Following a lot of confusion around the subject of body shape and with a myriad of different guides to be found on the internet, TALL GUIDES contributor and blogger, Babs, went on a mission to demystify the term ‘body-type’ and this is what she found…

Marilyn Monroe, Pamela Anderson, Kim Kardashian. They all have what we call an hourglass body, each representing the incarnation of the most female sex-appeal of their time. There seems to exist a strange conspiracy between the media and fashion industry to define one perfect version of beauty and making it the only thing you will be fed constantly as soon as you switch on a TV, open a magazine or even just take the subway to the office. It used to work on me like a charm. I hated my body with a vengeance for being too tall, not delicate enough and wanting to put on weight in all the wrong places. If you google ‘apple shape‘ you will find a great number of nice fashion experts happily explaining that sadly yours is a ‘difficult‘ body shape to dress and then going on to recommend basically wearing tents with leggings to hide most of that body and show off your ’only‘ asset – your legs.

I’m going to be honest here and say something possibly unpopular among tall women. I have never much cared for my legs. Sure they are long and shapely, but they awkwardly make up most of my body and for the majority of my life I thought they were decisively too skinny. At some point, I was just over it and despite my better judgement, and that of various fashion experts, I bought a body-con dress. I started with just wearing it around the house where no one else would see me and maybe feel the need to comment on my ‘difficult‘ body shape and undesirable visible belly outline. Strangely enough every day I wore that dress, I would grow to find my body shape a little less odd. Over time, I even started noticing things I decisively liked about my body despite them not conforming to the beauty standard.

There is a myriad of different body shape guides to be found on the internet, comprised of an increasingly large number of categories with increasingly creative names. I still haven’t been able to find a good representation of my exact shape. To me it makes more sense to just have four basic shapes and the one that is the most similar to yours that’s where you’ll metaphorically line up behind.

Artwork: Barbara Rehbehn

Artwork Credit: Barbara Rehbehn

1.  Hourglass – top and bottom of similar width, significantly smaller waist

2.  Rectangle – top and bottom of similar width, waist not significantly smaller

3.  Pear – top significantly smaller then bottom

4.  Apple – top significantly wider then bottom

Note: Traditionally, the only shape that accommodates for a more prominent belly is the apple. This is why I used to work under the assumption that I had an apple body shape. Minus the belly I actually am a pretty standard rectangle. So to me it makes better sense to think of these shapes as existing more in relation to your bone structure if you will.

I searched the far and world wide web, trying to find some numbers on statistical distribution of body shapes among women. And finally, thanks to Wikipedia (which also has a lot of information worth reading on how our current beauty standard evolved over the past centuries), I found one article  about a study interestingly enough commissioned by a manufacturer for dress forms.

According to data of 6000 women taken from the Size USA project only 8% of us have an hourglass body shape! (Just let that sink in for a minute) There are 14% apples and 20% pears, but with a whopping 46% the rectangular body shape is by far the most widespread. That blew my mind a little, I mean a lot. I used to obviously have a very strong misconception about what a typical female body looks like. One reason being the media that only ever shows one body shape. The other being the fashion industry only ever showing their clothes worn by one body shape also. And consequently making those clothes to only fit – you guessed it – this one body shape!

There simply is no room for diversity in mass production. To design a piece of clothing so it can be manufactured in the most cost-efficient way, you will have to pick one shape, one set of measurements, to base your design on.  (Allowing for a little more variation this one basic set of measurements is graded according to a limited scale of sizes, although the proportions will stay the same).

Choosing a fit model is a giant shot in the dark. So why not just go with the beauty standard and hope that most of us will attribute bad fit to our own physical shortcomings rather then a highly oversimplified approach to female body shape representation.

Which I did for most of my life, much to the detriment of my well-being. Then I took on sewing and all of a sudden, I started realizing that mass produced clothes simply are a flawed product. I just didn’t know that my body would look great as soon as I put clothes on it that actually fit. For me being tall and the rest of my body also being in proportion to my height has been a huge part of not being able to find clothes that worked. But also I’m not an hourglass, rather a slightly top-heavy rectangle with a prominent belly. So, essentially the opposite of what standard clothing is based on.The point of body shape guides seems to be to explain how your body deviates from the ideal and how to dress to alter your ‘not-ideal‘ body shape. I don’t like that, I don’t like that at all. A lot of the time this approach makes you hide parts of your body that actually are quite beautiful just so you can create the illusion of conforming to the beauty standard.

I don’t think we necessarily all have to look the same, there is a lot of beauty in diversity.

I was a tall and lanky teenager in the nineties and I remember my girlfriends religiously hiding their bigger bottoms under plaid shirts wound around their waists. ‘Saddle bags’ were a big no-no back then. Since J Lo made having junk in the trunk acceptable, girls are now proudly wearing clothes made to show off curvy behinds and thighs. I’m actually waiting quite impatiently for the J Lo of visible belly outlines. In the meantime, I’m just going to try to pay less attention to the baggy plaid shirt of my inner teenage girl that an army of so-called fashion experts are urging me to wear paired with a nice pair of leg-emphasizing skinny jeans!

It’s great to have a rough idea about how your body is shaped, it’s even great to be aware of the beauty standard and how you compare to it. After all, we can’t really get away completely from being exposed to media’s idea of beauty. I love that I know I can use certain styles of clothing to enhance my curves to look a little more hourglass-y, this can be a confidence booster in certain situations in life. (Like going to a wedding and knowing you’ll inevitably be the tallest girl, sticking out like a sore thumb on another woman’s special day. If people are going to comment on your appearance anyway,it’s better to make sure you’ll feel great about what you’re wearing). On the other hand though, I strongly believe that it is far more important to accept your body for what it is and (at least try to start to) see it as an equally beautiful variation.Thanks to the internet, we have come a long way towards more body diversity already. Christian Siriano of dressing celebrities with non-standard bodies fame cast 5 plus size (!) models to walk his ‘regular‘ show in this year’s New York Fashion week. He plans to as the first designer ever make his line available in a huge range of sizes. That’s big. US plus size brand Lane Bryant  offers some of their trousers in three waist to hip ratio variations. If other brands followed these two examples that would make a great difference for the 92% of us who don’t have an hourglass body. I doubt mass produced clothes will ever be a product that can do all of our bodies justice equally, but I believe that with the beauty standard evolving towards diversity being the new ideal, the fashion industry will simply have no choice but to adapt by accommodating a bigger range of bodies. And the point in knowing your personal body shape will simply be finding which brand will give you the best fit possible. Now, that I’d like, that I’d like very much!

To hear more from Babs and her love for all things handmade, please visit her blog, which she writes in German and English