Let’s Talk About the Hourglass Figure


            A few months ago, a trend called “No Nuance November” was popular on TikTok in which creators would give their controversial opinions on a variety of subjects such as activism, politics, and entertainment. The version of this that caught my eye was by a creator named Serena (@glamdemon2004), who gave her hot takes on fashion to participate in the trend. The most thought-provoking of her comments was as follows:

“Women were never truly freed from the corset. We’re just often expected to hold that shape naturally and we are still destroying our bodies in order to do so.”

            The shape she is referring to is that of the hourglass figure, which generally indicates a small waist with comparatively wider hips and busts at equal ratios. This shape was originally achieved by wearing a corset with stiff fabric, boning, and laces. The corset became the standard of female fashion in the 18th century, and dramatically changed the way women’s bodies were perceived and “supposed” to look. This was reflected in the shift in depictions of nudes in art in this period from fuller figured women to women with narrow waists and high breasts.

            In her TikTok, Serena showed images of women from the 1950s and 60’s with this hourglass or “coke bottle” shape without being corseted. This shape had come back into trend after the slender figure of the 20’s flapper fell out of style. While we do see other body shapes come in and out as the ideal, the hourglass has consistently returned to be considered the most “womanly” figure. The internet and the rise of social media have only increased the emphasis of this ideal, with women such as Kylie Jenner being hailed as having the perfect body, whether it was naturally achieved or not. Kylie’s own sister, Kendall Jenner, even recently came under fire for allegedly photoshopping a video of herself to make her waist appear smaller.

            With even the Jenner sisters falling into the societal trap of physically or digitally altering their bodies to meet the hourglass ideal, it isn’t surprising that it is a major goal of many women to replicate this shape as well. I am certainly guilty of keeping a tape measure in my room to measure my waist or editing my hips to be slightly wider in photos. This is where I felt Serena’s statement about the corset really resonated with me. Women are pursuing the hourglass figure which was first achieved by restricting their bodies and breathing to appear a certain shape. While it is not standard for every woman to wear a corset, though corset tops have been emerging as a fashion statement, we still seek out this tiny waist and reward others when they achieve it by leaving an hourglass emoji as praise.

            Our society has become obsessed with the hourglass shape, and this manifests in various ways. In the recent smash hit by Netflix, Bridgerton, the opening scene featured a girl being forcefully laced into a tight corset which eventually contributed to her fainting in front of the Queen. Despite this scene, the style of dress in the 19th century when the show is set did not even call for a corset, as it emphasized an empire waistline starting from the bust. Nevertheless, it is included because of the current fascination with the shape corsets give. Beyond this, home workouts for women orbit around maintaining or achieving an hourglass figure through various ab exercises and cardio combinations.

            So why is this such a problem? The hourglass figure being upheld as the gold standard for women creates a clear rubric for society to continue to dictate and criticize the way women look. Despite it being the current ideal, the number of women who truly fulfill this ideal is a minority, and those who do not are constant victims of body-shaming. The hourglass figure also heavily caters to the male gaze, echoing the shape of pin-up drawings of women in which this shape is heavily dramatized. While it may sound corny, I really do believe that all bodies should be uplifted, not just the supposed ideal. Small things like swapping the title for a home workout from “tiny waist workout” to “targeted ab workout” or casting more diverse body types in entertainment can promote this kind of body positivity.

            Whether you fit into the hourglass mold or not, everyone deserves to feel celebrated in the body they have. Societal trends for women may come and go, but actively fighting against these norms can help more women feel confident no matter what shape or size they are.