Curvy versus skinny
We asked 100 Irish men and 100 Irish women to tell us which body they preferred out of this line-up of models. It seems the sexes have very different ideas about what epitomises the ideal female body shape
Is the second wave of the body revolution on the way? Recent celebrity headlines certainly seem to suggest so: first we had Lady Gaga proclaim that she was proud of a little meat on her bones. And this week, it has been revealed that Kim Kardashian's famous hourglass figure has hit a size 12 since she started dating Kanye West earlier this year.
By all accounts, Kim has put on two stone after her rapper boyfriend reportedly encouraged her to ditch the gym and diet less vigorously.
Closer to home, it would seem that Irish men are just as appreciative of a voluptuous girl as Kanye is. We asked 100 men and 100 women to tell us which body they prefer out of a line-up of gorgeous women of various sizes. The response was rather telling: almost 40pc of male respondents preferred one of the curviest models (second from left). By contrast, the majority of female respondents (36pc) plumped for the model with the most athletic body (second from right). So far, so predictable. But there is something quite telling about these responses.
It's no secret that many men tend to prefer voluptuous, 'normal' women to skinny, boyish types. Experts have long heralded the power of the hourglass shape in evolutionary theory. In fact, the hourglass shape is 'programmed' in the human mind, because it provides important biological information about a woman's youthfulness, health status and fertility.
"Irish men in particular love curves, and a lot of that has to do with the fixation on the Irish Mammy," asserts personal trainer Pat Henry (henryfitne-sscentre.com). "Thin women are seen as more aggressive and won't be dominated, while a curvy woman is lovely, lovable and incites a 'motherly' effect."
But what of the idea that women would rather look slim and athletic regardless? Effectively, men have given us licence to let ourselves off the diet and treadmill leash, yet we seem happy to be enslaved by this (often unattainable) body ideal. Deep down, most women know that men crave curves . . . so why are we still striving for size zero?
"We get this subliminal message from ads and the media," notes Henry. "People don't realise that TV tends to put on a stone, and these people are skinny. There are countless studies that hint that women who are slimmer have a greater chance of promotion. We've been bombarded with these messages that skinny equals success."
Adds body image expert and coach Astrid Longhurst (astridlonghurst.com): "The media is one of the most influential factors in determining how we feel about ourselves, our world and our bodies. If (celebrities) gain weight they are ridiculed or pitied . . . if they have lost weight they are idolised and the newest diet sheet gets passed around like the Holy Grail."
Essentially, the message is this: being thin is a signifier of youth, health and life success.
"It's extremely interesting as with the ever-increasing obesity rates today, to be slim and athletic shows that you are in control of your body," agrees Longhurst. "In today's society, body shape and image have more to do with control than ever before."
Alas, for Irish women the ideal is often unattainable, or at least a full-time endeavour. "So many girls come in to me wanting to be a size 6 or 8, but they'll never get there," reveals Henry. "The Irish bone structure isn't designed that way. Women in Asia and Eastern Europe are designed genetically to be thin; Irish women, not so much. A lot of these women go through a lot of heartache, and are constantly upset and worried because they will never achieve extreme slimness."
Will women ever relax in their quest for thinness and embrace their curves (instead of merely saying they do)?
Henry reckons not: "To be honest, I think that 'meeting in the middle' is highly unlikely."
But with the gloriously fleshy Gaga and increasingly curvy Kim Kardashian wielding their influence, perhaps a sea change is a lot closer than we think.