The "Right" Kind of Curves

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Yesterday’s post titled Curves are Back! has sparked some interesting discussion.  One of the most obvious points about these articles is that curves are only ‘media acceptable’ when they’re the ‘right kind of curve’, that is, hourglass, slim waist, no potbelly, bust and rounded bottom, and generally around a size 12-14, definitely not size 22 or 26.  So for all those other body shapes, especially the women who carry their weight around their torso, they still feel that their shape is not the ideal shape.

Interestingly, even with the media spotlight on curves, retailers are cutting back on larger sizes – is there no money in larger sizes?  If so why?  Do women who are larger sizes not buy clothes because:
  1. Nothing attractive is made in their size
  2. Nothing age appropriate is made in their size
  3. They don’t want to spend money on themselves
  4. They don’t shop because they don’t think they’ll find anything and it’ll be a waste of time
  5. A  myriad of other reasons?  Tell me what you think they are?
Why is it that in the media an slim to average celebrity is called ‘curvy’ and her weight is discussed and critized so much?  
Why do clothes ‘hang’ so much better on an angular boyish shape?  If the designers were any good they could make great clothes that hung well on women who are not skeletal.
Why does every ‘beauty’ company play on fears of the ‘disgustingness inherent in womens’ bodies’ (even Dove which claims to be above the rest, but still makes ‘firming creams’ and the like).  
If my husband is anything to go by, he loves padding and dislikes very slim (bony he’d call them), is his attitude common or not?  One of my male friends commented that as far as he’s concerned curves are always attractive and never go out of fashion for him.
Why is it that pretty much every celebrity interview you read where the celeb is very slim the interview always takes place with the celeb eating something (that is not tofu nor resembles it in any way).  Is this just to make the reader think “wow they’re just naturally slim and can happily eat their high fat, high sugar cake and I’ve just got the crap genetics which makes me look at cake and put on weight.”   
Why?  Why?  Why?
There is a lot of talk about magazines using bigger models etc, but will this situation ever change?  
While I’m writing this post, my beautiful 4 year old daughter is happily changing her clothes next to me, looking at herself in the big mirror in my office, and loving her body with no hang ups – I hope it lasts and I will be sad  when the media message of dissatisfaction gets to her one day (though I really hope it doesn’t).

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25 Comments

  • I’m so with you on this.
    As an apple shape I’m the “wrong” kind of curves. But Mr S wouldn’t have me any other way. And I’m healthy and strong so why does it really matter that I’m not a size 0.
    It drives me nuts.
    Shopping is a complete nightmare as nothing fits. Hence why I sew.

  • I don´t know the answers to your questions. I hate to admit it though, that clothes do look better on slim, young models ( so sorry I just printed this ). It does have to with marketing. Looking at great models you begin imagining that this or that might look good on you too. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn´t. I was wondering, might you Imogen sometime post on the subject`age approriate´. I´m definitely- of certain age- and still wearing jeans nearly every day.

  • Thanks for this interesting and thought-provoking post. I agree that the definition of ‘curvy’ that will be considered fashionable will be very limited, and I don’t expect clothing selection in shops to improve very much. My personal opinion on this is that it is a cost issue. Based on my not-very-extensive knowledge of sewing, clothing cut to fit curvy figures requires more material, better quality material and more complicated tailoring, and even then it is practically impossible to create a ready-made garment that will suit every curvy body type. The clothes hang better on boyish frames because they are designed to do so. I remember reading years ago about how hard runway models worked to stay skinny (even in the 50s when curvy figures were also supposedly in fashion), so that they could wear any designer’s clothes. I never forgot that: that RTW designers want the body to fit the clothes, not the other way around.

  • I can tell you why, I, as a fuller figured curvy woman doesn't go out & buy clothes. There aren't any! Unless I want to pay huge amounts or have something that either pulls at the bust or hangs off my shoulders. So I sew my clothes. But this brings me to another question…if celebrities want and get huge breast implants, where the heck do they get their clothes? Who makes clothes in a size 10 (or even a size 20 for that matter) to fit a D or DD or bigger bust????

