The Attraction of the Hourglass Figure

Throughout the noughties, young women appealed to ‘thinspiration’ for advice on how they should look. Following these angular-limbed ‘pro-ana’ years, however, curves have now reassumed centre stage.[1] In 2014, I was awarded the coveted status of Pro Bikini Athlete at the Miami Pro British Championships. On competition day, my figure was a near perfect hourglass with a 32” bust, 24” waist and 33” hips.[2] This silhouette is also favoured in the beauty pageant world, with the current Miss England, Carina Tyrrell, possessing similar measurements of 32”, 24”, 35”.[3]

 

Carina+Tyrrell+Miss+England+Winner+Photo+Call+_ObYRv3VfEIl

 

In order to investigate this preference for the curvaceous figure, I asked research participants to state which they regarded as more important: their body’s shape or its weight. The results showed a propensity for body shape, with 88% of women more concerned about their silhouette than the number on their scale. The explanation for this lies in the shape’s symbolic meaning. The hourglass figure, for example, is desirable as a biological and social signifier: its voluptuous curves accentuate ‘the difference between male and female forms’.[4] Scientific research proves that the narrow-waisted figure serves an evolutionary, as well as social, purpose. This predilection originates in the desire to attract a mate since ‘men are automatically excited by signs of a woman who is fertile, healthy, and hasn’t been pregnant before.’[5]

 

article-1358557-0D1C7B22000005DC-711_224x529

 

The physiological indicators of this virginal, yet fertile state correspond to the modern hourglass bikini body. Within a theoretical context, this ideal is the result of biological attraction since ‘[t]he waist is one of the body’s best indicators of hormonal function’.[6] Women with ‘a waist-to-hip ratio below .8’ are twice as likely to conceive and bear children than those whose waist-to-hip ratio rises above this figure.[7]

Esther Rothblum comments that fashion frequently ‘exaggerate[s] the smallness of a feature that is naturally smaller in women to begin with.’[8] This not only highlights the differences between the genders, but is also sexually desirable. The constricted waist, for example, has been ‘considered highly erotic by men’[9] owing to its suggestion of weakness and vulnerability. This is often the case since women’s appearance norms; such as extreme slenderness, high heels and tight apparel, are notable for the submissive status that they indicate. Maintained in a condition of child-like passivity, women are therefore more easily subject to masculine control. As David Kunzle notes: ‘[s]ylph-like delicacy of body and fragility of waist have exercised an almost archetypal attraction for man, for whom they connote both vulnerability and elusiveness. It is both foil and invocation to his superior socio-sexual power.’[10] The hourglass body, with its emphasis upon full bust and hips contrasted with a narrow waist, simultaneously suggests sexual innocence and reproductive potential.

 

150615-kim-kardashian-waist-training-3

 

Within the world of physique competitions, this hourglass figure is exaggerated in the Bikini class where models are expected to have wide shoulders and legs, offset by a tight waist. When invited to name aspects of the body that they found beautiful, competitors described components of the hourglass shape, preferring a figure with a ‘peachy bum and big breasts’ that is also ‘lean with curves.’  This body type represents the fitness industry’s standard of beauty, with competitors firmly adhering to its form.

 

img_03101415034408

 

[2] Other top 3 competitor measurements 5’2”, 55 kg, 10% body fat/ 5’3”, 7.7stone, 35 26 35, Bodyfat c 13% / 5ft 5, 7st 13 , 9% body fat/5.2 , 49 kg, 7% bf/5ft 4.5, 45kg waist 23inch./5.7′, 59kg/5ft 3, 48kg, 9% bf/127lb and 12% body fat /120lb 10% bf

[3] http://www.missengland.info/miss-england-winner [accessed 31/01/15]

[4] Bordo, Susan, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (University of California Press: London, 1995) p.181

[5] N. Ectoff, Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, (New York: Random House, 2000), p.71

[6] Ectoff, Survival of the Prettiest, p.192

[7] Ectoff, Survival of the Prettiest, p.192

[8] Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders, ed. by Patricia Fallon, Melanie A. Katzman, Susan C. Wooley (The Guilford Press: London, 1994), p.58 from ‘”I’ll Die for the Revolution but Don’t Ask Me Not to Diet”: Feminism and the  Continuing Stigmatization of Obesity’ by Esther D. Rothblum

[9] Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders, ed. by Patricia Fallon, Melanie A. Katzman, Susan C. Wooley (The Guilford Press: London, 1994), p.58 from ‘”I’ll Die for the Revolution but Don’t Ask Me Not to Diet”: Feminism and the  Continuing Stigmatization of Obesity’ by Esther D. Rothblum

[10] Fashion and Fetishism: Corsets, Tight-Lacing and Other Forms of Body Sculpture, David Kunzle (Sutton Publishing Limited, UK, 2004), pp.16-17

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: