Sunday, March 4, 2012


Aesthetically, I love curves. The marks in the margins of my notebooks are often swooping, weaving, overlapping curving lines, forming ovals and ellipses and circles. And I enjoy curves on people too-- the curve of a smile, the oval of a wrist, the dip between ribcage and hips.

It's funny, then, that something so aesthetically awesome has come to be so... divisive.

Yes, divisive. Or at least, upsetting to a surprisingly large number of women-- at least, when used in two relatively common ways:
1. Real Women Have Curves
2. Random Actress, a curvy young woman

The two cause problems for different reasons-- one, because some feel it excludes the validity of slender women, and the second, because some feel it renders heavier women irrelevant and non-existent.

So, what is curvy? I prefer to use it as an accurate description-- not a euphemism for anything, but a description of a woman who has multiple noticeable curves. So, I'm curvy. So is Scarlett Johanson. And Crystal Renn. And Katherine Heigl. And Emme. Who isn't? Callista Flockhart. Beth Ditto.

Somewhere along the way, "curvy" came to be a polite euphemism for "fat". A way of describing someone without having to use a word that has unsavory connotations-- though the Fat Acceptance movement is trying to eliminate those connotations, as they should. And somewhere after that, someone came up with the phrase "real women have curves" -- yes, it's the title of a play and a movie, but it also turned into a rallying cry-- one that was used to decry thin women as sexless, as unsexy, as boyish and immature-- as undesirable in the eyes of men. In a way, its ironic that women were tearing down others in their quest for self-celebration, and that they were using to idea of male acceptance to do so-- but that habit, unfortunately, is not linked just to weight.

Crying "real women have curves" harms all women, just as the patriarchy hurts all people, because its celebrating the idea that there is one right way to be-- in this case, a larger, softer body frame. The curves in this phrase don't just apply to T and A either-- and having only T and A probably wouldn't get a chick in the club with most women who chanted that-- because the phrase isn't even about celebrating having curves, its about celebrating being a woman who isn't thin, about saying that you are somehow better because thin women must starve themselves, or be bitchy, or be frigid, or be sluts, or be vapid, or... you get the idea. The core of it might have been women building themselves up, but when you're defining a "real woman" that narrowly, you can't use that definition to build yourself up without tearing yourself down. And yes, society does privilege thin women-- but that doesn't mean they're the enemy, and it doesn't mean they don't have their own body issues.

So when you see one woman chanting about this on a message board, or chanting about how boring women who diet/exercise are, or vapid, or narcissistic, or whatever, some other woman will get offended and post about how she/her best friend is thin, curveless, and awesome.
And then the flame war starts, and I get angry about how everyone thinks everyone else's body is their business.

Curvy also pisses people off when its used as a basic description though, neither celebratory nor negative-- especially when its describing someone hot, young, and blonde, like Scarlett Johansen. Commenters tend to immediately react to the fact that someone thin is being described as curvy! That that's not what it means! Look at her, she's not curvy! except... if you've looked at her lately... she is. She looks like an hourglass; her body has multiple, drastic curves. But many women who have claimed curvy as a description for themselves react negatively-- perhaps because they feel it's yet another media push to ignore them, perhaps because they're so used to hearing curvy as a euphemism for fat that they think the actress must be being described as fat. And if she's fat, what does that make all of us? Heavens!

Clearly, I think all the fights over this are silly, and missing the point. You keep referring to whatever body shape you want as curvy, and I'll keep referring to hourglasses as curvy. That's not the real problem here.

The problem is that American society-- including the women who decry this sort of thing--values certain body shapes over others. And is willing to apply negative connotations to certain body shapes. And that we, as a whole, are willing to internalize those negative connotations, to use them as weapons against each other, and to continue this harmful trend. The next time a friend tries to compliment you by saying you've lost weight, or that you look slim, as some kind of shorthand, think about what's being said and how you want to respond. The next time you take notice of someone's weight, pay attention to where your mind goes. And the next time you look at yourself in the mirror, think more about the fit of your clothes than what the body under them could/should/might be described as.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've always been a fan of plus-size models! There's a great site with many images of Crystal and other plus-size models here:

They're all gorgeous.

The site's forum also has thought-provoking discussions about body image and the media.