Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hourglass shapes and Curvy women

Fashion-associated terms have always confused me. The media delights in assigning all women into a few specific categories - pear, triangle, apple, hourglass, rectangle - and then telling them what they look good in based on their shape.

image from thebarbertoo.com
One of the terms in particular has always confused me: "hourglass figure." Most of us can immediately conjure up an image of what a woman with an "hourglass figure" looks like - generally the media portrays this as a woman (often a larger woman) with very defined bust, waist, and hips.

But what exactly is the definition of an hourglass figure? Wisegeek gives an interesting and specific definition: "In a woman with a true hourglass figure, the measurements of hips and bust are essentially the same, and the waist measurement is equal to less than 75% of either the hip or bust measurement. The result is a very curvy figure which emphasizes broad hips and large breasts."

I found other definitions as well, from "waist must be about 9 inches less in measurement than the bust" to "shoulders and hips are the same width" to several (differing) specific measurements (40-30-40, 36-24-36).According to the first definition at least, it doesn't matter what your overall weight is, as long as your hips and bust are about the same measurement, and your waist measures 3/4 of that. By at least the first two definitions, I fit into the category of an "hourglass figure," my waist measuring less than 75% of either my waist or bustline and being at least 9" less than either of those measurements.

However... this still confuses me. I never really felt that I was an hourglass figure. I started doing some research, and I noticed that there seem to be several, slightly differing "looks" that are presented as being hourglass shaped. But looking at all the images in articles about fashion, the vast majority seem to be of heavier or larger women - for example, here and here. Even of the examples aren't of women who are on the heavier side, they're almost always shown as having very defined/larger hips. I definitely don't have stellar hips that could stop traffic. They're just... normal.

Both of the example links above present several choices to a woman and tell her that she must be one of these shapes - pick one so we can work with you. What if you don't look like any of those women in the pictures? (And what's with the monikers - what woman wants to say, "Honey, I just found out I'm Tube-shaped!") And why do articles like these (especially the last one) assume that you hate so many things about your body? Why must women forever define themselves as a "banana" or a "brick"?


Image courtesy of popularandposh.com
More confusion ensued with more research. The woman above, for example, does not look like she has at least a 9 inch difference between her waist and bust or hip measurements. Another site I found describes "hourglass" women as "may be fuller-figured" (another euphemism for larger) and having "fleshy" arms. Has "hourglass figure" become another word like "curvy" in that it implies having defined bust and hips, but has come to generally be used as a nicer way of saying "larger women"? I think of myself as "curvy," but I learned early on that the "curvy" sections of stores or websites contain clothes exclusively for plus-sized women. Are stores saying that only plus-sized women are curvy?

Can you be thin or slender and still be "curvy"? I would say definitely. Can you be thin and still be an "hourglass figure"? By definition, at least, it seems so, although I'm not sure I will ever really associate myself with being an "hourglass" shape, if only because of the confusing (and often conflicting) portrayal of what an hourglass shaped woman really is. Even if I fit the strict definition, it doesn't really seem that hourglass+thin are really "supposed" to go together.

I had always hoped that in my search to understand exactly what each shape and label meant I would finally find out what I was - dare I say, who I was - and settle comfortably into a preset shape that had clothing rules and regulations to follow. But I've come to realize that we don't all fit so nicely into molds. And the molds that stores and the media present us with are often misleading, conflicting, and wrong. And you know what? I think all body shapes and types are beautiful. I don't think we need to be told what we should and shouldn't like about ourselves.

I'm not quite sure what label I fit into. But I have my own words that I like to use to describe me - busty, curvy, thin, short, broad-shouldered, round-faced, leggy, sturdy. I'm a mix of apparent contrasts, according to what the stores tell me. But maybe - just maybe - I like it that way. 

21 comments:

  1. Marilyn Monroe is your classic hour glass shape. It's considered "ideal" by a lot of people. Basically, you get to wear whatever you want! :)

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  2. Oh, I know Marilyn Monroe is often cited as the "perfect hourglass figure," but I've still always thought the term kind of ambiguous/hard to truly define. According to measurements I've seen, I have very similar measurements as Marilyn, but I don't really feel that my body looks very like hers. Measurements look different on different people! I guess that complicates things too. My problem is being very logical about trying to analyze fashion, haha!

    Also, I have a very hard time finding clothes that work well for my body shape. I actually feel very limited in what I can wear as opposed to the feeling of "I can wear whatever I want!"

