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Laura Chapnick: “Sorting women's bodies into set shapes is the explicit antithesis of celebrating female diversity”

image courtesy of msdianekennedy.wordpress.com

Every time you read a fashion magazine, you get a little more accustomed to the industry’s topsy-turvy groupthink. You eventually feel so comfortable with ‘insider’ jargon and alliterative headlines that they become a second language.

A typical publication’s format allows you to do little more than flip through the pages to get the overall gist of an editor’s vision– it’s all too easy to just sit back, enjoy the pretty pictures, and accept what publications preach. But perhaps it’s time to get skeptical.

As creatures of habit, magazines recycle the same phrases, ideas, and headlines through the seasons. One of these classics is the ‘how to dress for your body type’ section. In North America, it’s difficult to find a female who hasn’t tried to place her body within one of the stock categories editors provide.

The titles ‘pear,’ ‘apple,’ and ‘hourglass’ are engrained within our vocabulary and it’s become second nature to throw them into regular conversation. It’s actually quite disturbing how entrenched these labels are within our contemporary culture. We use them to give friends style advice, to comment on other women’s bodies, and to reflect on our own figures.

In middle school, tween girls learn that countless different body shapes exist and that, like a snowflake, no two bodies appear identical. As adults, we are still aware of this fact, but it becomes harder to digest, for the media seems hell-bent on entirely different ideas.

Although ‘pear,’ ‘apple,’ and ‘hourglass’ may act as umbrella terms – and even illustrate that a woman is not alone in her bodily woes – sorting women’s bodies into set categories is the explicit antithesis of celebrating female diversity. Labeling a woman’s form a ‘pear’ based on the width of her hips, or an ‘apple’ due to her substantial stomach, reduces her to a little more than a silhouette.

The frequent use of these titles not only influences our self-identity, but our choice of clothes and how we put ourselves together. How many times have you considered wearing an a-line skirt if you have thicker thighs, a blousy shirt to hide a rounder stomach, or a waist belt to emphasize your slim middle? This ‘know-how’ isn’t instinct, but the product of endless dressing tutorials on repeat– the whole thing undermines the very concept of individual style.

With the shift from runway to street style, there’s a burgeoning interest in how people put themselves together, whether it be in bold or more traditional ways. Not only has personal, ‘real’ fashion taken over the internet, it’s found its way into the heart of leading magazines. This celebration of unique style seems to be a well-heeled step in the right direction.

And yet these dress-by-numbers features still find their way into fashion magazines, only to create a confusing sense of dissonance when placed pages away from articles that celebrate quirky bloggers and their eye for the unique. Whereas one is meant to inspire, the other is meant to instruct.

It’s time magazines stop regurgitating easy content– simplifying and classifying females as fruits, or anything else, isn’t the answer. This tug of war between the fashion ideas of old and a future that respects diversity needs to end. Women simply deserve more; they are more.


Laura Chapnick studies literature and art history at McGill University. Follow her on Twitter at @LBChapnick.

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