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Body Image Fitness Competitions History

The Hourglass Body

I spent years of my life trying to attain a curvaceous, yet also slender physique. And in 2014, when I was awarded the status of Pro Bikini Athlete, my figure was a near perfect hourglass with a 32” bust, 24” waist and 33” hips. This is the silhouette that is also favoured in the beauty pageant world.

When I researched this preference for the hourglass figure, I asked 50 women which they considered to be more more important: their body’s shape, or its weight. Most women chose shape, with 88% of them more concerned about their silhouette than the number on their scale.

88% of women are more concerned about the shape of their body, rather than its weight

The explanation for society’s preoccupation with this particular body type lies in the shape’s symbolic meaning. The hourglass figure is desirable as a biological and social signifier: its voluptuous curves accentuate the difference between male and female bodies.

In addition, scientific research proves that the narrow-waisted figure serves an evolutionary, as well as social, purpose. This preference originates in the desire to attract a mate since, according to Nancy Ectoff’s  Survival of the Prettiest, ‘men are automatically excited by signs of a woman who is fertile, healthy, and hasn’t been pregnant before.’1

The waist is one of the body’s best indicators of hormonal function

Within a theoretical context, this body is the result of biological attraction since ‘[t]he waist is one of the body’s best indicators of hormonal function.’2 Women with ‘a waist-to-hip ratio below .8’ are twice as likely to conceive and bear children than those whose waist-to-hip ratio rises above this figure.3

The constricted waist, for example, has been ‘considered highly erotic by men’ owing to its suggestion of weakness and vulnerability.4 This is often the case with women’s appearance norms since other aspects such as extreme slenderness, high heels and tight clothing also indicate submission.

Maintained in a state of passivity by their restrictive apparel, it could be said that women are thereby more easily subject to masculine control. As David Kunzle notes in Fashion and Fetishism:

‘[s]ylph-like delicacy of body and fragility of waist have exercised an almost archetypal attraction for man…It is both foil and invocation to his superior socio-sexual power.’5

The hourglass body, with its emphasis upon full bust and hips contrasted with a narrow waist, simultaneously suggests sexual innocence and reproductive potential.

Within the modern world of physique competitions, this hourglass figure is exaggerated in the bikini class where models are expected to have wide shoulders, glutes and legs, offset by a tight waist.

This body type represents the fitness industry’s standard of beauty. When I asked female competitors which aspects of a woman’s body they considered to be beautiful, they described the hourglass shape, preferring a figure with a ‘peachy bum and big breasts’ that is also ‘lean with curves.’

As I mentioned in Keeping Up With The Body Ideal, the hourglass physique has been popular throughout history from the wasp-waisted Victorian lady to the 1950s housewife.

Its modern silhouette, however, holds a specific attraction. In September 2014, Vogue magazine declared ‘We’re Officially in the Era of the Big Booty’6 as Jennifer Lopez (whose buttocks are rumoured to be insured for £17 million)7 was joined in the derriere hall of fame by a multitude of celebrities and fitness models. 7 years on, and big bootys still reign supreme.

With the return of the hourglass figure, it’s ‘All About That Bass’, as confirmed by Meghan Trainor’s chart topping single. Glutes have become the standard focus of a body-obsessed media, endorsed by celebrities such as Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian.

When Nicki Minaj released the single ‘Anaconda,’ her ode to the derriere, its shocking cover art presented her famous posterior, clad in the most minimal of bikini bottoms. The song’s raunchy video generated 19.6 million views in the first 24 hours of its release.

The music industry has since produced a multitude of songs that pay homage to the behind. Nicki Minaj appears once again in Busta Rhymes’ ‘#TWERKIT’; while ‘Booty’ by the original booty queen, Jennifer Lopez, features the curvaceous Iggy Azeala.

Most famous however, is ‘All About That Bass’, in which Meghan Trainor claims that she is ‘bringing booty back,’ having ‘all the right junk in all the right places.’ In 2014, the single was the UK’s longest running chart topper, selling over 6 million copies worldwide.8

Despite its popularity, however, the song was accused of anti-feminism. This was owing to lyrics that suggest the booty’s appeal lies in its ability to attract male attention. Despite Trainor’s protestations that her aim was to promote body-confidence, the single came under attack for thin shaming. This was owing to its reference to ‘skinny bitches’, and the singer’s claim that she ‘won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll.’

