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Why you might not be the body shape you think – new research

Hourglass, bottom hourglass, top hourglass, spoon, rectangle, diamond, oval, triangle, and inverted triangle… there are nine official female body shape classifications.

However, new research shows that just moving the tape measure by 1cm could shift 40% of women into a different shape class, giving conflicting results.

Depending on how somebody is measured, a spoon shape – which is like a pear – can also be judged to be a bottom hourglass shape.

Similarly, a triangle can be reinterpreted as a rectangle.

Dr Christopher J. Parker, of Loughborough University, the research’s lead author, said: “Until now, science did not know the impact different ways of taking a body measurement has on the shape classification a woman ends up with – for example, spoon, triangle, or bottom hourglass.

“Style and health experts often use women's body shape as the basis of style choices.

“If a woman wants to replicate this advice – for choosing the ‘right’ style or taking the right supplements, the classification must be stable. Our research investigates this problem.

“We need to understand if a woman's body can be classified into more than one body shape just by taking a slightly different measurement – for example, moving the tape measure up by 1cm when taking a waist measurement.”

The study – in collaboration with the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University – measured 1,679 women using three widely used measurement placement directions.

The researchers found small changes in measurement placement put 40% of women into different, non-compatible, body shapes when looking to objectively classify body shape.

“A stylist might give stunning suggestions for a 'spoon' body,” said Dr Parker. “But if a woman measures herself using slightly different parts of her body, then she may follow the 'bottom hourglass' style by mistake.

“Discovering how precise experts must be when telling people how to measure and classify their body may help style guides be easier to replicate at home.”

As well as having implications for fashion and style, the research also means that scientists, designers (other than clothing) and international health groups must question whether the body shape classification systems they use are fit for purpose.

Dr Parker added: “Maybe everything we know about body shape is flawed.”

ENDS

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/78

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2020 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in the Guardian University League Table 2021, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 6th in The UK Complete University Guide 2021.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

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