Friday, October 8, 2010

Rejecting Binaries: Men Have Curves Too

In my post on washroom signs, I noticed that one of the variations on the male-as-universal/female as specific trope was, men are people and women are people with waists.

the male is indicated by horizontal vertical lines topped with a circle and the female is a similar design but one of the lines is hourglass shaped the male has a simple rectangular silhouette but the female has an hourglass shape

I was reminded of that the other day when I was walking downtown and passed this sculpture, "The Pillars of Justice" in front of a courthouse:

Again the male figures do not have waists and hips.

Then I saw photos from this fashion show, the theme of which was, "men's wardrobe meets women's bodies". Apparently, this is from the designer's ready to wear collection.

MMM_Springsummer2011-2 MMM_Springsummer2011-3 MMM_Springsummer2011-3Maison Martin Margiela Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear Maison Martin Margiela Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear Maison Martin Margiela Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear

The line didn't just consist of stylized menswear - there were a number of skirts and dresses as well

Maison Martin Margiela Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear Maison Martin Margiela Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear Maison Martin Margiela Spring 2011 Ready-to-WearMaison Martin Margiela Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear Maison Martin Margiela Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear Maison Martin Margiela Spring 2011 Ready-to-Wear

It seems like the idea was to make women look like actual wardrobes.

All of these images illustrate that the construction of gender as a binary extends to the way we think about men's and women's bodies. Men's bodies are hard and angular; women's bodies are soft and curvy.

The thing is, men's and women's bodies aren't all that different. There are differences, yes. But they aren't as different as, say, the fashion show pictured above would have you believe.

Bodies are socially constructed. The hard-and-angular vs. soft-and-curvy dichotomy in particular is socially constructed. In popular images women are dressed, posed, dieted, surgically altered and photoshopped to emphasized curviness.


How often do you see guys posed with their hips jutting out? You don't. Men in popular images are dressed, trained, dieted, posed, and photoshopped to look solid, and rectangular.


When we have so many images of photoshopped models apparently illustrating the differences between men's and women's bodies, it can be easy to forget that there is tremendous overlap between the two, and that our bodies are what we make them. Our notions of what gendered bodies ought to look like don't reflect the full range of possibilities.

Both men and women can be "flat" and skinny...

"Poster" by blackharlet

... well-toned and broad-shouldered...

... muscular and built-up...

... heavy...
"Getting ready for the show" by ch3rlie
"City Girl" by drainoutmylungs
... or more "average" looking. 

"Flying to fall" by rubYANK
"Phazers on SEXY" by FatBottomedGirl
Some cis men can be "curvier" than some cis women.


Men's bodies have curves of their own. 

"all over again" by gyrocam
Before anyone starts explaining to me why women's bodies are described as "curvier" than men's, why  abstract representations of men and women are designed they way they are, or anything elses: I already know.

I am suggesting this: The nature of our bodies ought not be taken for granted. To some degree we are born with our bodies. But it is too often overlooked that our bodies are shaped by societal expectations, lifestyle, and individual agency. The supposedly innate difference between men and women in terms of strength and physical capability is constructed. The way we code bodies by sex and gender - soft and hard, curvy and solid - is constructed. In actuality those qualities are not exclusive of each other, and are not exclusive to either sex. There is much more diversity and overlap between men and women than the gender binary allows for. We are the same in many more ways than we are different.


  1. Just yesterday, I was thinking about how to do stick figures that were recognizable as male and female without making male standard and female with additions. Curvy vs. straight was all I could come up with.

    Now I can't do that either. Good thing I'm not actually a comic writer.

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  2. I'm not telling anyone what they can and can't do. I'm saying the apparent difference is socially constructed.

  3. Reminds me a bit of the way that cartoon figures are often gendered female by giving them long lashes and red pouty lips. I remember as a kid finding Mighty Mouse quite disconcerting because he was drawn with long lashes, despite being otherwise drawn as very masculine.

    Which is interesting to me because I knew full well that actual male creatures also had eyelashes, and many men and boys have red pouty lips too.

  4. I think on average men have thicker eyelashes than women do, actually.

  5. good timing! i was just thinking how men's clothing is so often structured rather than soft - and then i saw this shot from the sartorialist, where the fluid lines of the guy's shirt, trousers and accessories show just how many sharp lines there are in menswear (shoulders of the coat). (the shot also amused me because it played up the softness by contrasting it with the witches hats/cones!)

    anyway, yes! it's interesting how the differences are totally played up.

