What’s The Ideal Shape?

In case you have not heard of SKIMS, it is the underwear and shape wear brand created by Kim Kardashian. The brand was established in 2018 and claims to have created a “new, solution focused approach to shape enhancing undergarments. And because this December, SKIMS launched two new collections – the backless shape wear and the boyfriend line – I began to wonder about body ideals and aesthetic trends. What role body measurements and physics play in our daily life, I want to contemplate briefly in this article.

My thought process began with my personal experiences with shape wear. As a plus size model, I have been asked to bring shape wear to shootings many times and at first I did not mind, but I began to ask myself why I have to hide parts of my body, while we are shooting something body positive? And have you ever spend a whole day in a second skin tight, high waisted slip before? It is bad. I struggled to eat because every bite felt one too much, every move felt uncomfortable and every hour spent in shape wear added to my bloated tummy and the painful red mark the waist band left on my skin. But that was just my experience.

So, I was wondering how other women are handling shape wear and since when? How did women reshape their bodies over the course of time? I am not going to delve deep into the history of shape wear, however, I would like to prove that beauty standards have been pretty messed up since the very beginnings.

I have to admit, I have never worn anything from SKIMS and to be fair, the majority of the pieces do look sort of comfortable, but history shows that women’s comfort is no priority. Sucking in, pushing up, and hiding seem to be a woman’s primary sartorial goal. On of the first shape wear trends can be found in drawings and texts from ancient Crete. It crazy to believe that even 1.600 BC women wore corsets to emphasise their breasts, hips, and waists. And from there, many shape wear trends have developed over time.

The societies of Hellenic Greece first idealised the hourglass figure and used metal embellishments and girdles made out of linens and leather to achieve that goal. The ancient Romans contrarily used breast binders, as they preferred slender upper bodies and wide hips. During the middle ages, women used bodices and pastes to control their figures, the Elizabethan age introduced petticoats, and the Victorian ideal of a tiny waist and voluptuous bosom was accomplished with corsets made of canvas and whale bones.

With the 20th century the ideal female body became less shaped and more “boyish” and thin. Shape wear, and in particular the girdle, became lighter, cheaper and easier after the war. The 20s and 30s was the beginning of shape wear as we know it today – elasticated, tight to the figure, and with thinning effect. The 1950s, however, brought back the hour glass and then again in the 1990s, extreme thinness became trendy again and the elasticated fabrics became more intense.

And today? The conversation about body image was stirred up by body positivity and fat acceptance movements, however we still have (partly) unrealistic ideals about what our bodies should look like. One of the main influences have probably been the Kardashians, who coined a look with rather big breasts, a cinched waist, a flat, athletic tummy and an enormous booty. And whoever cannot achieve this body type, either because they simply do not have the physics or cannot afford plastic surgery, could buy some bum plumping shorts and a waist trainer, I guess.

I mean, do not get me wrong, it can feel quite satisfying to have everything “in place” and it is also very nice to not suffer from tight chafing, however, I do not think this is the purpose of shape wear. I also cannot argue against Kim’s wide variety of nude tones for her brand and the fact that it is very size inclusive, but even SKIMS aims for re-shaping and promotes a solution. A solution for what? In my opinion our bodies are not in need of solving the problems our society creates. If the problem is chub rub, fine, I am happy about a solution, but suggesting that our bodies should be changed is simply not cool. 

I think SKIMS is a nice approach to change but does not go all the way. We probably need less unrealistic ideals that demand pulling, and pushing, and plumping, and more neutral mind sets towards our bodies. Nevertheless, just like shape wear trends, beauty standards change. And maybe they change because there is no such thing as one ideal type of body. There is no good or bad body and hopefully shape wear will eventually inherit this mind set and solely serve the purpose of supporting each and every body. Perhaps, shape wear needs to evolve as more individual and accept the fact that there is no universal body type. 

Artwork: Khrystyna Fomenko