Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The new curve

I notice that whereas fat women were once called fat (and many other things, as if being fat were something the Nuremberg laws should have dealt with) they are now referred to as women with curves. 'I am proud of my curves,' I read recently, of a woman with a big bum and bosom. I wonder if the hanging part of the upper arm can now be referred to as a curve?


Maverick said...

Beth Ditto is amazing.

Anonymous said...

there's "curves" and there's flab. I think curves belong, alas, to the under 50s.

mq, cb said...

I have an acquaintance who once told me that big rounded calves (which she btw had) were sexy because they reminded men of the curves that sat about them, presumably on her bottom, bust and on the rounded bits around and between them.

On an aesthetic level, I can sort of see that. Look at Sargent's picture of Madame X. The curve and indentation of her left arm (as you look at the picture) is mimicked in the curve of her body, which to me is part of the appeal of the painting. 19th century novels (written by men) talk about a woman's rounded arms, probably because they couldn't mention her bosom and for some people there is a certain sense that to be pleasingly plump or rounded is alluring. A "little pot" as one of the characters pointed out in Pulp Fiction, is nice to touch even if you don't want to look at it.

On the other hand, I reckon my acquaintance was reaching for something that would make her feel good about her chunky calves.

rb said...

I carry a little extra that I'm not pleased about but my husband SWEARS he loves it. He also can't keep his eyes off Christina Hendricks in Mad Men, so maybe he just has a type. Although she's more of a va va voom curvy. Or maybe she's just very educated about support garments.

greying pixie said...

There are curves and there are spare tyres. Curves are healthy, spare tyres are not. I don't think Sophia Loren has much to fear from the Michelin Man... or Woman.

The painting of Madame X is great example of curves, as curves do not obliterate muscle definition but rather follow the same lines on the female form. And I'm not referring to the grotesque Madonna type.

vespabelle said...

There's a pattern company that has a few different fit levels one of which is "curvy girl." I saw it and thought, "yay, a pattern for women who have big boobs!" Sadly, the pattern sizes started above my overweight size.

Rubiatonta said...

As someone possessed with what some would consider to be more than my fair share of curves (or flab, take your pick, as I'm still under 50), I'm one of many who are reclaiming the word "fat" as a simple descriptor, rather than a value judgment.

It's an unoriginal thought on my part, but I wanted to point out that fat hatred is one of the last officially sanctioned forms of prejudice. And it's not nice, even when disguised as concern for our health.

Lainie said...

I don't understand the coy talk and euphemisms. I don't mind "curves" so much, but when women refer to their fat as "fluff" -- usually with a giggle -- it drives me nuts. Call it what it is.

mq, cb said...

Rubiatonta, I have some sympathy for your point of view because it's not pleasant to be criticised. Still I'm not sure that "fat hatred" exists and if it does, it could only be a tiny minority who do hate, if only because nowadays the majority are not thin. I have never encountered "fat hatred" and I speak as a person who has been everything from clinically obese to thin and there and back again. Hatred is a very strong word.

Of course when I was huge, people occasionally made comments about my size and they ran the range from kind and helpful through to judgmental and inconsiderate. I may even have thought that some of them were hurtful or made with malicious intent, but it was not "fat hatred". Btw, I got almost as many when I was thin from people who didn't like that either. Fat or thin, certain people will always comment if they disapprove, even when it's blindingly obvious that their comments are unwelcome.

True hatred is different. My father is brown and my mother white, and when I was young inter-racial marriages were uncommon outside the major cities. Adults felt free to scream abuse at my parents in the street. Kids beat my brother and I up at school and then marvelled that Pakis bleed red just like everyone else. That's hatred. There were people at my school who were revolted, actually physically revolted, at the thought of sitting next to me on a bus. They thought that someone with brown skin was less of a person than they were. (Even now, when I think about it, I marvel at what a truly strange way that is to view the world. It didn't matter what I could ever say or do, or even what I had said or done: I must be Less or Other because I have light brown skin. Weirdos, the lot of them).

No one does that when you're fat. Fat people are still regarded as people. For some, people of a different ethnicity or religion are not people at all. They just don't count.

In my experience, most of the comments come from people who have never been fat or are happy with the way that they are so they truly don't understand what it is like. To them, being overweight (or to take the side of the size 0 for a moment) or skinny means that you just don't want to try, or you are weak, or self-indulgent and maybe you need encouragement or just to be put right. They may be wrong, but they don't hate you. They just think that they can get away with it.

