The Perils of Self-Reported Body Types

Is this you?

It’s tricky, filling in your OkCupid profile. And one of the trickiest bits is ‘body type’. While ‘height’, ‘drugs’ and ‘income’ pose no problem (the general rule is to lie), ‘body type’ is a loaded topic. Are you thin, overweight, skinny, average, fit, athletic, jacked, a little extra, curvy, full figured or used up? I’m not quite sure what ‘used up’ means, but if the rest of the list is anything to go by, it presumably means sod all.

Take, for example, ‘curvy’. The Kinder Bueno of body-type terminology, it can be whatever you want it to be. Dita von Teese is  curvy. Venus de Milo is curvy. Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit in Shallow Hal is curvy. Every self-styled ‘real woman’ who has ever been eulogised in the Daily Mail is curvy. Heck, even men can be curvy. What else would you call your beer belly – rectolinear?

OkCupid, to its credit, knows what it’s doing. The latest OkTrends post includes a chart plotting body type against sex drive and self-confidence. It notes:

Though many of the words are just a shade of meaning apart, there are dramatic differences in the traits of the people who choose them… It’s particularly interesting to isolate skinny—a deprecating way to say something generally considered positive —and curvy—an empowering way to say something generally considered negative.

In short, the way a girl describes herself is not so much a gauge of her muffin top, as it is of how pissed off she was that day.

Body-shape categorisations can quickly move into the realm of the surreal. TV makeover shows, for instance, tend to work on the basis that women are interchangeable with fruit. The female body can be:

a) an apple (fat deposited around the middle),
b) a pear (fat deposited around the hips),
c) a banana (no fat at all, but bendy) and
d) an hourglass (because, let’s face it, no-one ever saw a voluptuous kumquat).

I have a new-found respect for the shopping habits of men: buying socks without once envisioning themselves as loganberries.

Anyway, I reckon it’s time OkCupid got creative. Given the lack of hard-and-fast divisions between body shapes, it’s time they went the whole hog and turned it into a kind of word association game. Screw literal meaning. If connotations are of the essence, why don’t they ask us to define our body shape as a colour? As a mood? As a type of floor polish? As a spectacularly mediocre 1990s boyband? It would be fun. More importantly, it would avoid the disappointment that ensues when your ‘athletic’ date turns out to be the UK Heavyweight Champion of Beer Pong.

In the meantime, I suppose people’s photos might prove the more accurate guide.


About Abi Millar

British freelance journalist living in the Netherlands
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6 Responses to The Perils of Self-Reported Body Types

  1. stevesw says:

    NICE! “hourglass (because, let’s face it, no-one ever saw a voluptuous kumquat)”, good thing I had just picked up my tea mug and not taken a drink from it.

  2. jonathan says:

    I just read an article about how pictures ruining online dating profiles too. Something about people falling for the one good picture instead of all the others. I can’t for the life of me find the link from yesterday. But now, the describe your body type seems like nothing compared to that phenomena. My okcupid profile will soon have all mediocre pictures.

  3. Tessie says:

    It pisses me off that the only options approximating my body type don’t actually describe my body type. I am, by all accounts, curvy and hourglass-shaped. However, I also have a BMI of 19. I have generous breasts, feminine hips, and a small flat waist which is ten inches smaller than my chest and hip area. But my only commonly-recognized option of body type is “slender”, together with all the stick-like, prepubescent-boy-shaped waifs who look nothing like me from the neck down. “Curvy” and “voluptuous” (which actually means “sensual”, not “fat”; look it up”) have already been appropriated by the overweight demographic even though they are technically much better descriptors of my body type than “slender”. If I called myself curvy (which I technically am, especially compared to an overweight woman whose waist is the same circumference as her bottom, or maybe bigger, and who looks like a refrigerator), I will be assumed to be sugar-coating fatness. DAMN IT ALL. They need separate categories for “curvy and slim”, “curvy and average” and “curvy and thick”.

    • Anonymous #2 says:

      Agreed–“curvy” is used by folks who are just plain overweight, which is too bad. I just want someone who is HWP (height weight proportionate)–anything from slender to curvy–but that’s hard to find in our obesity epidemic age.

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