On curves

When I planned to write about labels, I planned to do it in relation to disability (a post that will still happen, eventually). I didn’t anticipate writing a post on other words I’d use to describe my body, because I didn’t realise I was so attached to them. I didn’t know that seeing them used to describe someone whose shape bears little relation to my own, would bother me quite as much as it did.

I’m talking about this:

Yes, she has great tits. And she has a beautiful body. But she’s not ‘gorgeously curvy.’

Before nearly every term to describe someone around the size 16 mark became a euphemism for ‘fat but unwilling to admit it,’ – curvy, voluptuous, OKCupid’s charming ‘a little extra’ – I owned ‘curvy.’ It’s a lovely, sensual word – for me personally, it speaks of boobs, of the hourglass shape that is my natural figure, of muffin top, of a softly rounded tummy. It’s beautiful, it’s feminine, and it makes me feel good.

But when I see women like the model in the photo above described as ‘curvy’ it ceases to mean all those things. Suddenly, I’m not curvy, I’m fat. Unsurprisingly, when I say as much on Twitter, it doesn’t particularly thrill women who are bigger and whose own self-identity is thrown into question when I feel forced to relabel my figure.

I’m not willing to disclose my weight here, but I will share my BMI, which is 28.6. By NHS measurements, that puts me at the upper end of ‘overweight.’ A doctor would say that I’m fat, as would my mum, as did one of my friends. But I understand why, when I use the term to describe myself, it gets people’s backs up.

The problem is that I don’t know how to describe my shape, if curvy ceases to have the meaning I always thought it did. And while I think that everyone ultimately has the right to label themselves as they choose, when I see the word ‘curvy’ captioning a photo of a woman who is more hollows and angles than she is curves, it makes me sad for three reasons. Firstly, because I don’t think we can both be curvy. If she is, I’m not, and if I’m not, I don’t know what I am. Secondly, because the publication that posted the image, Quite Delightful, is ‘designed by women, for women’ but I cannot see how, if that’s what they understand by curvy, their magazine can possibly represent me or many of the women in my life. And lastly, because it suggests to me that curvy is now the shape for everyone to aspire to, and that totally misses the point.

I love the softness of women’s bodies. But curves are not the only acceptable marker of feminine beauty. Think about those things that certainly aren’t curvy – a strong collarbone, delicate wrists, a flat stomach. Those things are beautiful too. As ever, when one thing has been portrayed as the norm for too long – size zero models, concave stomachs, a thigh gap – when the backlash comes, it has a tendency to turn abruptly against those things. It shouldn’t. What we need is a culture where fat and thin are equally accepted, where curvy is just something you are rather than the body shape everyone aspires to, and most of all, where perfectly valid words aren’t repurposed and used to shame people.


16 thoughts on “On curves

  1. I feel like a should come in here, like a mother and give you a good, sharp shake, a stern talking to and then a hug. So first…
    (Mock stern voice)
    How dare you let a photo of a woman, tweeted by a company whose agenda is to sell you a magazine, destabilize your very rational understanding of the word ‘curvy’. Ask yourself what is the purpose of presenting images of this model (here’s another picture of her http://tumblr.mollysdailykiss.com/post/116562811681/cg54kck-vee-laroche-by-darren-ankenman) and describing her as ‘curvy’.

    Haven’t you seen adverts for products pretending to be what they are not before? What do you think the agenda behind this is?

    Take a look at the magazine’s production team photos. Then read their backgrounds: http://www.quitedelightfulproject.com/the-team/. Only one of the women on their staff comes even close to ‘curvy’. In fact, I’d venture to guess that these women are incredibly eager to ‘match’ themselves to some hypothetical ideal of what a woman’s body should look like; many of them have been inundated with idealized, unreal images of women for years.

    I’d hope that you would exhibit a little more confidence in your own understanding of what a word means, instead of allowing some commercial entity with an agenda to sell you something do it for you.

    The woman in the picture reminds me of the torsos, hips and legs being pushed into mass graves in WWII news reels of the liberation of the concentration camps, but with artificial breasts. (let me offer you a little reminder of what I’m referring to: https://youtu.be/TCy02267X8A?t=55m52s) Some people might find this very erotic, I get it! There is a kind of obscene decadence to a live body that appears to have distributed what very little fat it has into such an erotically convenient location.

    Meanwhile, most women don’t possess bodies like this. Most women’s normal fat distribution does not work in this way. So your ‘curvy’ woman in the photo is decidedly non-normative.