J Lo and Trainor may sing about their ‘bootys’, yet the current queen of all things curvaceous is Kim Kardashian, with her voluptuous assets contributing to her $900 million dollar worth. While Kardashian insists that she has ‘honed her curves with gruelling training sessions’,9 many famous women, including Heidi Montag and Nicki Minaj, have undergone surgery to enhance their figures.

Minaj’s behind has even served as an inspiration to other celebrities, including ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ star, Chloe Sims. According to Reveal magazine Sims went to her doctor and said:

Give me the Nicki Minaj10

With cosmetic surgery becoming increasingly normalized, the most popular invasive treatment in recent years is the Brazilian Bum Lift. For those looking to create the hourglass figure, it is now possible to combine this treatment with ‘a fat transfer into the breasts.’11

This obsession with celebrity backsides is fuelled by social media. Typing ‘glutes’ into the Instagram search box yields 6.4 million results. This includes almost 376,000 ‘belfies’ (bum selfies). This is a trend that emerged within social media’s narcissistic world of self-photography. Allegedly instigated by singer Rihanna, the belfie is now a social media phenomenon.

In 2015, Cosmopolitan magazine published an article entitled ‘The Most Bubblicious Butts on Instagram’, which showcased 58 women who have apparently truly mastered the ‘belfie.’ One of Kim Kardashian’s voluptuous offerings went viral, with ‘more than 250,000 likes on Instagram after two hours of being posted’.12 Kim has since profited from her assets and launched her own range of shapewear in 2019. Her first collection sold out in minutes, earning her $2 million on the first day.13

When a celebrity is photographed with anything other than a perfectly sculpted (or posed) derriere, however, horror ensues. Pictures of Miley Cyrus’ less than toned bottom, snapped while she was ‘twerking’, became a media sensation and the subject of anti-motivation memes throughout the internet.

The belfie trend not only pervades the world of celebrity, but is also a dominant aspect of the fitness community. In a departure from tradition, Sports Illustrated’s 50th anniversary edition depicted models in a pose that showcased their behinds.14 The ab crunch has been replaced by the hip thrust, an exercise that was popularised by ‘The Glute Guy’: trainer and glute specialist, Bret Contreras.

Despite the current trend for curves, however, this fetish for the voluptuous does not normally extend to plus size women. Curves are typically desirable only if accompanied by low body fat and a tight waist.

For now, women are still kept restrained and powerless by a primal preference for an hourglass body that has been taken to cultural extremes.


  1. Ectoff, Nancy, Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. Rothblum, Esther D., Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders
  5. Kunzle, David, Fashion and Fetishism: Corsets, Tight-Lacing and Other Forms of Body Sculpture (Sutton Publishing Limited, UK, 2004)
  6. http://www.vogue.com/1342927/booty-in-pop-culture-jennifer-lopez-iggy-azalea/
  7. http://www.elle.com/uk/life-and-culture/articles/a30167/mariah-carey-jennifer-lopez-doly-parton-celebrities-insured-body-parts/
  8. Fraser, Deborah, Closer, 31st Jan-6th Feb 2015, Issue 632, Interview with Meghan Trainer
  9. Packer, Sarah, Closer, 31st Jan-6th Feb 2015, Issue 632, Sarah Packer, Kim blasts Amber: ‘I’m the booty queen – stop copying my curves!’
  10. madamenoire.com/446585/celebs-who-admitted-to-butt-injections/6/
  11. comparethetreatment.com/the-uks-top-cosmetic-surgery-trends-for-2015/
  12. www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/kim-kardashian-nearly-naked-picture-2461774
  13. hypebae.com/2019/9/kim-kardashian-skims-shapewear-sold-out-restock-earnings
  14. mamamia.com.au/wellbeing/sports-illustrated-swimsuit-cover-2014-butts/

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