  • A comment on Alison’s comment. There was an article in Vogue(US) recently about this phenomenon of larger busts on otherwise slim fit women and how high end design was/is/would-be having to change to accomodate this. I think Michael Kors was interviewed.

  • Pendlestitches – thanks so much for coming by and commenting – I’m so glad that Mr S is happy and that you are healthy. Your ability to sew is a great skill to have acquired!

    Metscan – will do something for you – have done a couple in the past.

    Roving Lemon – thanks for commenting – I think you’re right about cost – it’s more expensive (and you have to have more talent, many designers don’t have this), but also I have heard from manufacturers also that plus size women are not willing to spend any money either, double edged sword.

    Alison – I notice that much of the plus size clothing is unappealing, too young or cheap looking. Interesting point about bust size – I guess that all those celebs just get the stuff made to measure!

    Mardel – thanks for the comment – will try and look up the article.

  • I dont know the answers to your questions. I have friends who will only shop at Lane Bryant or fuller figured stores….

  • It is all utterly infuriating. Diversity among humans – be it in age, race, language, religion, or body shape – seems to be threatening and frightening to so many. People want sameness and consistency, not realizing that difference and variety are what make life rich and full.

    I feel like there have been some improvements in plus-sized clothing design here in the states, though the more stylish designers are considerably spendier than the mall ones. And even so, there is still little tolerance for true diversity of body shape by the media.

    I do believe that discussion and brainstorming will help. Who knows? At some point we might hit on an idea that could shift those tides. If we don’t keep the conversation going, there’s considerably less chance of that.

  • I read an interesting article recently where clothing companies were saying that they were losing money on plus-sized collections. It seems that a lot of plus-sized women just don't take time and pleasure in fashion. This is of course caused by a number of reasons such as insecurities, media brain-washing and others.

    Another thing: hourglass is "supposed" to be the most desirable figure, but when asked about which celebs's body shape they would like to have, women rarely pick any hourglasses !
    According to Trinny & Susannah's survey:

    In the question of body shape, when thinking about an abstract silhouette you most admired the Hourglass, Vase, Column and Lollipop. When thinking about real women, the Goblet came out on top, followed by the Skittle, Vase, Lollipop and Cornet.

    Catherine Zeta Jones – a Goblet – was the top choice, followed by Halle Berry (a Skittle), Kelly Brook (a Vase), Angelina Jolie (a Lollipop) and Elle Macpherson (a Cornet).

  • Linda Grant’s blog, “The Thoughtful Dresser” has addressed this matter and had many replies. I have been on the high end of the range all my life, am now a US 14-16. For ages I believed there was not much of designer quality for me so I bought TONS of clothes- a lot of it just because it fit. I now realize it’s out there, I just have to look harder. But some designers (Prada, Isabel Marant) will not make above a US 10.

    The problem is not just size discrimination, most fabrics are simply not produced wide enough to accommodate more width in a garment without changing the design. Marina Rinaldi uses fabrics made on special looms to get the width.

    The size 22 woman often has to put up with dreadful fabrics in secondary ‘plus’ lines. I would buy fabric and cultivate a deep relationship with a good dressmaker.

    I find women of all sizes beautiful; what I deplore is women starving themselves to achieve an unrealistic and often unflattering “ideal”.

  • I hate that words like curvy and voluptuous have been hijacked to automatically refer to overall size (larger) and not overall shape like hourglass or big bosom relative to overall size. So, slim celebrities can be curvy (Salma, Scarlett).
    As far as the fashion industry goes, they are selling a dream image. “If I wear that outfit, I may look as good/cool as that model”. Until the slim look is no longer seen as desirable, media and fashion outlets will not stop using it to promote their goods. So, it is a vicious cycle: things won’t change until most people slim people less attractive than fatter people.

  • I think women don’t always want to accept their size, and will hold off purchasing nice clothes for a body that they aren’t happy with. When women finally accept their size and are willing to spend money to make themselves look their best, the clothes aren’t always there. A lot of plus sized clothing is very casual (lots of capri pants and basic patterned tops) and not always appropriate for work. It’s also hard to shop when you have to buy everything online, especially when sizing is inconsistent. It’s very demoralizing.