  6. In my drawing class we are learning how to draw men's and women's heads and our teacher was encouraging us to use more angularity for the male heads and more soft, flowing lines for the female heads. It was part of our homework, actually, that we utilize line quality to play up gender differences.

  7. Nicely done, good photo examples to make your case.

  8. A real eye-opener. I have always thought males 17 to 20 are often so pretty (I am a straight female) it just never jived with how things were "supposed to be" as I was brain washed to think.

  9. I had never thought of this before. Loved the post and the photo examples.

  10. It looks to me like the maker of that fashion show was not prodying men, or even the idea thereof, so much as the flat cardboard thingies that some clothes are packed on. My impression was of paper, plywood, and so on, perhaps homage to the industries thereof, that was what it looked like to me. But it seemed they were also mocking me and my liking for that sort of shape. Of course, if I decide I want clothes that look like that, I will make them.
    As one with an immemorial jones for straight lines and angular forms, and an equally ancient lack of interest in sex, gender or romance, I have always been revolted when someone is talking about geometric shapes in any context and they start dragging in the gender crap. I recall straightening out an art teacher or two over this. To me, curves are animate, angles/straight lines are inanimate but mysteriously wonderful. Which I am sure is oversimplistic too, but at least it doesn't discriminate against one gender or another. As for actual gender diffs, I contrast the male body-builder, a mass of hundreds of curves, with the pipestem arms of a fashion model.
    I am grateful for this post of yours. Crap needs to be blown out of the water in all its forms.

  11. Stereotyping is in every aspects of our life. We are told not to cry because a real man does not cry, not to be aggressive because a good girl is quiet, not to be emotional because a real man is rock solid character. How to walk, how to dress, how to play, how to talk... all manipulated.

    1. What about a man who cries, becomes aggressive, is emotional and quiet? He's either normal or Bipolar. As for the behavioral stuff, it's sickening about how much we're conditioned. Wearing pink should not be a question to one's identity as a male, or a female. Also, maybe I'm metro or trans for this, LOL, but wearing a skirt should not determine your depth of manliness or lack of it.

  12. This is a beautifully crafted post. I love it. Thanks for putting together these images ..

    Would you mind if I added a link to this on the "resources" page of my own blog?

  13. I was reading a romance novel last week and there was a scene in it described as 'the long silky legs of the woman entwined with the hard, hair roughened legs of the man' i felt a little weird after reading it. i dont have such silky soft skin. i felt bad and wrote it off as bullshit. but the other night i ran a hand over my husband's leg and it was indeed rough and hard. my leg was smoother and softer. mine wasnt silky. his wasnt rock hard. but i was softer than him. i realised men and women are somewhat like they describe though not so dramatic.they take the basic law of life and blow it out of proportion.

    ps i tried commenting with my name but it wouldnt post for some reason. so i'm trying to comment as anonymous.

  14. @ Anonymous

    I appreciate the effort to comment with a name.

    On average there may be differences between men and women, but the degree of overlap between men and women is very substantial. Those differences can by no means be referred to as a "law". The body of any given woman will not be "smoother" than the body of any given man. It depends on the individual.

    Male and female bodies are also socially constructed. Men are encouraged to participate in rougher activities than women, and women are encouraged to spend more effort into taking care of their skin.

  15. I both love and agree with this post...for so many reasons.

    For one thing, I have pronounced hips and a narrow waist, and even though women are stereotyped as "curvy", I can never find a damn pair of pants that fits me. So I started really looking at women and realized that the average chick isn't that "curvy" at all...most times, the swoop from waist to hip is barely perceptible. And that's why all my pants fit fine around the ass but the waist flaps in the breeze.

    For another thing, I'm an artist - and when I was first trying to draw male bodies, they always looked wrong. Again, I was forced to actually look at people instead of relying on stereotypes...and I realized that I was drawing my men completely rectangular when in fact a (thin) dude does have a slight hourglass to him.

    So, yeah, I've noticed firsthand how similar male and female bodies can be.

    Incidentally, my boyfriend is a crossdresser and it's always fascinating to see how his face flips over from "male" to "female" simply by adding lipstick and fake eyelashes. As Rana mentioned in a previous comment, red lips and long, thick eyelashes are perceived as female traits - therefore if you add those traits to a male face, it messes with people's perceptions (my boy does have somewhat girly features, but this trick still works even on a more rugged man).

