Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Apple Shape, Pear Shape, Bull Shape

I am not a pear. Nor am I an apple, or an hourglass. I’m not a pencil, or a triangle, or a bell, or a rectangle.

But how does she dress herself in the morning? you gasp. My god, how does she know whether to wear skirts at or above the knee? frills at the bust or at the hem? can she “get away with” a wrap dress? a cinch waist? BOOT-LEG OR FLARE?

Women's magazines assume that after decades of fruitspeak, every American woman knows by right where her botanical destiny lies; just in case there’s the odd raised-by-wolves type who needs to figure out her best dress shape, of course, there’s often a brief guide: You are to look in the mirror and assess which fruit your silhouette most accurately resembles. Oh, the terms might vary: You’re not a pear, you’re a spoon! You’re not a banana or boy-shaped—nay, you are a ruler! (Actually, in magazines’ defense not many of them try to get away with “banana” any longer, perhaps recognizing that few of their readers were long, curveless creatures whose hips perpetually jutted to the left.) Hourglass, of course, never changes; despite the thin-imperative, all of the corrective clothing picks in the “dress your shape” magazine columns are designed to basically make us mimic the hourglass shape if we don’t have it naturally. (Not to be left out of the not-quite-good-enough game, of course, “hourglass” women are sometimes recast as “busty,” in which case the page focuses on “minimizing” and controlling the mighty mammaries.)

If looking in the mirror doesn’t help you? You could try asking strangers on the Internet (Google “am i a pear or an apple” for further assistance); you could consult Wikipedia. I once actually started plugging things like my wrist circumference into an online form to determine once and for all what fucking fruit I am, but stopped when I realized I was crazy-making, and now I can’t find it, but it exists. In general, waist-hip ratio is generally agreed upon as the determining factor of pear versus apple. This might work fine and dandy for the bitsy newsy health tip about how apples are all going to die of something tomorrow, if they haven't already. (Can we make apples and pears Health at Any Size’s next battle? I can't believe that every apple out there is going to get diabetes.) But in any case, it does squat for the woman who’s deemed a pear by the measuring tape, but in fact just has a curvy booty as opposed to wide hips.

Am I alone in never, ever having fit a single one of these categories? My hips aren’t quite wide enough for me to be a pear, I’m a little too curvy to be a banana, my waistline doesn’t qualify me as an apple, and I’m not busty enough to be an hourglass. More to the point, am I alone in having this sort of magnetic attraction-repulsion to the idea that there’s this set of guidelines that determines our “type,” like a personality flow chart for your figure? It’s this weird little corner of magazines that feels specifically tailored for you—I mean, look, there are FOUR DIFFERENT “REAL WOMEN” on this page, and one of them is probably even not-white (it's a favorite place for ladymags to cram in some "diversity"), so clearly She is We, and We are She, and this magazine and I are totally vibing—but that actually has nada to do with how you might look in puffed-sleeve blouses (pears), flared jeans (apples, I think?), or high necklines (bananas!).

 Late-night Photoshoppin': Don't tell me I don't know how to party.

It’s a categorization that shows us, more blatantly than other tools in women’s magazines, to view our bodies as problem zones. The savvier fashion writers  tell you to play up your good parts instead of  trying to hide the bad, but in some ways that echoes the notion of telling a heavy-set woman “Oh, but you’ve got such a pretty face” as a supposed compliment—as though now she must do something to “match” her “good points.”

Now, listen, I’ve got nothing against dressing to flatter your figure. I do it every day (please leave polite, anonymous comments if I am grossly mistaken). Scoop necklines, boot-cut jeans, stretchy pencil skirts, and faux-wrap dresses line my closet, because they’re what make me look the best. They visually create a nicer picture than, say, empire dresses and flare-legged jeans would on me. (Did the Powers That Be just want to temper my bohemian bent by forcing me into J.Crew?) And I’m guessing that for many women who don’t trust their visual sense or their instincts, or who just want some guidelines, that those pages are truly helpful. They're sure as shit popular, a perennial high scorer in magazine metrics.

But you know what? I am about the least fashion-conscious person out there, and I figured this stuff out. (Of course, that could be part of why; when you only care about what looks flattering instead of staying on-trend, it’s easier to find what works for you. Some call my wardrobe boring; I vote “classic.”) It’s not because I pay attention to the magazines that I figured out what worked on me: It’s because I look in the mirror. I made a vow several years ago—around the same that I began to suspect that this whole apple-pear thing was largely bullshit designed to appear "helpful" but wasn't really—that I wasn’t going to buy any clothing that didn’t give me an immediate “yes.” Voilà, a wardrobe was born: Within a year of this decision, my closet was filled with pretty much nothing but the items above. My fashion guidelines don’t flatter a single piece of fruit, but they flatter me just fine.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t pay attention to the magazines, though. Did I ever. From my first issue of Seventeen until I figured out a few years ago that I was neither apple nor pear nor hourglass but a cornucopia, I memorized every pear-shaped and plus-sized trick in the book, despite not being either of those. Like so many issues surrounding body image, what I actually looked like wasn’t what the issue. My light case of body dysmorphia (just a cough, really) dictated that I fixated on the size of my thighs, which are certainly ample but A) aren’t hips, and B) aren’t broad enough to make me resemble a classic d’Anjou. But the closest thing I could seize upon to fix this perceived flaw was the pear. And, of course, I cleverly deduced that in order to look smaller (which, at certain points in my life, took on a vastly inappropriate importance), one should read the “plus” section. I spent years never even trying on pencil skirts, because they only worked for hourglass figures and I was a pear, right?, instead “preferring” A-line skirts that never felt quite right.

I didn’t really realize how much my old perceived flaws had dictated the way I dressed, though, until I saw a hint of it elsewhere. I'm reading the blog of my friend Andréa, who’s doing the 30 for 30 challenge, in which you pick 30 items from your closet and wear only those; she’s using it as a way of challenging herself to wear things that are out of her comfort zone. She casually mentioned that one of her combinations was a personal challenge because it emphasized her “boy shape,” and it threw me for a loop to see someone who is most definitely shaped like a woman (what else could we be shaped like? oh, yes, fruit and spoons) describe herself that way—especially because she looked fantastic in the item in question, a studded belt. 

Andréa’s studded belt, my years with no pencil skirts, a vintage color-block dress I bought but never wore because the saleslady told me as she handed it over that “only an hourglass can get away with this” (encouragement or admonishment? it didn’t matter; I disqualified myself from being its wearer and gave it away): What are we missing out on because of our ingrained notions of what actually suits us? Add to this a tidbit that Beauty Schooled recently posted on Facebook about how nobody actually has a waist—it’s a tailoring term, not an anatomical one—and all of a sudden it’s beginning to look like we’ve been wearing the emperor’s clothes for a while now.