Skinny Versus Curvy: Why Women Can Never Win

Ladies: it’s time to put down those sparkly shoes and pick up your shields, for the battle of the body types rages on and you’ve simply got to choose a size, sorry, side. No, no – no dithering. You’re either one or the other and before you starting rambling on about ‘healthy body image’ just shut it. ‘Healthy body image’ doesn’t whip up a media frenzy the way ‘skinny versus curvy’ does, so you can park that notion, thank you very much.

Discover a Lovelier You (Woman Alive, 1972)

What’s it going to be, women folk: the skinny tribe of supermodels and disordered eaters or the curvy tribe of so-called normal women and celebrities who can’t hack diet pills anymore? Hey – why the long faces at my ridiculous over-simplification of female body types? Are you seriously suggesting that women’s bodies cannot be categorized as one of two things? Of course you are… and you are absolutely right.

As any well-adjusted person knows, women’s bodies come in all shapes and sizes, most of which do not fit neatly into the ideals of skinny and curvy that are hammered home by the media and fashion industry. However, given the prevalence of these images and messages in our lives, it is little wonder that so many otherwise sane and smart women succumb and begin to compare themselves – often unfairly – to one of the two standards of female shape on offer.

To see how hopeless and crushing such comparisons are, take a moment to consider how ‘skinny’ and ‘curvy’ are treated in the media. Let’s start by taking a look at the thin side of things: skinny women are on the one hand lauded for achieving what we are led to believe is the cultural ideal of ‘thinness’ but their triumph (such as it is) is short lived. Speculation about eating disorders invariably follows, along with demands to know diet and exercise secrets, coupled with tremendous pressure to remain skinny. Extremely thin women – regardless of whether this is their natural, healthy state or not – are treated as freakishly asexual and lacking in femininity, a notion that is as difficult to pin down as a piece of fluff in a blizzard.

Meanwhile, curvy women are cheered on for railing in the face of the tyranny of skinny but lo, the bubble isn’t long for bursting. While they are applauded for being real women with real bodies, the ads for underwear etc. to constrict and camouflage the very curves we’re supposed to be celebrating are never too far away. That’s not forgetting preachy features on diets and exercise regimes, not to mention the yards of press celebrities locked in ‘weight loss battles’ receive. If ‘curvy’ is so wonderful, why are women who identify themselves as such sold such conflicting, utterly rubbish messages?

Food glorious food: Discover a Lovelier You (Woman Alive, 1972)

Just as women cannot be skinny in peace, neither can they be curvy in peace. She, whatever her size, can never win. This suits those who profit from insecurities down to the ground, a point made very well last week by Plus Model Magazine in their article entitled: ‘Plus Size Bodies, What is Wrong with Them Anyway?’ which featured a shocking comparison between a plus sized model and a typically thin fashion model.

The crux of the issue is how women’s bodies are treated as public property, as ‘things’ to be consumed, improved and judged. Off the top of their head, does anyone know the size of the average British male? Probably not but more than likely, you do know that the average British woman is a size 14 or larger. You are also far more likely to see or hear women’s bodies being reduced to dehumanised ‘bits’ – breasts, hips, thighs, bums, legs – than men’s. Women’s bodies – the very physical fabric of their being – are something we all have an opinion on, whether we are entitled to or not.

The saddest part of the ‘skinny versus curvy’ debate is how often it misses the fundamental issue of good health. The best size for anyone is the one they are most healthy at and only your doctor can advise you about that. What’s the point in being a size 8 when you are shaving years off your life smoking fags to stave off your appetite? What’s the point in lying to yourself about being curvy if you are in fact dangerously overweight and hurting the very heart that sustains you? Isn’t it time we turned our backs on the silly ideas of ‘skinny’ and ‘curvy’ and sought out something kinder, healthier and better for our souls, our bodies and our minds? Ladies, never mind being worth it; we deserve nothing less.

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post. Images from Mod As Hell on Flickr, under Creative Commons licencing. 

15 responses

  1. Women have to stop defining themselves by what they look like and what they weigh. It is very sad indeed that all media outlets put so much focus on women’s weight – or anyone’s weight for that matter.
    Everyone already knows that if you watch what you eat and exercise a little, weight will come off….there is no need to pressure us anymore. Leave it up to us and stop making an issue out of it already.

  2. Great post, body image pressure is never too far away from looking in the mirror regardless of your shape!
    Health is rarely addressed as an associated issue unless someone is literally starving themselves to death or clinically obese, eating their way to the funeral home! Sometimes even striving for the extreme can cause severe damage, but the media doesn’t care about that right? And as Wayne pointed out the constant strive for that ideal and almost surreal perfection can be damaging physiologically, self-esteem is difficult to build if you don’t believe you deserve any!
    Sadly even if the media coverage of extreme and ideal bodies ceased we as a generation have already been brainwashed into believing there is something wrong with us regardless of our size.

    • Hi SmudgeLove – great comment. When I hear that 3-year-old girls feel under pressure to diet I know there is something profoundly wrong with our culture. Health and happiness are completely overlooked, which is a tragedy because they are what is truly important. Thanks again.


  4. Great piece. Something I wrote about myself in “Just Let It Be Darling” and noted in “Curves 101”. And yes, there is something deeply wrong with our culture. Which is why I’m tinkering with the thought of building a time machine to take me to the place where I can be 40 in the 60’s.

    • Hi David, thanks for the comment! I hope you don’t have to build that time machine. I really think media literacy is going to become a huge issue in years to come and kids will be thought how to analyze all these stupid messages/images that are thrown at them. Here’s hoping.

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  6. Pingback: To Show My Appreciation – Part II « peaceful controversy

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