And on the subject of Christina Hendricks, part of the reason she looks good may be a decent girdle but I think that it also comes down to good posture. She carries herself well and it makes her look good.

Anonymous said...

I'm over 50, and I have curves not flab (Not that I wouldn't be happy to reduce the curves in some places and add them in others, but it's how I'm made.)

The only euphemism I find absurd is "thick." African American women supposedly use this term and though I'm AA I've never actually heard it.

Bring it on, but I personally would not want to look like Beth Ditto.

She doesn't have curves, she has rolls.

Anonymous said...

mq, cb said:

Good discussion. Fat people often aren't treated well, but any antipathy they encounter cannot be compared with the animus of racism.

Anonymous said...

All this talk about flab and arms has prompted me to pull out my dumbbells. I'll never have Michelle Obama arms, but they will be firm and strong.

I think I'll also do another 10 minutes with my new can't-get-to-the-gym exercise toy, an electronic, "ropeless" jump rope.

Thanks, Ladies!

Rubiatonta said...

mq, fat hatred is very much alive and well in the world -- it's possible that you haven't experienced it directly, but it does happen. And in ways both subtle and unsubtle.

I'm NOT huge -- between a size 16 and and 18, though I have been both bigger and smaller -- but I and friends of mine have in fact been treated as less than whole humans because our size. By lots of institutions and lots of individuals.

None of this is to say that what you experienced growing up was anything less than odious. Or that hatred of any person different than oneself is anything less than fully unacceptable. In that, we are in violent agreement.

[And in the interest of not hijacking this lovely fashion blog, I'd like to suggest heading over to for more on this subject.]

Anonymous said...

I'd love to be curvy but I do not carry my extra weight that well and so I have flab.

vespabelle i feel your pain. most garments i find are not made to handle DDs.

phyllis said...

The sewing forums always have lots of posts about plus sizes and body image. Fit is one thing but flab, spare tires and muffin tops are something else again. I have a SIL who carries a lot of extra weight, but she also does martial arts, she's fit, and her clothes look great on her. I have another SIL who is just as heavy but is a total couch potato and she wears tents.

Duchesse said...

When I listen to women, there is such fear about "getting fat": "Oh I can't eat that, I'll get FAT." At the most intense end of the emotions that fear stimulates, there is hatred, no matter what kind of language you put on it.

mq, cb said...

I agree with Phyllis. Fat or thin, I was actually happiest and clothes fit best when I was fit. Good muscle tone, even if it's well-padded, makes an enormous difference.

Louise said...

Why are you so unkind to your own sex and their middle aged bodies and 'hanging bits'? These women are often selfless Mothers who have had their bodies stretched irreversibly in pregnancy, then wiped our bums and gone without over many years to raise us. Young women die daily due to the self hatred and fear of 'fat'. Blog about fashion. Calm down about the curves/fat/hanging bits. Use your powerful blog as a positve influence rather than negative. Think about taking off your New Curve post. And in case you think I'm a defensive curvy middle aged woman myself, I am a bony, younger woman.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I do not feel physically comfortable when overweight, I would defend any woman's right to be as fat as she wants. What I resent is that the classification of 'curves' has been stolen, probably by the marketing world, in order to make money.

I notice in the window of Evans recently, the usual curvey heavy models with good muscle tone have been replaced by a model with rolls of fat round the middle under the words 'discover your curves' or words to that effect.

I would not judge a woman by her rolls of fat just as I would not judge a person who smokes - but both conditions are extremely detrimental to health and should not be encouraged by advertising.

Linda Grant said...

I don't think you have quite understood the post Louise. Have another read.

Jo said...

I wear a size 16 US/18 UK and am just over five foot two. Technically, I am "plus-size" when it comes to clothes and "obese" when it comes to BMI. I carry a lot of muscle and work out regularly with the meanest trainer ever.

The odd thing about my body type and size is that people describe me as "slim" or "muscular" (even when I'm not listening) and assume I weigh forty pounds less and wear a dress two sizes smaller than I do.

The only person who's ever given me grief about my weight or size was my doctor, who took it back once I took my shirt off and she saw my back muscles. Hm.

Anonymous said...

You're right Linda, I misunderstood.
Sorry. REALLY.

Louise said...

You're right Linda, I misunderstood.
Sorry. REALLY.