Be Descriptive

The below post contains personal ramblings about body type, weight, public perception etc. I’m happy and healthy, and not too neurotic about these things apart from when typing them up for my blog, so I think it’s ok to post this. However innocent my intentions, if you have weight/body issues, this post might be a trigger.

Second note: I’m using terms like “fat” and “skinny”, when I talk about people. This doesn’t denote a value judgement.

When filling out an online dating profile, you will almost invariably find a page with a host of dropdown menus that make it able to comparably describe you to others. While your personality gets little empty textboxes you have to fill in yourself, your physical attributes get an array of 9 point Likert scales.

However, while there are very fixed measurements for some attributes such as height, and quasi-objective descriptions for things like eye colour (step away from the qualia issue, please) there are certain dropdown menus that rely on rather more insight and subjective analysis.

I’m specifically talking about the “body type” field. My dating site of choice gives you the choice of:

Rather not Say, Thin, Overweight, Skinny, Average, Fit, Athletic, Jacked, A little extra, Curvy, Full figured and Used up.

So yes, plenty of options to choose from. I initially chose Average, as a cover all term, because  it’s hard to be more specific. There are two different issues at play. The main point is a) How I perceive myself, and which words describes that. Even more tricky though is issue b) How the consensus of site users uses and perceives these terms.

It’s no use if I put Skinny because I totally lost a pound last week, and haven’t had breakfast today, so my stomach looks practically concave. I’m still very firmly not-skinny in the eyes of others.

I thus went with the elimination method: I’m definitely not Skinny (too many things under that skin), Overweight (BMI says not), Thin, or Jacked. I’d also like to believe that at not-even-the-end-of-my-twenties-yet I’m also not Used Up, although my under eye circles tell a different story on Monday mornings.

That leaves me with: Average, Fit, Athletic, A little extra, Curvy and Full figured.

And this is where it becomes difficult. First of all these six seem to fall in three clusters: Fit and Athletic belong together, and so do A little extra, Curvy and Full figured. The former two are for sporty figures, the latter three for various forms of the higher range of the BMI.

A little extra is probably just a euphemism for overweight or obese, where the extra is the bit that goes over the normal weight. So I decided to exclude that. Even though I think there’s plenty of extra on my lower stomach for example. overall it’s probably a misleading term. Again, I’m not actually that big, have a NHS approved healthy weight and wear clothes from the not-plus-size range. I have a similar problem with Fuller figure, which seems even more cryptic. Does it mean fuller than Average people? In a society with rates of 60% overweight and  23%  clinically obese, that puts the bar quite high. Or am I fuller if I’m heavier than my healthprofessionally determined normal/ideal weight (which then seems to hold true for over half of the population)?

Again, this term seems to be euphemism for extra weight, maybe a little, maybe a little more than a little. In my perception fuller figured also correlates with increased height, and brings up a Wagnerian heroine: tall, big and impressive.  Concludingly, I’m not happy to conjure a Rubenesque image, where my creamy, fleshy thighs overspill the dainty red velvet chaiselongue, naughty bits barely covered up by some cleverly draped leaves/waistlength hair.  Any guy hoping for that when reading my description would be surly disappointed upon meeting me.

Ok, we’re down to Average, Fit, Athletic and Curvy.

The problem with the sporty descriptions is that they also suggest a very clear image. If I describe myself as athletic, guys will hope for a tall Swedish triathlete with lithe, toned legs, flat stomach and small, but perfectly perky chest.

Fit probably goes in the same direction, possibly with slightly bigger breasts.

Much as my arms and shoulders are about as defined as you’re allowed while still wearing strapless dresses, and my calves are “proper hiker’s calves” as my granddad approvingly called them, my overall figure is nowhere near lithe. I have the aforementioned extra stomach, a very non-sporty looking bum and breasts that when running require the attention of a maximum security sports bra that costs more than my running shoes and should really come with a valet that helps you putting it on and lock the three (!) different closures. Comparing myself to the Swedish triathlete seems false marketing at best.

This brings us to Curvy.