    Yes, you’re indeed a lovely, curvy woman.

  2. This really is important. That the woman in that photo was initially described as curvy was baffling enough. The responses when you pointed out that the word doesn’t fit, though? “Curvy shouldn’t be taken as bad,” and “I definitely see curves”?

    Curvy has only ever been taken as bad when it’s assumed to be a euphemism for fat. As for “I definitely see curves,” the only train of thought I can see to get there is this: “real women have curves!”->”now *that’s* a real woman!”->”That woman has curves!”

    She doesn’t. She’s lovely and it’s a lovely photo but using “curvy” to describe her is inaccurate and unkind to women who are more curve than line.

    If every word we use to describe a body positively is made to describe thinness, we’re taking beauty away from people who are not thin. Those words matter. They affect perception, whether society will allow people who are not thin to be perceived as beautiful. And as your lovely photo demonstrates, curvy is beautiful.

    So yeah, it makes perfect sense that the misuse of the word would bother you. It’s tied to a whole lot more.

  3. Far too many people: “Oh, I like curves.”
    Me, channelling Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  4. I responded to you on Twitter and I’m delighted you blogged about this.
    First of all, I agree wholeheartedly with you that we need to stop with the body shaming and comparisons. It’s hateful towards women. I’ve been heavy and I’ve been very underweight and I got horrible hurtful things said to me, more so when I was very skinny. It goes both ways and it’s so unnecessary. And it was women that were cruel to me, not men!
    Secondly, I agree with you again, she isn’t remotely curvy… She’s hot yes, but not curvy!
    And finally, you look amazing! I wouldn’t call you fat in the least… You have a gorgeous body and great boobs honey! You have a feminine, womanly, curvy body. Embrace it and love it!
    Kat x

  5. I’ve been seeing “curvy” used to describe women with big boobs and nothing else a lot lately, too, and it’s disheartening as well as annoying. I’m with you…I used curvy to describe myself for a long time, but I think it’s like anything else – we need to take back the meaning of the word. Curvy, plus, and yes, even BBW, are becoming highly searched, highly popular terms (even if society isn’t ready to consider women like you and me anything but fat, le sigh) so in the online world, these labels are being applied to people that don’t fit the description either as a way to gain more attention or (more nefariously) to change our views on what’s curvy or plus – I’ll go with the former because it sounds less evil to me.

  6. You make a great and very valid point here and I was thinking about something similar earlier today. Women are constantly told to be one thing or another because that is supposedly what men want (I personally don’t think that what men want is all that valid but lets act as though it is for this argument), we are told to be thin, small, quiet, to not realise how beautiful we are and in the same breath are told to be outgoing and confident in who we are, that “real women have curves” and that an outspoken woman is attractive. It’s partly because of the pressure to conform on both men and women, a man is attracted to thin women but needs to conform so what does he do? Makes thin women the ideal, the thing we should all strive to be or be with. A man is more attracted to outspoken women, he tells all men they should be too and so women think this is what it expected of them. Another man is attracted to athletic, strong women and in order to conform acts as though his ideal is THE ideal.

    Women are told every day to conform to one standard but never given a clear definition of what that standard is, and even if they were the meanings of the words themselves are changed to make room for opinions. So what are we supposed to do?

    Well how about we acknowledge that everyone has their own idea of the aesthetically perfect or the perfect personality is and that no one opinion on this is right or wrong. if we all strive to be who we want regardless of labels then we will all have an endless supply of real, true, genuine people to be attracted to because we like them, not because they embody the current cultures most attractive features.We could all embrace whatever terms we would use to describe ourselves, there would be no need to lie by saying curvy instead of fat because fat would be fine, some people like fat more than curvy some don’t! There would be no need to describe a thin woman as curvy because thin would not be a bad word, it would be celebrated as what it is, so would thigh gaps and giggly tummies and loud-mouths and shy girls and all those in between and beyond… because you are you!

    But then the diet industry wouldn’t make as much money.

  7. “What we need is a culture where fat and thin are equally accepted, where curvy is just something you are rather than the body shape everyone aspires to, and most of all, where perfectly valid words aren’t repurposed and used to shame people.” – I totally agree!

    And, never ever forget that you are a beautiful woman with real curves!

    Rebel xox

  8. Pingback: Trolling the Net #15 – Molly's Daily Kiss

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