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|The factual accuracy of part of this article is disputed. The dispute is about the study used to justify the classification of body types. (October 2013)|
Female body shape or female figure is the cumulative product of a woman's skeletal structure and the quantity and distribution of muscle and fat on the body. As with most physical traits, there is a wide range of normality of female body shapes.
Attention has been focused on the female body as a source of aesthetic pleasure, sexual attraction, fertility, and reproduction in most human societies. There are, and have been, wide differences in what should be considered an ideal or preferred body shape, both for attractiveness and for health reasons.
Women's bodies occur in a range of shapes. Female figures are typically narrower at the waist than at the bust and hips. The bust, waist, and hips are called inflection points, and the ratios of their circumferences are used to define basic body shapes.
Estrogens have a significant impact on a female's body shape. They are produced in both men and women, but their levels are significantly higher in women, especially in those of reproductive age. Besides other functions, estrogens promote the development of female secondary sexual characteristics, such as breasts and hips. As a result of estrogens, during puberty, girls develop breasts and their hips widen. However, the presence of testosterone in a pubescent female inhibits breast development and promotes muscle development; while estrogens act in the other direction.
Estrogen levels also rise significantly during pregnancy. A number of other changes typically occur during pregnancy, including enlargement and increased firmness of the breasts, mainly due to hypertrophy of the mammary gland in response to the hormone prolactin. The size of the nipples may increase noticeably. These changes may continue during breastfeeding. Breasts generally revert to approximately their previous size after pregnancy, although there may be some increased sagging.
Breasts can decrease in size at menopause if estrogen levels decline.
Estrogens cause higher levels of fat to be stored in a female body than in a male body. They also affect body fat distribution, causing fat to be stored in the buttocks, thighs, and hips in women, but generally not around their waists, which will remain about the same size as they were before puberty. The hormones produced by the thyroid gland regulate the rate of metabolism, controlling how quickly the body uses energy, and controls how sensitive the body should be to other hormones. Body fat distribution may change from time to time, depending on food habits, activity levels and hormone levels.
Body fat percentage recommendations are higher for females, as this fat may serve as an energy reserve for pregnancy. Males have less subcutaneous fat in their faces due to the effects of testosterone; testosterone also reduces fat by aiding fast metabolism. The lack of estrogen in males generally results in more fat deposit around waists and abdomens (producing an "apple shape").
Testosterone is a steroid hormone which helps build and maintain muscles with physical activity, such as exercise. The amount of testosterone produced varies from one individual to another, but, on average, an adult female produces around one-tenth of the testosterone of an adult male, but females are more sensitive to the hormone. The muscles most likely to be affected are the pectoral muscles, biceps and the triceps in the arms and quadriceps in the thighs.
On the other hand, estrogens reduce muscle mass. Muscle mass changes over time as a result of changes in testosterone and estrogen levels and exercise, besides other factors.
The aging process has an inevitable impact on a person's body shape. A woman's sex hormone levels will affect the fat distribution on her body. According to Dr. Devendra Singh, "Body shape is determined by the nature of body fat distribution that, in turn, is significantly correlated with women's sex hormone profile, risk for disease, and reproductive capability." Concentrations of estrogen will influence where body fat is stored.
Before puberty both males and females have a similar waist–hip ratio. At puberty, a girl's sex hormones, mainly estrogen, will promote breast development and a wider pelvis tilted forward for child bearing, and until menopause a woman's estrogen levels will cause her body to store excess fat in the buttocks, hips and thighs, but generally not around her waist, which will remain about the same size as it was before puberty. These factors result in women's waist–hip ratio (WHR) being lower than for males, although males tend to have a greater upper-body to waist-hip ratio (WHR) giving them a V shape look because of their greater muscle mass e.g. they generally have much larger, more muscular & broader shoulders, pectoral muscles, teres major muscles & latissimus dorsi muscles.
During and after pregnancy, a woman experiences body shape changes. After menopause, with the reduced production of estrogen by the ovaries, there is a tendency for fat to redistribute from a female's buttocks, hips and thighs to her waist or abdomen.
The breasts of girls and women in early stages of development commonly are "high" and rounded, dome- or cone-shaped, and protrude almost horizontally from a female's chest wall. Over time, the sag on breasts tends to increase due to their natural weight, the relaxation of support structures, and aging. Breasts sag if the ligaments become elongated, a natural process that can occur over time and is also influenced by the breast bouncing during physical activity (see Sports bra).
