Learning to see a 'fluctuating' body shape as a pro, not a (body)con

As beauty standards shift, I'm trying to evolve with them

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 19, 2017 Barbadian singer Rihanna poses as she arrives for the screening of the film 'Okja' at the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France.                   Pop idol Rihanna is to launch her own luxury brand in collaboration with French powerhouse LVMH, the singer said on May 10, 2019. / AFP / Anne-Christine POUJOULAT
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"Beauty is not a matter of clothing size, it is a state of mind, an attitude – that certain something that makes each woman enchanting and unique," Dolce & Gabbana said in a statement this week. The brand was announcing that it would be extending the sizing across its collections to cater to a fuller figure.

It's been a good week for body diversity. An email from the Dubai modelling agency MA Models landed in my inbox, outlining its growing roster of "curvy" models. Ashley Graham, the model and body-acceptance crusader, has been unashamedly flashing her cellulite while on holiday in Morocco. Rihanna further established herself as a champion of women of all shades and sizes when she presented her Fenty clothing collection on mannequins that were shaped like actual women – curvaceous hips, slightly protruding tummies and all.

In a recent interview with British Vogue, the Barbadian songstress and entrepreneur made a remarkable admission: "I actually have had the pleasure of a fluctuating body type, where one day I can literally fit into something that is body-con, and then the next day – the next week – I need something oversize," she said.

I have suffered a similar fate my whole life – my weight regularly yo-yos by up to 10 kilograms and my body-con days are long gone – but I have never viewed this as a “pleasure”. I have, for as long as I can remember, considered it a curse, a lifelong battle to be fought at every mealtime and in every excruciating session at the gym.

I try to remind myself that, as my colleague Sarah Maisey outlined earlier this week, definitions of attractiveness have evolved with the ages. Marilyn Monroe’s curvy UK size 12 silhouette was once the height of femininity. When I was a teenager in the 1990s, it was Kate Moss’s semi-emaciated frame that was setting the standard for the ideal female form (along with her assertions that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”). This evolving perception of beauty is something that fitness blogger Cassey Ho cleverly illustrated in a series of Instagram posts last year, when she doctored her body shape to show what would have been considered attractive during various stages of history. Perhaps I should have been born during the Italian Renaissance, when, according to Ho, “looking full with a rounded stomach, large hips and an ample blossom [was] in. Being well fed [was] a sign of wealth and status.”

What is considered attractive can also be highly cultural. In certain parts of the world, a curvaceous figure is still appealing, whereas the western ideal tends to favour an almost unattainable Victoria's Secret-style leanness. One of the benefits of living in Dubai is that, by nature of its diversity, it is home to endless permutations of female beauty. Of course, there are still plenty of carefully curated, gym-honed physiques around, but there is much more besides.

One of the dangers of an increasingly interconnected world is that perceptions of beauty become homogenised. A scroll through your Instagram feed will confirm that more and more women are aspiring to a Kardashian-esque standard of beauty, and an upsurge in specific types of plastic surgery reaffirms that the disproportionate hourglass is fast-becoming the body shape du jour.

But as Rihanna, Dolce & Gabbana and the likes of Ashley Graham are proving, beauty comes in infinite forms. Now I just need to train my own brain to see my fluctuating weight as “enchanting” and “unique”.