Welcome to the second post in our series on applying Trinny & Susannah’s twelve body shapes from the Body Shape Bible to sewing and sewing pattern selection. In this post, I’ll review the actual book itself that provides the source material the shape analyses to come in later posts. This book review should help to provide background information and context for the upcoming posts in the series.
After the intro, the bulk of the book is 12 chapters, each one devoted to a body shape. (There are sections at the end for recycling/revamping your wardrobe plus a few UK-specific shopping guides.) Each chapter follows the same format. There is a page that introduces the shape with basic info, followed immediately by more exposition on the shape with a photo clearly labeling the features of the shape.
Next, Trinny and Susannah cover the shape’s “biggest mistakes” with a photo of a bad fashion choice. This section includes a list of “Never Wear” items, which I don’t care for. I find it limiting, and it seems like fashion advice masquerading the inherent size-ism and body shame that permeates the book, and really, the vast majority of fashion/style guides.
Next are “Key Shapes” with explanations of features that will work for the shape and photos of some exemplar pieces. Here’s a sample page:
Then they have 3 Best Looks: casual, smart (business, professional), and party. Each has the woman who models the shape wearing an ideal outfit and a discussion of features to look for. Here are 2 sample pages, one casual and one smart:
Then there is general advice and commentary about the shape called “What it means to be a (Shape).
The chapter concludes with “(Shapes) to inspire you,” a segment that includes famous women of that shape. They have photos of the woman making a good style choice and a bad one with short explanations for both.
Their body shape schema has 12 types, which is far more comprehensive and detailed than the usual 4 shapes of most systems.
This is the system that Trinny and Susannah use:
Note how the shapes relate to each other and vary based on weight distribution and proportions on the body. For example, a woman who has been less than pleased with the advice she gets for having a Pear-like body may be a Skittle (US—think bowling pin). Both shapes have full thighs, but a Skittle has a flatter, smaller bum. A Pear has a greater tendency to “saddlebags” and has fuller hips. Both have chunky calves, but the Skittle’s calves are a bit slimmer and shapelier than the Pear’s.
In general, by using a more extensive set of shapes, they can customize the advice more thoroughly than the typical 4 shapes systems can. There are many suggestions here for each body type for design features and proportions to look for.
With one exception, Trinny and Susannah provide three example celebrities to illustrate each shape, and those famous women vary in age, size, and race, ranging from Meryl Streep to Shakira, from Angelina Jolie to Oprah, from Hillary Clinton to Serena Williams. The variety– in ages, sizes, skin tones/ colors, and occupations– is impressive. They also use regular women to illustrate each shape, and likewise, they include women of various ages, sizes, and races. I was happy to see that they didn’t just default to young, white women. YEAH! Diverse women! Young, white women are great, but they aren’t the only women in the world, so I loved to see such a variety included.
OMG, y’all! A woman of color! An older woman! They exist! They really do!
(An aside here: Halters may be great for balancing shoulders, but they will be murder on your neck if you use neck straps as bust support with large breasts. Just sayin’.)
As I’ll discuss, some (much?) of the language is problematic. It tends to be demoralizing and objectifying. For example, the powerful shoulders and back of a Brick are nice, but only for an Olympic swimmer (p.184). They call some body types “all female” or “all woman.” If a woman inhabits a body type, that type is all woman. Just because a body type or shape less approximates some stereotypical or ideal form doesn’t mean that body is less female. Saying that types are more masculine, harder to make sexy or sensual just makes it harder for those women to feel feminine or sexy (if they want to).
They also tend to go over the top with the idea that how a woman dresses (and thus how she looks) is the most important thing in her life. Each body shape section contains “Your Biggest Mistake” to discuss styles that they believe are less flattering on that body shape. I certainly love good hyperbole, but calling a bad style choice “your biggest mistake” is just silly. I get it. This is a guide to picking clothes. But let’s have a little perspective! A poorly fit sweater is a “biggest mistake”? Oh. Schmitch. Please. Hillary Clinton will be thrilled to know her biggest mistake was her black bell-shaped ball gown and not anything to do with her email! And as I said above, I don’t like the “never wear” admonishment.
Also, the “deep thoughts” advice section in each chapter, “What It Means to be a (Shape)”…. (I trail off when I think about this title.) Well, something about the phrasing of what it means to be a particular body type that has advice about grooming, finding style role models, and what you should like and/or enjoy about your body smacks of telling women to see ourselves– our very identities—as our bodies. Frankly, we get that message far, FAR too often. And some of the advice contained is weird, objectifying, and sexualizing. It also reinforces a specific type of femininity and heterosexuality. Let’s see an example, shall we? Here, the hourglass.
There’s a contradiction in the message to cover breasts or use jewelry to distract other’s eyes away from them and then to instruct women not to fear “thrusting your breasts forward.” And let’s not ignore the fat shaming message that shoving one’s breasts out there is preferable to being “hunched over with boobs pressing downwards, creating extra belly rolls.” (p. 70) Ugh. They also use this section to hammer down the idea that the Hourglass (or shapes more like it that are curvy) are IDEAL and more inherently female and feminine than other shapes. Reinforcing the notion that some women are lesser women because their body shapes are less stereotypically feminine is damaging. It can contribute to self-loathing and feelings of shame about one’s body and even one’s gender identity and sexuality. That Trinny and Susannah mention so frequently that some women are masculine for having broader shoulders and/or more square, muscular bodies just shows how limited their (and to some extent, a general broad cultural) view is of what women are supposed to look like.
Also, it is impractical to discourage women from dressing for the weather because high necks are less attractive on certain body types, like they do here. If I have to walk 10 minutes from my parking lot to my class when it is 10 below 0 Fahrenheit, you can bet your arse I’m buttoning up and not artfully draping scarves where I’ve opened my coat buttons. And please. There are tons of casual styles that an Hourglass can work and look great in. Not every woman has a lifestyle well suited for “smart” tailored fashions, even if her body shape is. Telling women not to fear standing out by going against the tide for casual styles and dressing up fails to acknowledge that women lead different lives with different needs. The Hourglass or Vase with small children and a job as a pharmacist probably doesn’t have much need for a closet packed with pencil skirts, the style they most strongly suggest for these two shapes.
(Also, a general comment. They use the words boobs, tits, and bosom far more extensively than breasts. I have no problems with such slang terms for body parts, and I’ll use them here, but when usage of them eclipses real terms it seems like a pandering to an adolescent mentality.)
The book is dated (2007). This is not a big deal from the perspective that some fashions have changed or that some stores in their directory may have moved or closed, but it is ugly when it comes to disparaging language, especially about marginalized groups. They tend to use “transsexual” as a particularly derogatory term for bad styles choices. In 2007, there was much less attention to the challenges the trans-community faced, and few people thought about the implications of using “trans” as an insult. Reading it 2015 (or even 2010, when I first did so), to see Susannah use “transsexual” to joke about her hairstyle, it was jarring. (Please note: my edition was published in 2007. If the book has re-issued subsequently, the editors or authors may have changed some of the dated aspects of the book.)
The book has good advice and an applaudable level of diverse women depicted. But immensely problematic language that sexualizes, shames, and objectifies women’s bodies and contributes to a sizist, sexist, and heterosexist worldview.