Stop comparing women's body shapes to pieces of fruit

Why do we use fruit to describe women's body types?

Why do we use fruit to describe women's body types? Photo: Stocksy

Before I'd reached puberty I knew I was a pear. And, even after I'd grown into a DD cup, I remained a pear, which of course meant that, with boobs that big, my hips must be massive.

Long before we understood compound interest and climate change, one of my school teachers educated the girls in my class about the crucial matter of body types. 

We knew whether we were pears, apples or hourglasses, the various flaws that came with each of these different shapes and how to disguise them. Finishing up her lesson, she informed us "Now remember girls, this is the best you will ever look in your life". At the time, I had weapons-grade acne, a mouth full of braces and I'd just been told I looked like a piece of fruit. 

The importance of hiding our 'flaws' is so critical to succeeding at being a woman that body type categorisations have since extended well beyond fruit and pre-modern time-keeping devices.

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One of Trinny and Susannah's lasting contributions to human knowledge, for example, has been the definition of twelve body types, which include bricks, bells and musical instruments.

Similarly, Target's Fashion Stylist Donny Galella implores women to "Always dress for your body shape" and lifestyle.com.au is using geometric shapes to help brides hide their ugly bits on their special day.

Sarah McMahonpsychologist and director for BodyMatters Australasia, says categorising women's bodies in this way is claimed to be helpful, but it's anything but.

"It masquerades as showcasing body diversity but the premise that underlies this is that ultimately we should be one shape — an 'hourglass'," McMahon says. "This propagates the message that there are 'right' and 'wrong' ways that we should look, which in turn breeds body shame."

Clinical psychologist Louise Adams, who runs a weight management clinic, says viewing our bodies as objects can be psychologically damaging because we believe that our bodies exist only to be looked at.

"We need to get away from only valuing our bodies in terms of beauty," she says. "Any body is a good body, all bodies are good bodies because they keep us alive."

It's not just the fashion industry (and my former school teacher) that reinforce the necessity for women to confront the stark realities of their body type. The pursuit of the hourglass is big business for cosmetic surgeons.

One Sydney cosmetic surgeon talks of the "genetic injustice" of being pear shaped and recommends liposculpture to achieve "a more balanced figure or shape". Or, if having your thigh fat sucked out with a hose isn't your thing, why not try a couple of bags of silicon to correct your unsightly asymmetry?

Supposedly more enlightened sectors of the medical profession have co-opted fruit categorisations as well, telling us it's healthier to be a pear than an apple.

Dietitian Meg McClintock says carrying excess fat in the abdominal region, and thus in and around vital internal organs, is associated with higher heath risks than carrying it on hips and thighs — but she questions how helpful fruit categorisations really are.

"You simply cannot make a judgment about someone's health from their body shape. And, even if you could, fat distribution patterns are not something that can be altered," McClintock says. 

Annalisa Merelli notes in Quartz that body type flaws are something that only women are supposed to worry about.

"This lack of interest for the male body — with the exception for the much investigated penis size — is perhaps the reason why while Wikipedia has a detailed entry for Female Body Shape, it directs searches for 'male body shape' to 'body shape' (same for 'human body shape', to confirm the suspect that a man is a human but a woman is a woman)," Merelli writes.

I can relate. Back in secondary school when I had my first official body shape lesson at the age of thirteen, it didn't register that my male classmates weren't required to participate. Nor did I even think about the significance that boys were allowed to remain unchanged, instead of striving to conform to a particular shape.

I thought that being taught to hide the width of my hips was an important life skill, instead of seeing it as a school-sanctioned lesson in what was wrong with my body and why that mattered.

Looking back, it strikes me that this is ideology at its purest: boys' and men's bodies are natural and don't need intervention; girls and women's bodies must be fixed.

Kasey Edwards is a writer and best-selling author.