If that meant I had the ideal body type as dictated by mainstream culture, curve-less and skinny, that privilege was lost on me.
Growing up watching the men in my family drool over Pam Grier, it was clear that curves were to be idealized. Attention was always paid to women with thick thighs, shapely hips and full breasts.
When Jennifer Lopez broke onto the scene, curves went mainstream and suddenly, there was no shortage of women of every color and dress size in figure-hugging clothes on the red carpet.
The confidence with which Ms. Lopez showed off her butt, a feature downplayed and hidden by white women at the time, transformed the standard of body beauty. It also underscored the confidence that women of color have always had about a little meat on their bones.
To address this self-assured woman and her voluptuous shape, the word “curvy” was born. It first materialized editorially in magazines as a sexy, trendy way to refer to full-figured women.
But as curves were popularized, Beyonce’, Rihanna, Jessica Biel, Scarlett Johansson and any one with a sprinkle of meat about their thighs or sizable breasts wore the ‘curvy’ clarification as a badge of honor.
In fact, Rihanna covers the April 2011 issue of Vogue in a skin-tight Chanel gown with a cover line reading “How She Really Feels About Her Curves.” Thin as she may be, her cleavage, waist and hips are certainly among the curviest seen on Vogue’s cover. But to some, addressing her as “curvy” is damaging.
Toccara explains the dilemma in calling petite or thin women ‘curvy’ to Hip Hollywood:
“When people talk about curves, they either go to one extreme and make the requirement that you have to be really big or obese or not sexy and beautiful. So, sometimes, when you say “curvy,” people believe that she’s not oozing the same sex appeal as anyone else. Then the other extreme is with the smaller women [In terms of the media viewing very petite women as curvy]. I do personally feel some kind of way when I see women that I know and they [media] say ‘Oh, her curves are this and that.’ And I know if I stand next to them, I look freakin’ huge. It’s like, for real? That’s what we’re calling curvy? What makes me upset is that then they try to take my curves away from me.”
Also frustrated with the misuse of the word curvy, journalist Penny Wrenn writes on BV Wellness:
“When I hear it, I think about how all those bogus “curvy-fit” jeans have these ridiculous built-in hips, as if being curvy is all bottom and no top; how some blog might announce ‘Eva Longoria embraces her curves!’ and I can hear women my mom’s size the world over saying to themselves, ‘What the hell curves does Eva Longoria have? She’s just as itty-bitty as she wants to be. If she has curves, then I must have arcs’; or how a well-meaning women’s magazine editor is somewhere in Manhattan explaining to her staff that a story needs a “curvy girl” when she really wants to say ‘fat girl’ (after which, she’d think, but not say, “probably not Lane Bryant fat”).”
Sure all curves aren’t created equal, but is curvy defined by shape, size or race?
My answer? Shape.
Certainly, not size. Women with curves come in every size imaginable. Plus-size isn’t interchangeable with curvy. Not every plus-size woman has a curvy shape and not every petite woman has a boyish frame.
And not race. Yes, black women have historically been sexualized as voluptuous but ladies like Ciara prove that we have beautiful, boy-shaped bodies too.
Indeed, as I reached my late 20s, my lean frame was replaced with a more womanly shape. And yes, I am still a size 4. I may never wear a DD bra cup or fit a size 16 dress, but I call my newly-found lumps and bumps just what they are: curves.
-Jessica C. Andrews