The circumferences of a woman's bust, waist, and hips, and their ratios, were widely used to define her basic shape in Western cultures for several decades after World War II, and are still used in some North American subcultures for this purpose. These are sometimes described as banana, pear, apple, or hourglass shapes, though other shortcut terms are also used. The measurements are generally described using three numbers to expressing a woman's dimensions.
The band measurement is usually measured around the women's torso, immediately below her breasts at the inframammary fold, parallel to the floor. The cup size is determined by measuring across the crest of the breast and calculating the difference between that measurement and the band measurement. The waist is measured at the midpoint between the lower margin of the last palpable rib and the top of the iliac crest. The hips are measured at the largest circumference of the hips and buttocks.
The waist is typically smaller than the bust and hips, unless there is a high proportion of body fat distributed around it. How much the bust or hips inflect inward, towards the waist, determines a woman's structural shape. The hourglass shape is present in only about 8% of women.
Independent of fat percentage, weight or width, female body shapes are categorised in some Western cultures into one of four elementary geometric shapes, though there are very wide ranges of actual sizes within each shape:
A study of the shapes of over 6,000 women, carried out by researchers at the North Carolina State University circa 2005, found that 46% were banana (rectangular), just over 20% pear, just under 14% apple, and 8% hourglass. Another study has found "that the average woman's waistline had expanded by six inches since the 1950s" and that women in 2004 were taller and had bigger busts and hips than those of the 1950s.
A woman's bust measure is a combination of her rib cage and breast size. For convenience, a woman's bra measurements are used. For example, though the measurements are not consistently applied, a woman with a bra size of 36B has a rib cage of 36 inches in circumference and a bust measure of 38 inches; a woman with a bra size 34C has a rib cage of 34 inches around, but a smaller bust measure of 37 inches. However, the woman with a 34C breast size will appear "bustier" because of the apparent difference in bust to ribcage ratio.
Height will also affect the appearance of the figure. A woman who is 36-24-36 at 5 ft 2 in (1.57 m) height will look different from a woman who is 36-24-36 at 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) height. Since the taller woman's figure has greater distance between measuring points, she will likely appear thinner or less curvaceous than her shorter counterpart, again, even though they both have the same BWH ratio. This is because the taller woman is actually thinner as expressed by her lower BMI, or body mass index, used to measure body weight in relation to height.
The use of BWH measurements for anything other than garment fitting is thus misleading. BWH is an indicator of fat distribution, not fat percentage.
The British Association of Model Agents (AMA) says that female models should be around 34-24-34 (86-61-86 cm) and at least 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) tall.
Each society develops a general perception of what an ideal female body shape would be like. These ideals are generally reflected in the art and literature produced by or for a society, as well as in popular media such as films and magazines. The ideal or preferred female body size and shape has varied over time and continues to vary among cultures; but a preference for a small waist has remained fairly constant throughout history. A low waist-hip ratio has often been seen as a sign of good health and reproductive potential.
A low waist–hip ratio has also often been regarded as an indicator of attractiveness of a woman, but recent research suggests that attractiveness is more correlated to body mass index than waist–hip ratio, contrary to previous belief. Historically, according to Devendra Singh, there was a trend for slightly larger women in the 17th and 18th centuries, as typified by the paintings of Rubens, but that in general there has been a preference for a slimmer waist in Western culture. He notes that "The finding that the writers describe a small waist as beautiful suggests instead that this body part – a known marker of health and fertility – is a core feature of feminine beauty that transcends ethnic differences and cultures."
New research suggests that apple-shaped women have the highest risk of developing heart disease, while hourglass-shaped women have the lowest. Diabetes professionals advise that a waist measurement for a woman of over 80 cm (31 in) increases the risk of heart disease, but that ethnic background also plays a factor. This is because body fat buildup around the waist (the apple shape) poses a higher health risk than a fat buildup at the hips (the pear shape).