    Curvier figures are harder to dress because it’s harder to make clothes to fit everyone’s curves. That’s why “clothes do look better on slim, young models” – they are the only ones lacking in feminine shape (i.e. fat) who can wear the shapeless garments most designers will produce. While the average American woman is a size 14, most designers don’t want the “average woman” to wear their clothes, and don’t design for her, so we don’t often get to see what an “average woman” looks like in clothes that are designed to flatter this size.

    I also don’t think that designers check that their designs work for everyone as they scale up their sizes. I’m a 5’3″ size 12-14 with an hourglass shape, and I can’t tell you how many petite larges I try on that don’t fit – either the length or the proportions. I always want to ask: If I’m not the model for a 14petite or a petite-large, then who is?

  • You asked if men like “padded” women. I think yes. In the last three years, since I hit 45, I’ve gained about ten pounds over my usual normal weight, and of course it’s bothered me (because I’m small to begin with, and even a small weight gain makes a big difference), and I’ve complained and tried to “fix” it. But my three boys, age 18, 20, and 26, are all telling me that soon I’ll be a grandma, and grandmas are supposed to be “soft”.

    And my husband says he likes me better this way, with a little extra flab. He thinks it’s sexy and touchable. I still want to work on firming some of that up, but I’m definitely keeping their opinions in mind!

  • I would be considered very curvy by Hollywood standards (fat, actually, since I have got a bit of a pooch), but here in the real world, where a size 2/4 US 8/10 UK isn’t considered big, I am just normal (considering that I am only 1.57m and small boned).

    Clothes “hanging” better on rail thin women is bunk. Clothes hang on them because they ARE rail thin, like walking coat hangers. The only reason clothes look better on these women is because that is what we are trained to see. How many times do we curvies have to hear this mantra: “stay away from this look unless you’re stick thin and tall.” It seems like there are all sorts of looks you can only wear when you’re “stick thin and tall” but very few, if any, that you can only wear if you’re either short, curvy, or god forbid, both. Lots of trends “emphasize the hips” if you’re pear-shaped and are discouraged…but I wonder why we consider that bad? Curvy hips are a healthy and attractive asset from a biological standpoint. But nothing can be harder than being apple shaped. Not a day goes by where I don’t pine away for a trim, feminine waist.

    I do count my blessings though. I went shopping with a plus sized friend not too long ago, and she told me “shopping for you is so much more fun than shopping for me.” I didn’t know what to say. I felt so bad that she couldn’t enjoy the experience as much as I did.

    Anyway, the point is that any time there is an ideal or a standard of beauty, some women will be left out. In some parts of Mauritius, young girls go to “fat camp”–and it’s not the same as fat camp in the US. This camp is created to MAKE the girls fat. They are force fed because in Mauritius, being fat is a good thing and seen as a way for them to get good husbands! The only way we are ever going to tackle body image issues is to have ALL body types and sizes represented at once.

    To be fair, I can understand why there has to be some standard in the modeling industry, particularly with catwalk models. They should not draw attention to themselves. But within the world of Hollywood and celebrities, there is really no reason for this skinny epidemic.

    By the way, I wear a 32DDD/E/F (depending on the country) and I resent the idea that this can only be achieved through implants at my size! I’d sell my soul for reduction surgery but don’t have the money for it. I can’t imagine why celebrities or anyone else would get implants or bigger breasts. It is by far my least favorite physical trait and one that I battle with every time I get dressed.

  • Well there is a lot here to think about.

    I think that the articles are about curvy women of all sizes. I think that perhaps most women over size 18(US) have more of a round shape than a curvy one. So the media spotlight on curves is not really related at all to larger sizes being dropped. The rise of curves is contributing to the increase of curvy sized denim and tops with cup sizes.