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    1. How tall are are you? If you are really tall there more distant between ribcage, making the woman look straight up and down. Shorter women will have more curves, because the distant between the ribcage is shorter. 36-24-36 will look totally different on a taller woman than on a shorter woman.

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    2. That's only if the taller women carries her height by having a longer torso. Some tall women have shorter to average length torsos or the same torso length as short women and you can really see the curvatures.

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    3. Thanks anonymous!!! I was always wondering why I am considered an hourglass, but appear to not curve much. I have broad shoulders (broader than my hips), a larger chest, big hips for my body (33-35", usually 34" at the widest part where my butt "bubbles"), but I feel like I just don't fit any body type. I'm mostly hourglass measurements 35", 24/25", 34", but my broad shoulders while being chesty paired with not super defined waist, and bigger thighs (17,18" for my frame), hips, and a butt confuse me. I have a long torso, so that makes a lot more sense!

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    1. You're right - it's often so hard to figure out what all these different definitions mean, and sometimes pictures make it even more confusing!

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  4. I had always heard that to be an hourglass figure you must have the same size rib cage as your hips, and at least a 10 inch difference in your rib cage/waist/hip ratio. Its a hard look to have, because usually people who have an hourglass figure have short waists, so if you wear clothing that isn't body hugging, you look square in body shape, because you are hiding your waist. I am close to it, 38, 29, 38 but I am not quite there, and that is fine with me, but it really does make clothing shopping hard, unless its tight.

    One of my friends has all the same measurements as me, our shoulders are both broad, same size hips and waist and cup size, but she has a 34 inch rib cage, and clothing looks SO much better on her. More things fit her, she can wear anything, because you really see the graceful line of rib cage to feminine hips in clothing. And yet, because she has broad shoulders, she still looks like she has an hourglass figure.

    She can also fit more clothing because clothing stores make clothing for a more pear shaped body, smaller rib cage with larger hips. They make matched suits for women with smaller busts and larger hips. I hate this, as I can NEVER get a matched suit. Anything that has a matching pants and jacket together, won't fit me.

    Why do media/clothing designers etc, make it so hard to love yourself, because no one really fits a mold. I mean, think about how much more money clothing designers would make, if everyone LOVED how they looked, and could always find clothing to fit them somewhere? People would spend so much more money on clothing, because they could.

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    1. Not always. It depends on the person. Each hourglass shape is different on same sites it says if your ribcage 6inch or smaller and some say 8 to smaller. Requel Walsh's hourglass looks different from Sophia Lorens, or Betty Page, if you look at these women, they have hourglasses, but their hourglass figure is different from one another.

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  5. Laetitia, you make some good points - thanks for commenting! It seems like many people say, "Oh, an hourglass figure is the best/easiest figure to have," but I've really not found this to be the case. It's particularly difficult to find tops when you're larger busted and smaller waisted at the same time. I can never wear matched sets of things either.

    It's interesting how two people with very similar measurements on paper can still look quite different and have clothes fit them differently!

    "Why do the clothing designers/media make it so hard to love yourself - no one really fits in a mold" - love this quote! This is one of the points that I try to get across. It seems like most designers seem intent upon everyone fitting into a specific mold, which, sorry, many of us don't!

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    1. Clothes are now made for women who are more straight up and down, only 8% of women are hourglass

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  6. I think part of the problem is there a big difference between an hourglass figure like Christina Hendricks (or Marilyn Monroe), which are very reminiscent of Disney Princesses (my own personal term for it) in that they have a wide ribcage, tapered waist, and large hips. So they really do look like hourglasses from the front. However, there are also people like me who look pretty straight from the front but like an S from the side (large breasts and butt, small underbust).

    Some calculators say I'm an hourglass if they go by just the 9" difference (my measurements are 40-31-40 more or less) but my waist is 1" too big to make the 75% cutoff. However, if you were to go by my underbust instead of natural waist it would be 40-29-40 so then I'd made the cutoff on both accounts.

    I think in the end you just have to dress each individual body part at a time. For instance, because my underbust is the narrowest part of my midsection, I try to find clothes that accentuate or get shirts brought in around my underbust. It's annoying but I've pretty much just accepted that nobody's body is going to fit perfectly into clothes and so we're all going to have our things that we need to adjust for Oh, and don't even get me started on the body type calculators that tell me I'm a banana and that means I'm thin and tall and super fit and can wear loose flowing tops, ahh!!!