Compared to males, females generally have relatively narrow waists and large buttocks, and this along with wide hips make for a wider hip section and a lower waist–hip ratio. Research shows that a waist–hip ratio (WHR) for a female very strongly correlates to the perception of attractiveness. Women with a 0.7 WHR (waist circumference that is 70% of the hip circumference) are rated more attractive by men in various cultures. Such diverse beauty icons as Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren and the Venus de Milo all have ratios around 0.7.[better source needed] In other cultures, preferences vary, ranging from 0.6 in China, to 0.8 or 0.9 in parts of South America and Africa, and divergent preferences based on ethnicity, rather than nationality, have also been noted.
The WHR is also shown to have a very high correlation to female fertility, thereby unknowingly guiding men's evolutionary choices.
Over the past several hundred years, there has been a shift towards viewing the body as part of one’s identity – not in a purely physical way, but as a means of deeper self-expression. David Gauntlett recognizes the importance of malleability in physical identity, stating, “the body is the outer expression of our self, to be improved and worked upon”. One of the more key factors in creating the desire for a particular body shape – most notably for females – is the media, which has promoted a number of so-called “ideal” body shapes. Fashionable figures are often unattainable for the majority of the population, and their popularity tends to be short-lived due to their arbitrary nature.
During the 1960s, the popularity of the model Twiggy meant that women favoured a thinner body, with long, slender limbs. This was a drastic change from the former decade’s ideal, which saw curvier icons, such as Marilyn Monroe, to be considered the epitome of beautiful. These shifts in what was seen to be the “fashionable body” at the time followed no logical pattern, and the changes occurred so quickly that one shape was never in vogue for more than a decade. As is the case with fashion itself in the post-modern world, the premise of the ever-evolving “ideal” shape relies on the fact that it will soon become obsolete, and thus must continue changing to prevent itself from becoming uninteresting.
An early example of the body used as an identity marker occurred in the Victorian era, when women wore corsets to help themselves attain the body they wished to possess. Having a tiny waist was a sign of social status, as the wealthier women could afford to dress more extravagantly and sport items such as corsets to increase their physical attractiveness. By the 1920s, the cultural ideal had changed significantly as a result of the suffrage movement, and “the fashion was for cropped hair, flat (bound) breasts and a slim androgynous shape”.
More recently, magazines have been criticized for promoting an unrealistic trend of thinness. David Gauntlett states that the media’s “repetitive celebration of a beauty ‘ideal’ which most women will not be able to match … will eat up readers’ time and money—and perhaps good health—if they try”. Additionally, the impact that this has on women and their self-esteem is often a very negative one, and resulted in the diet industry taking off in the 1960s – something that would not have occurred “had bodily appearance not been so closely associated with identity for women”.
The importance of, as Myra MacDonald asserts, “the body as a work zone” further perpetuates the link between fashion and identity, with the body being used as a means of creating a visible and unavoidable image for oneself. The tools with which to create the final copy of such a project range from the extreme—plastic surgery—to the more tame, such as diet and exercise, which virtually every Westernized woman has used to gain control over her shape.
A study at Brigham Young University using MRI technology suggested that women experience more anxiety about weight gain than do men, while aggregated research has been used to claim that images of thin women in popular media may induce psychological stress. A study of 52 older adults found that females may think more about their body shape and endorse thinner figures than men even into old age. Commentators[who?] note that people who have a low body image will try to alter their body in some way, such as by dieting, or undertaking cosmetic surgery.
Various strategies are sometimes employed to temporarily or permanently alter the shape of a body. The most common include dieting and exercise.
At times artificial devices are used or surgery is employed. Breast size can be artificially increased or decreased. Falsies, breast prostheses or padded bras may be used to increase the apparent size of a woman's breasts, while minimiser bras may be used to reduce the apparent size. Breasts can be surgically enlarged using breast implants or reduced by the systematic removal of parts of the breasts.
Historically, boned corsets have been used to reduce waist sizes. The corset reached its climax during the Victorian era. In twentieth century these corsets were mostly replaced with more flexible/comfortable foundation garments. Where corsets are used for waist reduction, it may be temporary reduction by occasional use or permanent reduction by people who are often referred to as tightlacers[clarification needed]. Liposuction and liposculpture are common surgical methods for reducing the waist line.
Padded control briefs or hip and buttock padding may be used to increase the apparent size of hips and buttocks. Buttock augmentation surgery may be used to increase the size of hips and buttocks to make them look more rounded.