Kraken lovers, it looks as if I’ve been living my life in some sort of rum induced fug. I’ve just turned 43 years of age (although I don’t look a day over 61)but I have only just realised that for every one of those 43 years I’ve been assailed by a question so bleak that it makes me piss a steaming mixture of urea, punches and regret. And if you’re a woman it’s a question that’s been assailing you too. Problem is that said insidiousness is such an integral part of life that it’s easy for us to think it normal. It’s not. Not by a long fucking shot. So in the words of a certain antipodean alleged pervert who is about to stand trial, do you know what it is yet? Well you do now. It’s the what-body-shape-are-you? quiz.
You know exactly what I’m talking about, not least because it features in women’s magazines almost as much as page numbers and self-hate and has done since the creation of the printing press. Yup, it’s the quiz where readers are made to stare at a series of drawings representing the female form, each of them labelled like pork chops in a butcher’s window. Said quiz will usually demand that women decide whether they have the body shape of a triangle/ column/ rectangle/ apple/ hourglass/ pear before being given instructions on how to accentuate or hide said form according to whether you’re happy to be pigeonholed with other generously-hipped women or consider yourself so unfit for human consumption that you start dressing in family tents from Millets. These quizzes therefore include as much room for individuality as the barber shops currently operating in Kim Jong Un’s North Korea.
Yup, there’s nothing quite as empowering as wedging millions of us women into a mere six categories of body shape. Fuck our DNA and our genetically determined biological processes, all of which create complex and unique types of bellies, legs, arses, legs, hips and baps. That’s because according to women’s magazines all of that pales into insignificance next to society’s need to render us the sentient equivalent of Duplo blocks.
The thing is, while these quizzes are presented as a chance for us to empower ourselves by helping us understand the way we look (because an editor we’ve never met has a far more intimate knowledge of our own bodies than we do) the reality is that they are as empowering as being chained to a foam-mouthed mule. For a start every one of these quizzes comes with advice on how we can ‘normalise’ or prettify ourselves, ideally in a way that will stop passers-by from dry retching, because dressing for our shapes is far more important than dressing how we want. Heaven forfend we should forget that our flat chests, plump arses or curvaceous bellies are the real dictators and not our ability to make informed and intelligent choices about what we enjoy.
What makes it worse is that the diagrams that accompany these quizzes are as meaningless as Nigel Farage’s insistence that he’s the voice of reason. So after peering at our naked and goose-pimpled forms in a full length mirror while comparing ourselves to images scribbled by a magazine’s unpaid intern, we are inevitably mortified when we don’t fit any of the schematics at all. For example, I’d be hourglass if my waist was a bit nippier and I’d be pear if my belly was a bit smaller. I’m not apple because I have some waist and I’d be column if only I were an inch or two taller. The result? I’m a freak. A harrowing and festering freak who, because she doesn’t fit into these pigeonholes, doesn’t deserve to receive any fashion advice at all. Way to go in celebrating my individuality Grazia/ Cosmo/ Marie Claire/ Glamour, you shallow, look-obsessed, fashion-infested cock-washers.
And if you think this isn’t about sexism, ask yourself why men never get the same treatment. OK, so GQ and Men’s Health might have occasionally lined up a selection of men and labelled them toothpick/shuttlecock/bendy bus/ pint glass/ comet/ banana but even if they have it is nowhere near the scale upon which it has been done to women. For example, I just googled “which body shape are you” and didn’t see a single result that was aimed at men. Even when I did an image search for the same phrase I scrolled through hundreds of images of women and found only three featuring blokes. Perhaps it’s because the media thinks that, like vampires, men can’t see their own reflections or it’s because the media really does believe that all men have the sartorial prowess of a flapping salmon. It’s more likely, though, to be because no one gives a shit if men even bother to wash, as long as women are buffed to fuckable perfection for every hour of their waking day.
Which is why the next time I see one of these quizzes in a magazine I shall rip it out, not to compare myself to a sketch of a vase or a park bench but to wipe my uncategorisable-arse on it before sending it back to whichever bleak-hearted knobscot commissioned said piece in the first place. If I wanted to be pigeonholed, I’d feast on millet and strap messages to my ankle. Believe me, it’s not my bottom half that has gone pear shaped, it’s the magazines that pump this self-hatred directly into the minds of the women who read them. Something needs to be prettified and it as sure as shit ain’t me.