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    1. Good points - I'm not all that wide, so I don't have much of an actual hourglass "look" from the front. Focusing on dressing each individual body part at a time is a good idea! I think I tend to spend too much time trying to figure out what "box" I fit into, then somehow my clothing problems would all be solved. It's not that easy!

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    2. Me I can't tell anymore. I think I am straight up and down, but when I look I have some curve that doesn't make me an rectangle. But I am not as curvy as typical hourglass My waist is funky. Sometimes it's 24, 25, 26. I use to be 34 26 34, but I have lost two inches at the hips chest 32-24-32 or it's 32-25-32 or 32-26-32 Some say rectangle some say an hourglass. But my hips aren't narrow to be a rectangle. I think I am in between hourglass and rectangle;e. All I know I am always well balance if I lose or gain an inch or two. My friend says I have hourglass, but I don't always see what she sees.

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  7. Technically, I fall under the 'hourglass' category, too--but I am looong in the torso, and the term I've encountered to describe such an hourglass is a 'vase' body shape. ...Shrug. I always think of Marilyn Monroe as the "classic" example of an hourglass, and although I do have shorter legs like she did (I've read that is also common to hourglass-shaped women), I do not have NEARLY the presence that she had, I'm sure! I'm slender, athletic/muscular, and approximately 5'5". So, to most people, I'm just 'average' or 'thin' but I've learned to dress up my good points and downplay my less-good points, and that's all any of us can do! ;)

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  8. I feel you on that whole S-shaped thing, June. I'm technically an hourglass too (40-28-40), but I also don't feel like it because I have a very straight ribcage that does not narrow at the waist, while most of those bust and hip measurements are sitting squarely on my front or backside. And I beg to differ with anyone who says shopping is easier with an hourglass figure. Most sizing charts show that my waist is 1-2 sizes smaller than my hips, which in turn, are 1-2 sizes smaller than my bust. Just try to buy a dress when you've got three different sizes going on in one body...it stresses me out more than bikini shopping. Belts are my saving grace. I seriously hope the belted shirt/dress look never goes out of style.

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  9. My body shape is also really hard to define. Last time I measured myself, it was 31-27-36, which would place me as a pear, but I don't quite fit all the descriptions of a pear. (I don't even know if I measured myself right, for that matter.) I have slim thighs, long legs, shoulders balancing my hips, and a lower belly sticking out. I have that "X" outline from the front view, but from the side, I look really straight-shaped, with a potbelly. So I guess that I'm pear/vase from the front view, and a column/apple from the side? I can't be placed in a box. :P

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  10. A few more things: Just as a slim woman can be curvy, a fuller-figured women can be straight-shaped as well.

    Also the Trinny and Susannah article seems to assume too much about particular body shapes--I imagine vases can have slim arms too, and pears can have long legs as well.

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  11. These labels/body chart descriptions are really something. They don't take into account bone distribution and muscle mass. For instance, they all assume that women who have a 36 inch bust and a 26 inch waist both have the same bone size, muscle mass and fat distribution when most of the time it's not the case. The women could have different shaped ribcages and different shaped and sizes breasts/fat distribution. Or one could have bigger pectoral muscles and lats which increase the chest size.

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  12. As a petite, small framed hourglass with a short waist, I definitely do NOT get to wear what. I want... I measure 39 inches at the bust, 25 inches at the waist, and about 39 inches at the hips. I am 5'2" with a 10" frame and tiny shoulders that only extend about 2.5 inches on each side beyond my frame. I typically wear a 28H or HH bra in UK sizes, though a 26HH or J might be better. (My ribcage is 26.5-27 inches) Try finding clothes that don't make you look either squeezed into the top and bottom but still loose in the waist, or aren't cut so big you look frumpy just to fit the hips and bust-they aren't that easy to find, especially in the US. When you add the narrow shoulders and short waist into the mix, it's almost impossible-armholes are huge, sleeveless tops become cap sleeved, and belts hit your bra band uncomfortably and cut you in half, which can make your top and bottom look even bigger. I should just learn to sew, but I already paint, write, draw, and make custom jewelry, so I think my space is all taken up...heh. =^__^'= I'm hoping some of the Polish clothing brands (Urkye and BiuBiu) might be the solution, at least in the stretchy materials, because with a 14 inch difference between my bust and waist, I have an incredibly hard time finding anything that isn't just oversized in order to accommodate my bosom.

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  13. So if I'm 5'2,bust of 38,29,38 , I'm guessing I'm an apple. Am I right?

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