said...

I enjoyed the analysis of the original post but I think we might be over-analyzing this. Rationale somewhat escapes me and I'm left to agree with Robert Pirsig: "Quality is what you like."

Since the question was asked and I can speak for just myself, I'll tell you what I value. I like thin, I like curves (where they should be) and I like that which looks healthy. Obesity is a turn-off (curves, not thin, not healthy) and the anorexic look fares no better (thin, no curves, not healthy).

As to the average waif look of models, remember the camera adds 10 pounds and that's why they might look halfway decent and fare better in the industry.

One thing I find irritating is that people are more fixated on weight than shape! I'm less concerned about what you've got than where you keep it. Beauty is MORE than skin deep! Muffin tops? Blecch! Add some weight under that thing.

Now, having branded myself as a pig to some observers, let me state most emphatically: A woman's attitude makes all the difference! Have a lovable attitude and you will be adored.

Danielle said...

Annie's comment echoes my thoughts (also regarding the "whale versus mermaid" viral facebook discussion). If you can ride your bike with your kids, shovel compost, plant a garden, and chase the chickens to your heart's content, that matters a lot more than a numbered size.

By the way, no matter their size (sorry, women's lib movement), doesn't it always seem that women look awesome in dresses and skirts? I bet a lot of those "people of Walmart" ladies would look like Renaissance painting subjects in a well-fitted dress instead of those tight, stretchy jeans.

Anonymous said...

"Curvy" and "skinny" looks are all acceptable in terms of society's norms. So the comparison of Marilyn Monroe to whomever it is on the other side of the photo isn't an apt comparison. In today's Western world, both women would be considered attractive. The issue has never been between Marilyn and Twiggy; it's between a woman who is significantly overweight versus one who is slightly/not overweight/underweight. Like, I don't know, Beth Ditto versus Marilyn/Twiggy/Ally McBeal.

Grace said...

I've been overweight for all of my adult life and except for the health repercussions I am facing now in middle age, I don't feel like it has been a negative for me. I'm still active and outdoorsy. It never held me back in the dating department. I have never felt unpopular because of it.

What does upset me about weight is knowing that my 8 year old niece worries so much about getting fat. This child is thin. She is not anorexic, but her weight is very low for her (astonishing at her age) height. She is a stick. She is also 8, people, and she is already under a whole lot of social pressure to maintain her figure. I find this tragic and deeply disturbing.

Anonymous said...

At the moment, I am fat. Like probably 50 pounds overweight, and I struggle with it, since my weight was pretty stable for most of my life. I also struggle with it because it was the result of multiple miscarriages, so it feels like failure on many levels.

However, my husband still thinks I'm sexy, because he's the sort of guy who loves what's on the inside, which makes a big difference in how I see myself. I also avoid TV and women's magazines, because they reinforce a body image problem that I am just not interested in having anymore. I do feel better not having my nose rubbed in it, and really, I can go weeks without really thinking about it. Meanwhile I can and do haul 50 pound bags of feed out to the barn, and am otherwise healthy enough to live life the way I want, so I try not to beat myself up about my weight.

Unknown said...

It's strange how 'models' have morphed into role models over the years. They aren't hired for their intelligence, talent, sense of humor or in many cases beauty. Only simply because their figures display clothes without competing with them and they know how to walk a straight line. I find it disturbing that so many women don't see it this way and instead think of these women (and sometimes boys - Andrej Pejic) as anything other than what they are - living clothes hangers.

Rachel S said...

As a solid size 10 at 139# and 36-26-39, I dig the curvy side of things. That's not to say I don't covet skinny jeans and not having hips, but I work with what I have. Crazy how my weight dictates my mood. Heaven forbid, I go about 140#... And YOU'VE seen me at 180!

April Alexander said...

I've struggled with my weight since I was a teen. I was usually only a few pounds over weight until after I had kids mainly due to hypothyroidism when my weight sky rocketed. My eating habits were horrible as a young adult which totally screwed with my immune system, leading to disease and ultimately cancer. I finally accepted my shape and frame a few years ago and now my only goal is to be a healthy weight, regardless of size or what society or other people think. All of this weight obsession has made so many people sick, both mentally and physically. I had an eating disorder in high school and college which I feel contributed and led to my current state of health, i.e. battling cancer. Ultimately this obsession has the capability to kill, either by the eating disorder itself or by other diseases. It's a serious issue, and it's imperative that we teach future generations a healthy body image, healthy eating habits, and lifestyle. It doesn't matter what you look like as long as your BMI is within the healthy range and you're eating well and exercising.

ChelseaSnap said...

I am a 20 yr old 5'9 220 lb women. As of right now yes I am obese but I am still beautiful. In high school I had a solid muscular body and weighed 170 lbs, which looked fine on me. Since I hit puberty I have never been below 160 lbs or a size 9/10, and I am an extremely active person who loves to play sports. I honestly believe it is just my body type. (I have always been 38DDD)Some women are just curvy and thats how it is. MY little size 2 friends hate their bodies because at 20 yrs old they still do not feel womanly and that hurts me because I have seen them struggle with being under weight and trying their hardest to gain. Again it is just their body types. Stereotyping every normal/curvy woman as disgusting and unhealthy is just as bad as stereotyping every skinny/underweight person as bulimic or well unhealthy. It seems to me that everyone likes something different. I get compliments from men and women alike about my curvy frame and how I look like an old school pinup model but as soon as I tell someone my actual weight I am officially deemed unhealthy by that person. We as a society put why to much thought and energy into other peoples size and weight. If my dr says i'm fine and I can still go out and dance all night with my friends without getting tired, or run a mile in 15 mins, hell or just jump around on the trampoline with my nephew all day I am content with my body, my size, and my life. I am a bigger women who loves herself and is as confident as she ever was because I know that I am healthy and I can maintain my active lifestyle at my ever fluctuating weight. I wish everyone could be as happy about themselves as I am. Especially my girlfriends who feed into this media garbage of the one and only body type every women should be.

Shannon said...

Curvy is sexy.

Obesity is not.

Thin is sexy.

Underweight is not.

Being HEALTHY is what matters. That is what we should all try to focus on.

Jenny said...

I am 100 pounds and 5'4. Many people who are not born naturally skinny work so hard to get it but its not that great. clothing might be made for the model form but in real life being a twig is not great. it is not like i starve myself i just cant gain weight. i don't even exersise at all and i love junk food. the worst part is that clothing is made for the model type but xs are to big and 00 are to big i need xxs and 000. they do not make these. the model figure is great on runways and magazines but its not real life.