CW: talk about body sizes and descriptions and feelings about them.
This weekend, I came across a FB post from a triathlete who posted a picture of herself, asking the group how they would describe her body type. The company that sponsors her team had asked her (with good intentions, she said), as a way to get her input. She describes herself as a person who’s struggled with weight and is a back of the pack rider for her team.
Among the 110+ (and counting) comments she got were:
- Strong (hands-down winner among commenters)
- Healthy and active
- Athena (triathlete category, minimum weight requirement of 165 lbs/75kg)
- Strong AF!
- Adult woman size
- Fit and Fabulous
- Bad Ass Lady
There were also some suggestions that felt size-conscious or even a bit size-embarrassed (my term); feel free to scroll past these if you like:
- Curvy athletic
- Hourglass figure with extra hours
- Athletic fit plus (but clarified to be plus healthy, real, etc.)
What do I mean by size-embarrassed? When I hear words like “curvy” and “voluptuous” and “Rubenesque” (outside of 17th-century art history), I always feel like the message is something like “this woman’s body is outside the ideal or norm for the context, and I’m trying to defer to that norm but also say something positive while at the same time acknowledging the tension with a joke”.
All of the commenters were trying to support the original poster and were very attentive to being body-positive and admiring of the poster’s athletic achievements, which are considerable. And yet.
Their respectful discussion reminded me of how hard it can be to talk descriptively about bodies. It also made me think about when and why we feel we need to talk descriptively about bodies. Yes, when we shop for clothing, there are some styles that favor different dimensions and ratios of hips and thighs and waists and breasts and legs, etc. And when we do physical activity, it’s important to note and attend to the variations among bodies that dictate modifications in training, gear, apparel, etc. And finally, at more intensely competitive levels of some activities and sports, detailed facts about the athletes’ bodies become more salient to performance.
Samantha has written about names and labels: Fat or big: What’s in a name?
She’s also written about names for bodies here: I’m fat but not super-fat: on labels, power and identity
Reading Sam’s posts, I’m feeling a little better about the fact that, 3 years after her most recent post, I don’t have a clear position about how to talk about bodies, bigger bodies, my body, your body. I know I don’t like the notion of body types, but am not sure what to do when I feel the need to describe myself or someone else. As Sam said, “it’s complicated”.
To be continued. but for now: do you use body-type language? When do you use it? How do you feel about it? I’d love to hear from you.