    The increasingly abstract iconics of the sexes have become more important than what we actually look like.

  16. @Meredith

    I didn't even notice that there was another comment on this until now. Thanks for sharing your experiences, it's interesting to hear about.

  17. Its rather ironic, but the men's and women's bodies are really more alike than different. There is also the male equivalent of the "hourglass" figure for women. Its called the V-shape. Men with v-shapes are very rare body types, but most desired. Its broad shoulders tapered down to a very thin narrow waist. Also, ironically, men with v-shapes almost never have "washboard" abs. Its not possible. They have 4 packs, not 6 packs. Many classic body builders such as Steve Reeves had this body type.

    1. Ah, that makes sense. I was told that I have the v-shape, which is less common, but it exists. No wonder it gets so much attention. I have made a reservation to work toward some packs. Didn't know that I would be more likely to have just 4. Whatever.

  18. really liked, i was kind of depressed with the curves i have got thanks to u i'm out of my trauma now. :)
    and i 'm a male.

  19. I love this article; it covers the topic that I have gravitated toward when I have come across clothing articles that oppose my body structure rather than to emphasize it. Well, such articles fit some men, but not others like myself, whom are exceptional and anomalous.

    The generality of female curviness and male rectangularity in the media isn't malevolent, ludicrously, but rather, it is only what it is: general. As you had stated, men and women overlap more than sexism can stomach. It's not metrosexuality unless it's taken to that extent; simply, it is reality.

    Not trying to be a hell of a spectacle here, but I'm speaking because I can relate: I don't have an average shape for a male body. I had experienced phases of embarrassment, but now I am proud of the fact that this is me. There's no need for shame. My wife loves it, and so should I.

    My waist used to be a foot or so thinner than my hips, but since I've put on weight, they differ by ten inches. Most of the guys that I encounter have little to no noticeable waist-hip ratio. A couple of times, women have noticed my upper and lower physique and admired it: broad shoulders and hips with a thin waist. Add a big butt and protruding chest, and without my broad shoulders or beard, there'd be little sex giveaway. Sometimes, those natural differences do serve you.

    As for the angularity: of course I'm going to have a notable degree of it because I am a male, but I am unashamed to say that I am 'curvy' and have soft features. If I work out, the difference exaggerates even more because really, it's my skeletal structure; when I was smaller, it was even more obvious.

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  21. Also, check this out: (shows assumptive visual of your size) If it generates no image, try this:

    In regards to this discussion, the male calculator does everything as it should, but that body DOES NOT look like mine! I put in 'female' instead, and not with the intent of trying to be a woman, and there you have it: without the breasts, it looks like me. The figure's not exaggerated, so it's suitable in that sense too. Also, I don't look that fat because I gots da muscle mass. Above average weight /= fat.

    Again, your point is proven time and again.

  22. Ya know i so agree with this!
    I am a female, but i got 42 in shoulders and pretty broad. My muscles pop out a little bit when i flex and i dont even work out. I always had a relatively smaller/medium chest (36B) but i have always carried more weight in my hips and belly. So if i lost weight in my hips right now, i would probably be straighter then any guy.
    I have a strong jaw line to. And compared to my boyfriend who is smaller in width then me- has some curve to his waist and he is soft looking. And he is 21 and me 19.
    Soo in theory i agree with this article 100%. We as a whole race have MANY different speciments that people over look.

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. Kind of an old article, but THIS. I hate being told that my male drawings aren't "male enough" just because everyone knows what men are and aren't. Bathroom signs are one thing, but men are more than freaking bathroom signs. They can't be boxed up into one shapeless look just because it's what everyone's comfortable with ...

    Anyway, great article, miss. T'sa shame I didn't find it earlier.

  25. I am female, aged 18. I have a tall and slim figure, not the hour- glass. I think V- shaped men are so very sexy! I took ballett when I was a very small girl, but switched to kerate at the age of 9. I love and agree with this article, 100%! I used to wear pink, because I thought that that was what everyone wanted me to wear. Also, I had to keep my hair long, red and curley and never straighten it. I had to shave off my leg hairs. But now, I can wear black or any collor I want to with my short, straight black hair and androgonous clothing and all. LOL!! Again, love this article!! SORRY! I can't log into my Google+ account!! Forgot the password!!! Have to be Anonymous!!


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