Why is an hourglass figure idolised by the plus size fashion industry?

Although plus size women come in a multitude of shapes and sizes, most fashion choices for plus size women are designed for an hourglass figure. There aren’t many types of dresses available to us – the oversized boxy or swing dress, tight fitting bodycon, wrap dresses, and 50s style fit and flare. You almost always see the latter three dress styles modelled on hourglass women. As I mentioned in my last article a lot of plus size models pad out their bodies to imitate the hourglass figure, and conversely, some models use corsets to give an hourglass look to naturally less defined silhouettes.

That tells us that a lot of models don’t naturally have the hourglass shape, let alone the average woman. Use of padding and corsetry in modelling should make designers think about the body shapes they’re neglecting, but instead, they push this hallowed hourglass shape.

Google image search: plus size dress
We did a google search on “plus size dress” and this was the first row of results.

Why IS the hourglass figure so prized anyway?

There’s been a lot of scientific research into why the hourglass shape is so desirable, but ultimately it comes down to baby makin’. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it was determined a waist to hip ratio (WHR) of 0.7 was the preferred ratio of fat distribution in the female body as viewed by men. WHR is worked out by dividing your waist measurement by your hip measurement, and the optimum WHR signifies a couple of things which shape a woman’s possible reproductive status: youth and health. At menopause, a woman’s waist thickens as increased male hormones create fat storage there. A more hourglass silhouette suggests a woman is young enough to bear children. Certain endocrine health conditions such as PCOS create more of an apple shape, which could signify a reduced chance of conception.

So we understand to a man’s eye, a woman with the ‘ideal’ WHR is a walking advertisement for her ability to bear children, but why does the hourglass shape have such a bearing on fashion, and in turn our self-esteem? Why are other types of bodies left out? If we must use fruit to describe body types, why are apples and pears neglected? How are we supposed to feel if none of the models look like us, both in size and in shape?

I know many beautiful women of all shapes and sizes and I certainly don’t rate them in attractiveness on a sliding scale depending on their WHR, but then I’m not looking to impregnate anyone!

Although I understand the science behind why men find an hourglass shape attractive, why it thoroughly permeates the plus size fashion industry – and to a certain extent plus size blogging – befuddles me. When I’m buying clothes or getting dressed I’m not thinking about whether or not a man wants to put his baby batter in me. I dress for me. I wear what I like, when I like. And you should too.

In plus size circles 50s style fit and flare dresses and skirts are very popular, almost as if the only way you can exist in a fat body is to wear a huge meringue on your bottom half, making your waist look smaller in contrast. Although I own some fit and flare dresses/puffy skirts I begrudge having it inferred this is the only option for me.

Google search random row
Random result row from first page of google results.

If there are so many different shapes of plus size bodies why are retailers so invested in shoving clothes made for hourglass shapes at us? Surely it’s for their own ease – they want to hire models who won’t be accused of ‘promoting obesity’. *Vomits*.

There seems to be a disconnect – no, A BLATANT DISREGARD – for their perceived customers and their actual customers.

Surely plus size companies must know there are plus size women whose bodies aren’t hourglass? I’m thankful for indie companies who embrace and design for ALL body types, but we have a long way to go.

The only conclusion I can come to us plus size beauty standards are essentially hourglass beauty standards with extra minutes. This needs to change.



Hi, I'm Leah, a 42 year old feminist and self love warrior with a healthy appreciation for Jason Momoa, sarcasm, expletives and vol au vents. Other interests apart from writing are shutting out the outside world with Netflix binges, metal music, trying to trick cats into loving me and shopping like the economy depends solely on me.

One thought on “Why is an hourglass figure idolised by the plus size fashion industry?

  • Avatar
    17th May 2017 at 5:35 pm

    THIS. I’ve been in the market for a plus-size formal dress and I keep getting Scarlett and Jo and Hell Bunny ads in my face, and while I do adore those looks, they WILL NOT FIT ME LIKE THAT. I have more or less straight sides. My waist does not curve inwards at all, on any angle. Those cute flared dresses will not look like that on my body, not even close.

    If I order that style, I will be frustrated and/or sad when I put them on and look straight-sided, not curvy.

    What’s particularly frustrating is that if you look through all of the offerings, some of the sites do actually have non-hourglass models, but only for like two or three of the dozens of dresses. Why not have her model more than that? That’s the valuable information I need, what that will look like on me, not on me plus a corset that I am NOT going to wear!

    So thank you for this. I’m glad it’s not just me noticing.


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