Ah, Curvy. This is the one description that inspired this rambling post. My friend suggested that’s what I should call myself as it “sounds much sexier than average“. And with aforementioned bum and boobs in relation to my waist he might not be altogether wrong. However, I have two problems with this term.

a) Some people seem to use Curvy as another girl-specific euphemism for overweight. And while the two populations certainly overlap (pun definitely not intended), there are plenty of overweight girls who are not curvy, and still claim this term, as it gradually morphs from “very distinct boob/hip to waist ratio, regardless of actual size of either” to “lots of boobs and bum, we’ll not look too closely at your waist”. The main point of debate seems to be whether curves require a distinct “in-out” movement, or whether say, an apple or barrel with their convex outline can be called curvy.

Again, I have a hard time calling myself fatter than I already am and feel no desire to group myself with lots of big-is-beautiful advocates.

The second point goes rather in the opposite direction.

b) In the eyes of some guys, curvy seems to mean a mix of Betty Boop and J.Lo. I’m neither. Yes, I have boobs, but I can still walk straight and thankfully don’t get a backache from my bra. Likewise, my butt does not shatter baked bean can pyramids in supermarkets when I turn around, and my not so dainty arms and legs are in proportion with my torso.

Between a and b, and the implicit message of “I’m a fat version of Betty Boop”. I’d rather stay clear from the term and be safe.

Which leaves me with AVERAGE.

My fit shoulders, athletic arms and legs, curvy boobs and waist, little-extra belly, full hips and thighs simply average out.

I feel misrepresented.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Be Descriptive

  1. Hahaha, Hannah this is hilarious! You made me laugh so many times. Keep on going, you got another dedicated follower 🙂

  2. Rikk

    I recognise that selection!

    I imagine, much like with clothing sizes, this is a much trickier arena for women than it is for men. I currently describe myself as “a little extra”, because describing myself as “overweight” is only slightly less poisonous to attracting ladyfolk than saying I like to dress my hamsters up in period costume and recreate Shakespearean tragedies with them.

    It does point to the underlying problem, though, which isn’t how to describe people’s bodies, but how to get people to describe their own bodies in a way that sounds good to other people. It does seem a bit odd that having come up with all these coy little euphemisms for various sizes of people, they include a quite clinical and prescriptive option like “overweight”.

  3. W.

    Mhh, sexy Elizabethan hamster drama!
    I think my confusion stems from the fact that these terms constantly get reappropriated, and from quite straightforward descriptions become increasingly convoluted and euphemistic, which leaves me second guessing what people’s interpretations of my euphemisms will be.

  4. I have to say i loved the spirit of your post…but if you honestly think about it…some people are disillusoned about what they look like… Me? i’m an average looking guy…but the life I lead extraordinary by any standard…. does it give me the average guy opportunities? Oh lawd hunny…if only you knew…

    But I have been on dates where a girl has used a pic that was 10 years old…. or described someone completely different than who showed up….me, being a gentleman (ish) that I am was always kind and considerate and tried to be as stand-up as possible and never hurt their feelings always had some really great way of making sure to turn down offers to not see them again. Being average is about expecting what you are willing to be for another person.
    I loved your post and I laughed at a lot of things you mentioned… thanks for this on my busy friday…i needed a new outlet to read…

    T.

  5. Rikk

    I was recently reading an essay about how many of the types of institutions we’re used to aren’t really optimised for what they’re supposed to do, and one of the examples given by the author was dating websites, which operate like…well…database matches rather than anything like how dating works in the real world. I think he has a pretty good point. Who we’re attracted to in real life is often very different from what we’d say (and honestly believe) we’re attracted to, but dating sites give us all the on-paper information allowing us to discount people according to what we think we want.

    I’d like to see a dating website that provides enough information to someone to establish you’d at least get on, but deliberately withholds a random set of important details from them. Nothing’s as compelling as an incomplete story.

  6. Lisa

    I came accross your blog post after googleing a description of all the above words (we must use the same dating website!) I am confident that I should be catagorized as “a little extra” but isn’t overweight well… overweight? And the average american population is overweight. So doeat that mean I’m actualy average? I wish they had silhouette pictures to chose from instead of words. Or maybe a BMI calculator that spat out one of the medicaly acceptible descriptors “severely underweight, underweight, normal, overweight, Obese (types 1, 2, and 3).” The adjectives available on all dating websites are too subjective; in the end, I left body type blank and posted realistic photos of me!

    • W.

      Thanks for your comment. I think the little silhouette pics could work well, and I’m with you that realistic pics are the best source of information!

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