Why Are Men “Athletic” and Women “Curvy”?

True Religion’s new denim line dubs women “curvy” and men “athletic.” (Photo: Getty Images)

We use a lot of words to describe the female form. Curvy. Straight. Skinny. Petite. Plus-size. Slender. Full-figured. We are all about body acceptance right now, which is a movement worthy of applause. But there are still inherent issues hidden in the way we discuss size and a woman’s body, something that’s evident in True Religion’s two new extended-size jean lines.

True Religion’s Athletic Fit for Men and Curvy Fit for Women debuted this week. The Athletic Fit line described as “fit for an athlete, tailored to you,” designed for men who’d like a little extra room in their denim for muscular hips and thighs. On the other hand, Curvy Fit is designed to “flaunt your assets,” showing off a woman’s body.

If you knew nothing else about the line, you might have an image of what Athletic Fit for Men looks like — and you’d probably be spot-on. You may or may not know what “curvy” fit means anymore. While the line is obviously well-intentioned and meant to encompass an array of sizes, we’re still struggling a bit with how to classify a woman’s body and how to market size.

 

First off, not every woman looking for an extended size is “curvy,” says fashion market editor and brand consultant Randi Packard. “Curvy is now the ‘proper’ way to refer to what used to be called plus-sized, and it’s the most confusing term,” Packard tells Yahoo Style. “To me, curvy should imply that your waist-to-hip ratio is bigger than a woman who has more narrow hips. It’s also used to describe models and actresses who have larger breasts; I once saw an article that described supermodel Gisele as ‘curvy.’ I mean, on which planet is she curvy?” We don’t know what the word means anymore.

Packard says there’s been “a big push lately” for all-encompassing size and shape inclusion, which is a step in the right direction for fashion. “There’s been a lot of outspoken pride from non-traditionally-sized models and plus-size bloggers,” she says. “Women of all sizes are owning their body types including naturally skinny women who sometimes get incorrectly called things like anorexic.”

So why then are women deemed “curvy” and men “athletic” in True Religion’s new line? While there certainly are athletic women, Packard suggests the term “athletic” in clothing might stray too far from typically-feminine ideals. “I’m not convinced many women find the term ‘athletic’ as complementary as men do,” Packard says.

“From a historical perspective, men are brawn and women are beauty,” Karla Ivankovich, PhD, an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield, tells Yahoo Style. “Men are not shamed for carrying extra weight, as a general rule; the stereotypes that exist for men revolve around bulk and brawn. This is seen as masculine — so much so that, for years, Levi Strauss put the size of a man’s jeans on a tag sewn to the outside of the pants.”

Women, on the other hand, are often assigned sizing terms that hint towards objectification. “Curvy” is inherently sexual, and with the True Religion jeans, women are encouraged to “flaunt” their bodies. According to Ivankovich, the new line harkens back to the basics of human evolution where women are prized for their fertility-evoking curves above all else.

However, some women are owning the word “curvy.” “One of the positive things that the Kardashians have done, for instance, is bring light to body image and acceptance in a way that supports ‘curvy’ as something spectacular and of value,” Ivankovich says.

Defining size is not a new phenomenon; fashion magazines have long categorized women’s body types into an array of shapes – pear, column, apple, hourglass and so on. “The shape of a woman’s body is more likely to be more varied than a man’s, because we have more parts to contend with,” Ivankovich says. “We are more sensitive to the discussions now.”

While not everyone may be a fan of the sex-assigned “curvy” and “athletic” labels, Ivankovich gives credit to True Religion for attempting to find common ground between men and women whose body types fall away from typical straight sizes. “The brand is trying to join people where they are and give them a space to fit in,” she explains. “Right now, the fashion industry needs this.”

As the conversation about size and shape continues to move in a more body-positive direction, then maybe one day jeans will just be jeans, and they can just “fit” your figure — whether you’re a man or woman, athletic, curvy, straight, petite or just plain you.

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