Fauxgress Watch: “Gentlemen Prefer Curves”

If we want to end cultural pressure on women to make their bodies conform to an ideal, we need to reject – not embrace – the idea that “men prefer curvy women” or “men like women to have some curves”. I know it’s tempting for those of us whose natural body shape puts us outside the sociocultural beauty ideal to try to latch onto this idea to regain some confidence. I also understand wanting to propagate a message that subverts dominant beauty standards, and because it attempts to do that, this message is not as harmful as a message that says the opposite. Nevertheless, a cursory analysis of this message reveals that it is not really progress. It does not promote genuine freedom from misogyny and beautyism.

First, by invoking male approval to validate a certain female body type, this message reinforces the idea that men’s approval of women’s bodies is the most relevant and important yardstick by which the quality our bodies should be measured. In this framework, women are seen to be valuable largely (or indeed only) to the extent that they are enjoyed by men. This idea is implicitly invoked whenever men’s approval is deemed the most suitable basis on which women are invited to build their self esteem. Obviously, this idea is deeply misogynistic and seriously heterosexist. It’s also damaging on a psychological level for individual women to base their self worth on the extent to which they please men.

Secondly, this message reinforces the idea there is a need to rank women’s bodies at all. It implies that some kind of hierarchy should exist. People who propagate this message want the current regime inverted to favour women with “some curves” rather than very thin women. This not only ignores but actively undermines the superior goal of destroying the whole concept of a beauty hierarchy. Instead of criticising the whole disgusting concept of ranking people based on the extent to which their bodies conform to the conventional ideal, the message actually reinforces it as a worthwhile exercise.

Thirdly, this message subtextually supports the idea that there is one nebulous, homogeneous entity of “men” who all like the same thing. Although this is what women’s magazines, men’s magazines and many human beings seem to believe, this is bullshit. This erases not only men who do like skinny women, but also men who like other men, men who prefer very fat women rather than women with merely “some” curves, men who prefer genderqueer or intersex partners, asexual men, demisexual men, men who don’t care about any physical attributes of their partners, and so on. Also, the message that all people, or even most people, have highly similar sexual preferences and desires is damaging in another way: it is part of what makes the existence of a cultural beauty standard so poisonous, because it allows our culture to invoke a monolith of attraction/disgust for certain bodies.

It is perfectly fine – important, in fact – for us to make media celebrating the fact that some people are really into women whose bodies are larger than the current sociocultural beauty ideal. Given the state of mainstream culture, it is fast becoming absolutely crucial we make media acknowledging that human sexuality is diverse, and that being outside the boundaries of conventional attractiveness does not mean nobody finds you hot, sexy, gorgeous, or beautiful. That would be real progress. This isn’t.


11 Comments on Fauxgress Watch: “Gentlemen Prefer Curves”

  1. clare says:

    I think this article is fantastic. My aim is to back it up but also to high-light your mentioning of ‘natural bodies’.
    My parents are both tall slim people, I’m a twin and was born six weeks early and I have a very expensive metabolism. All of these things mean that I was born very skinny. That is my natural body. It is also pretty much the body shape somewhere near the top of the conceptual ‘beauty hierachy’. Fortunately for me though, because I never want to attract the sexual attention of men, my skin and hair cut don’t match up to it.
    But this is unfortunate too, because now ‘even’ I, with a UK size 6 body receive harsh words or looks of disgust or disappointment from men on the street – which isn’t nice.
    Those beauty standards that the media and society in general have got a lot of people believing are pretty darn high! They shouldn’t be there at all because at the moment, no one wins.
    So I’m using myself as an example that every human’s body is diverse. Either everyone is beautiful or no-one is; we ditch the concept of beauty.

    • Rachael Rachael says:

      I think your story really highlights why an attempt to widen the current beauty ideal – rather than to destroy it – is the wrong approach. Even if we could push this “pro-curves” message hard enough that we somehow got larger/curvier women included in the social ideal, that doesn’t help all the other women excluded for any of the hundreds of other so-called “flaws” deemed unacceptable by our culture.

      The best hope we have is to try to destroy this thing completely. I totally agree with your last line. The current conception of beauty as being an exclusive ideal has to go, and it has to be replaced by a concept of beauty that is completely inclusive and celebrates diversity. The only concept of beauty worth preserving is one in which everyone’s beauty is acknowledged.

    • Connie Connie says:

      Agree with you and Rachael. I feel like a lot of the men who say things about how they prefer “curvier” women are just trying to get feminist brownie points while missing the point completely.

      • Rachael Rachael says:

        SO TRUE about the feminist brownie points. Oh my god. When this happens I am always internally like “UGH get out of my face, I do not need your man-gazey approval to feel good about myself.”

  2. ephant says:

    yes yes yes

    *and* I would add that “beauty”/attractiveness is not a thing which is (or should be) important to every person.