    I was told by an employee of a large specialty chain that in a meeting she attended the CEO told them that they would no longer be carrying sizes over 14 because that was not the kind of person that he wanted advertising his business. He wanted his size 00 customers to feel as though the other people shopping near them were beautiful and thin. The employee who told me this was a size 16 and about 5’3″. She was totally offended and felt that she had to lose weight to keep her job. I think that in the US the store Torrid has had amazing sales as a plus size brand which I am sure has encouraged plus sized Juniors brands. I do think that teenagers spend more money on clothes than women.

    I think that slim to average curvy celebrities are a big topic of conversation because it takes a lot of nerve to be anything but thin in the entertainment industry. A lot of people look at celebrities as having no reason not to be thin. They have the time and money to work out with the best equipment and trainers and have the best personal chefs. If they choose not to take care of themselves in the way expected of them I think people get offended. It is as if celebrities don’t care what people think of them when their fame is reliant upon fans and industry heads and casting directors.

    Clothes do not hang better on angular boyish shapes. Only boyish cuts hang better on boyish shapes. Boyish cuts are far easier to do because they require less darts and contoured seaming. Easier means cheaper. It has very little to do with the skill of the individual designers and more to do with the system they work within. If a woman doesn’t like RTW there is a whole world of Couture or besspoke which is where designers actually get to show what they can do without the restriction of retail pricing. $10,000 jackets will always fit the way it should or they won’t let you take it home.

    How would beauty companies make any money if people all thought that they were completely beautiful just the way they are. Women want to be more than they are quite often. We want to be taller, firmer, thinner, smoother, more tan. I don’t wear make-up and I hear and read regularly that women should wear make-up in order to be elegant and put together. We used to be encouraged to wear make-up for the war effort and lipstick was given to women in the service to keep their moral up and the moral of the men who have to look at them. It was unpatriotic not to wear lipstick. That seems crazy to me.

    I think women worry about their weight and shape because of other women. I think it has less to do with other women. Here in LA I constantly see other women and say “crap, I need to start working out.” I feel like if other women can manage to raise children and still get to the gym 4 days a week, I should certainly be able to. I don’t want my husband to think I’ve “let myself go.” I don’t want his friends wives saying to him or his friends “she used to be so thin”. I don’t think most men are nearly as picky or critical.

    I never noticed about the interviews with thin celebrities eating. I know that here in LA meal times are often the only time that people ever see each other.

    I also hope that our young daughters can escape the clutches of society’s ideals.

  • Well, the short answer to why does the media behave this way is money. People who are afraid, self-conscious or depressed tend to be more compulsive about spending money.

    That doesn't answer why there are so few clothing designers who make cute, well-fitting clothing for women with larger body types. This simply baffles me. There are so many women who are size 12 and up that you would think they would look at us and see a goldmine!

    I fall into the gap between mainstream stores (which tend to stop at size 14 with the occassional 16) and plus-size stores (which have the occasional 14 & 16 but really seem to start at size 18.) I've also found that clothes cut for larger sizes tend to be too blousy for me. If I don't wear body-skimming clothes, I look heavier than I am and feel terrible.

    I've had it, and am finally learning to sew this summer. The fabric industry can have my money. I'm done with designers who obviously won't deign to design clothes that highlight my type of beauty.

  • As a quite short (5'0") former rectangle who is fast becoming an apple, I feel just plain left out. Petites of any kind have always been hard to find and now that I can no longer fit into an 8 or 10 petite, it's even worse. And have you any idea how they look on me? I'm 58, not 18, and most dress shops cater to the very young as far as I can tell. The fastest way to crush, nay obliterate, what small shred of ego I have is to insist that I have to shop for clothes. I loathe and despise clothes shopping, which is probably why everything I have is shabby and no longer fits at all.

    Why bother?

    (Yes, I know how to sew but not how to fit myself.)

    Shrug.

  • I am larger on bottom than on top, and am a very tall person, so while I can usually fit into the regular range of sizes, I occasionally visit a large size shop to buy their tall length pants because they offer the longest inseam I can find.

    I find it so depressing to go there. The clothing is made of cheap fabrics, the cuts are so unflattering and the vibe of the store is just awful. It seems to me that at least some of their customers would be happy to spend more money on items that are made of natural fibers, that are lined, that are well-sewn.

