Thursday, May 20, 2010

Waist not, want not?

Christina: curvy

The hourglass figure, as exemplified by Christina Hendricks of Mad Men (and most of the classic starlets of the forties, fifties and sixties)has just been voted as the feminine ideal, out of a choice of seven body shapes, by both mean and women in a survey conducted by lingerie maker, Triumph. This just confirms research done by the University of Texas three years ago who analysed 350,000 works of literature looking for comments on women's shape. The study, led by nothing else to do obviously researcher, Dr Devendra Singh, also looked at ancient Chinese and Indian litereature and concluded that a slim waist was regularly indicated as desirable.

Raquel Welch: now that is a waist/hip ratio!

Of course, it is not a slim waist per se, but a slim waist in proportion to hips that counts. Waist to hip ratios are expressed as a a figure taken by measuring the waist and dividing it by the hip measurement. So a woman with a 24" waist and a 34" hip measurement would have a ratio of 0.70. Such a ratio, indicative of the classic hourglass shape, has been shown to be associated with higher fertility and lower chronic disease as well as being popular with men throughout history. Playboy Playmates have an average ratio of approximately 0.68. Interestingly, recent research has shown that women who work, or are the lone parent in a family, are more likely to have a ratio of 0.80. This is not just based on food intake but, it seems is a side effect of busy and stressful lives. Professor Cashad of the University of Utah did a study a few years ago that found that the busier a woman was the more of the hormone androgen she produced. Whilst this gives women greater strength, stamina and competitiveness it allso increased fat deposits around the waist.

Heather Ryan: Playboy's Miss July 1967 36-20-35: a ratio of 0.57!

However, it is not just stress that is meaning that just as the hourglass figure becomes desirable again it is less and less common: it's eating too much. A study in North Carolina showed that just 8% of the female population (from a a sample of 6,000) had the classic hourglass figure with a waist/hip ratio of 0.70 or less. In Britain (where we are still not as fat as Americans - although sadly catching up) the average woman's vital statistics have gone from 37/27/39 in 1950 (a hip/waist ratio of 0.69) to 39/34/41 today (a ratio of 0.83). So British womens' waists have increased by a staggering seven inches in sixty years yet bust and hips have only increased by two inches.

Its perhaps no wonder that women with more straight up and down figures are held out by the fashion industry as desirable given that the proportions of the target market are similar (if larger). Not that today's models are fat but they demonstrate much more androgynous figures than models in the fifties. Oddly, this is often deliberately disguised by photographers who shoot from clever angles to make straight up and down girls look curvier for swimsuit pictures aimed at men rather than fashion photographs aimed at women. They recognise that curvy is still the ideal for most men. Of course, as is the case with world's highest paid model Giselle Bundchen, a bust job helps fool people into thinking you're curvy too.

Giselle Bundchen. Her swimsuit and lingerie photos are rarely as revealing of her straight up and down figure as this catwalk photo is.

Triple P prefers his girls to be shaped like women: so hooray for Christina Hendricks, Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson and at least we won't need digital retouchers in magazines (such as this month's ironically named Healthy) to add weight to them so they look normal rather than starved to death.