    I find that I am less attracted to the idea of being “beautiful” than many women… (in certain places and at certain times it does please me for myself and other people to enjoy the way I look) but certainly more than some! It is simply not important to some people that they be “beautiful” at all, and I don’t think it should be.

    • Rachael Rachael says:

      So true, and I should have put this sentiment in the post! Thanks for adding it to the discussion, it needs to be said often and loudly!

  3. Grima says:

    Buy a magazine with pictures of women aimed at men (porn) and one aimed at women (fashion magazine) and the women in porn are on the average 10-15 libs heavier.

    If the approval of men drives womens need to look good…no one would bother much with appearance before attending an all-female aerobics class.

    We may think that the male criticism of female looks are worse than ever, but actually, it is better than ever. Women today are free from the NEED for a husband. Even if most want one. There are few, if any careers that are totally closed, and and single motherhood is at least an option. A womans financial future is no longer entirely dependent on what husband she mates with.

    Male approval has been loosing power steadily for at least 50 years. And the approved female wight has been shrinking in lockstep with that.

    • Connie Connie says:

      Certainly the fact that women actually have more legally enforceable rights now than 50 years ago (when it was still impossible to rape women inside a marriage!) but that doesn’t mean that SEXISM IS OVER.

      I don’t necessarily agree with your assertions about women in porn having larger body shapes (I think this is what you meant by “heavier”) but just because certain magazines are aimed at women does not mean they sit outside of the patriarchy. “Women’s” magazines are as much as an example of (internalised) patriarchy as many magazines targeted to men.

    • Rachael Rachael says:

      This comment is irrelevant. Furthermore, it seems that you have actively missed the point of this post: the existence of any kind of beauty ideal, and ESPECIALLY one associated with male approval, is offensive and harmful for women. (Oh yeah, I’m so glad I’m allowed to be 10-15lbs heavier when MEN are judging my body.)

      You seem to be insinuating that women are now their own jailors. Some women are clearly participating in patriarchy to some extent, but DO NOT come to this blog and attempt to downplay the role men are very obviously playing here.

      If you cannot see that your comment adds nothing to the discussion then you need to think a lot harder before you post your next comment.

      Do not make me regret approving your comments. If I decide approving them was a mistake, it is a mistake I can easily rectify.

  4. Kevin says:

    I agree, for the most part. It is genetically ingrained in the minds of males to look for female body types that will carry good genes for their children, just as women look for the same in men. Unfortunately, you can’t take someone’s biological impulses away in the essence of being all-accepting. You can’t make someone think that someone else is attractive, because attractiveness is a matter of biology and opinion. People will always be judged on their beauty because it’s human nature to judge things in largely subjective terms. I don’t think it’s wrong that the media propagates beauty. The problem comes when people think there is such a thing as objective beauty. Beauty is subjective.

    It is unfortunate that women are degraded when they think that they are unattractive based on messages they get from the media or from men in general. It happens the other way too, and there are plenty of degraded men who can’t live up to the six-pack and bulging biceps ideal placed upon them by the media, and by some women. But the media is not the enemy here: the social construct is. The media simply feeds of what the social construct wants to see. In this case, the media will play to the majority of their audience who, because of biological and personal reasons, prefer curvy women and buff men. And if we want to make the social construct the enemy, then we have to go up against biology and the idea of individuality and opinion.

    • Connie Connie says:

      We are not suggesting that individuals should feel guilty of their desires or what they find attractive (unless those individuals desires are actually harmful). We are speaking about systematic and macro-problematic trends.

      It is genetically ingrained in the minds of males to look for female body types that will carry good genes for their children, just as women look for the same in men. Unfortunately, you can’t take someone’s biological impulses away in the essence of being all-accepting.

      I guess queer people don’t even exist then hunh? We’re all just finding each other attractive and having sex to have babies! We certainly don’t discern between partners in ways other than genetics like say, through personality, emotional ties or socio-economic status or anything like that!

      Even if there were evidence that humans were genetically coded to find a certain type of body attractive (I find this highly unlikely but feel free to link me to studies), that is not an argument about merits (and Rachael’s made a great post about how biology is not a merit argument with respect to queerness). I think, for example, anecdotally there is evidence to show that humans tend to Other cultures that are not their own, but that doesn’t mean I think bigotry and prejudice is justified. Humans are rational agents and thinkers and therefore have a responsibility to use their rationality.

      We support having NO beauty hierarchy for both men and women. There are increasing instances of men suffering from patriarchal messages of what a man “should” look like, but systematically speaking, it doesn’t come close to the amount of messages inundated by women. If you replaced “social construct” with “the patriarchy” then I would agree with some of what you’re saying. But to argue that the social construct/patriarchy can’t be changed (whether it is biological or not) is a convenient excuse to be wilfully passive in the face of oppression and suffering.

      Your comment has been extremely derailing. If the next comment you post is derailing in a similar vein then it will be deleted.


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