Dressing for whose shape, exactly?
A few days ago, I heard a young woman, about my age, express the sentiment, “Women should really dress for the body type they have, not the one they want.” She isn’t alone in her thinking. It seems finding flattering clothing is a universal concern for women.
In department store dressing rooms, we search for jeans to camouflage a large backside, or enhance a smaller one. We try on twenty blouses looking for the perfect fit — the top that will make our waists seem slimmer, our breasts perkier, our arms more toned. Every woman who grew up in a culture that targets (or creates) body insecurities is a kind of magician. We transform the way we are perceived through the right blazer or pair of heels. But what do we gain?
We are promised “body confidence.” Women’s magazines (especially those addressing young women and teens) offer regular articles on dressing for your shape. The magazines usually run these articles based on the idea that women fit into four basic categories:
- Pear: larger hips and smaller bust; a.k.a. “spoon”
- Banana: a straight up and down body type; a.k.a. “ruler” or “rectangle”
- Apple: most weight is carried in midsection, sometimes shoulders are wider than hips; a.k.a. “cone”
- Hourglass: larger breasts/hips with a clearly defined waist
Women may fit roughly into these categories, but it’s insulting that our bodies are being compared to inanimate objects.
Not to mention the celebrity comparisons! Beyoncé is given as an example of how to dress a pear body. I’m a pear, but I think it’s time for me to face the unfortunate fact: I do not and will not ever look like Beyoncé. Being told I should dress like an ultra-fit performance artist when my exercise regime involves carrying books home from the library doesn’t exactly do wonders for my body confidence.
It may seem nice to see more than one body type represented in a magazine. My initial reaction to Dress For Your Body Type articles is, “Oh, that’s cool. There are clothes for me.” I lose my optimism after reading the articles.
The latest issue of Seventeen (November 2011) features the article “Make Your Body Look Amazing!” As if our bodies aren’t already amazing as they are. The article offers advice to three body types: petite, curvy, and tall. The article advertises clothing that will, “add some curves” or “[skim] over your tummy”. In essence, clothing that will hide your “flaws” and create the illusion of a different figure.
But why must we hide our stomachs? Why is it so essential to add curves? Does it really matter if our favorite sweater is flattering? Can’t it just be warm? Maybe it’s a radical concept, but the key to body confidence may be wearing what we want to wear with no thought of hiding or enhancing. I propose we start dressing for our own pleasure, and stop trying to fit into the acceptable guidelines for a narrowly defined shape. Who’s with me?
Cassandra Sheets is a sophomore at Columbia College Chicago, where she studies Fiction Writing and Women and Gender Studies. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the Harold Washington and yelling at bad reality television shows.