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.

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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”?

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.