    I have checked out Marina Rinaldi, Max Mara's large size brand – they start at US 12 I think – and while some of the fabrics they use are gorgeous, the cuts are generally boxy and would make a larger woman with the "right" curves (hourglass) look larger. I don't understand who they're marketing to.

    Eileen Fisher also markets to larger sizes and talk about boxy! I feel like a house in all of those loose, drapy layers. No waist in sight.

    I saw one of your other commenters mention that as one progresses up in the size range, one becomes more apple-shaped. Maybe this is so. If that's the case, I wonder if there's a market for the in-between sizes that still have defined waists.

  • Thanks everyone for writing such interesting and thoughtful comments – it's obviously a hot topic and one that needs to be addressed in so many ways.

  • (I'm very late to this thread.)

    I agree with Peppermint – as a curvy (US 8-10) and average height woman, I find it depressing how many trends are restricted to or look much better on the tall or thin or small to average busted.

    I've heard from several sources that curvy, feminine shapes actually look better in dresses, but I haven't found this to be the case. 90% of dresses that I try on are cut so poorly for my body type, namely being way too small in the bust or hips or way too large in the waist & in a style that could not be tailored. It's not that I haven't found clothes that are flattering, but I'm sad that things like dresses or wrap dresses that are supposed to be easier to find for my body type are just as rare and elusive as a perfectly cut pair of trousers.

  • It's all about money.

    Having an unrealistic standard of beauty (bony-thin OR tiny waist and giant breasts but no belly) that only 1% of the population fulfills naturally keeps you buying. Buying more clothes to look like the women you idolize. Buying more makeup to look younger. Buying more and more so you don't think about why you don't make as much as a man doing the same work, or why women do more housework and all the child rearing, or why wages stay stagnant while inflation goes up.

    Every moment you obsess about your appearance is a moment lost for other, more important matters. That's not to say it's not fun, but it can consume a woman's whole life.

  • I agree that it's all about the money. If women just felt great about the way we looked – as is – we'd spend far less on spanx, cellulite cream, diet pills, plastic surgery, etc. Think how many industries are kept afloat entirely by women feeling as though we're not "good enough" as we are.

    I put on a lot of weight after a 14 month period in which several tragedies coincided. I went from a US size 6/8 to a US size 14/16 because I just ate and ate to deal with all the stress and grief.

    At first, I refused to even look for any clothes that weren't just cheap crap; I figured I'd just be back to my old size in no time. A few years after that (and no pounds lost), I decided to try to dress my new, heavier body more nicely but I found it demoralizing to see my new body in the dressing room mirrors. Now, a few years later and a solid size 16, I'm serious about finding lovely, well-cut clothes for my body but I am not able to find many higher-end brands that actually fit me.

    I'm a professional woman in a highly visual field; wearing the mumus and elastic-waisted, polyester pants that seem to be available to women of my size isn't going to help me keep climbing the career ladder… or to feel my most fabulous.

  • I'm probably too late to this thread. But I think I know the reason why only the 'right' kind of curves are promoted, and why the fashion industry isn't doing its job to fit and beautifully dress a wide range of the public.

    A flat stomach, small waist, curved hips and/or large breasts are all strong signals linked to female fertility. (Thinness may also be a signal of youth.) Advertisers and the entertainment industry harp on these things because they are interested in using the most basic and powerful tricks possible to draw your eye to their product, and to tap into your deepest impulses. They want to hook in your animal brain so they can profit from you.

    In the real world, men and women alike love a huge variety of women who fit all sorts of descriptions, and people don't care nearly as much about "the perfect body" — and they shouldn't. But the sight of a naked woman on a car, or a person of near-reproductive perfection (whether man or woman) is like waving a red flag in front of the eyes of the more primitive parts of us. And advertisers and corporations wave as many red flags as they possibly can to get you to buy, and they don't care what social consequences this has for everyone else.

    I don't believe we will ever see models with other kinds of curves in magazines unless the companies can somehow be convinced that the public will buy more from them because of it – and that it is a more effective strategy than the evolutionary equivalent of crack which they attempt to feed us daily.

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