Body Shapes

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

Being female has never been easy, especially when you consider the traps and tortures inflicted on girls and women for the sake of someone's idea of beauty. Here's a look at some of the life-threatening ways girls and women have tried to reshape themselves.


In China, beginning in the eleventh century, the practice of foot-binding was used on female infants in wealthy families. The feet were tightly bound to prevent growth. The toes sometimes dropped off and a deep cleft formed between the heel and the front of the foot. These unnaturally small feet were considered a sign of beauty. Foot-binding was done to distinguish natural-footed working women from wealthy women of leisure, whose bound feet confined them to the house because walking was so painful. This practice was outlawed in the 20th century.


In the 1960s, some American women had liquid silicone injections to enlarge their breasts. This dangerous procedure often backfired. The silicone would solidify and travel through the body, causing infections and odd lumps in surprising places. Today, some women have saline-filled pouches surgically implanted beneath their natural breasts to push them forward. The risks of this kind of surgery include pain, infection, leaking implants, a build-up of scar tissue, and an implant tightening up so that the breast appears deformed. Also, implants do not last forever; many rupture or deflate within a few years, or sometimes just a few months, and additional surgery will be required.


Among the Padaung women of Burma, long necks are signs of beauty. Young girls wear brass or iron rings around their necks in order to stretch them. Beginning with 5, the number of rings increases to a total of 22 in adulthood. The bones of the neck are pulled apart and the rings can never be removed without the risk of death. These "beautiful" necks are stretched to lengths of 14 inches.


In Africa, girls of the Sras Djunge begin to stretch their lips by implanting wooden disks at the age of four. As the girls grow, they use larger disks and their lips stretch so far that they are barely able to talk and can consume only liquids.

Body Weight

Today, many American girls and women starve themselves in the name of beauty. Many people believe that an obsession with body weight, especially in the media, is a key part of why so many girls develop eating disorders. There are a number of different kinds of eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by self-starvation. Bulimia is an eating disorder in which a person eats but later throws up the food. All kinds of eating disorders include unhealthy attitudes toward food and a poor self-image. And all kinds of eating disorders are dangerous. The dangers include malnutrition, dental problems, heart problems, an increased risk for such diseases as diabetes and arthritis, and even death. Thousands of girls and women die of eating disorders each year. If your own feelings about food and your body have begun to worry you, or if you are worried about a friend, tell someone you trust. Reaching out is the first step toward health.

Food For Thought

  • Fat was once called “the silken layer.”
  • The Victorians associated plumpness with health, attractiveness, and a happy outlook.
  • Fat is a sign of fertility. The soft roundness of a woman's hips, thighs, belly, and breasts are a sign that she is a fertile adult.
  • This soft female roundedness has been considered attractive and desirable in most cultures throughout most of human history.
  • Ultra-skinny models weigh 25% less than the average American woman
  • Models in magazines can look very different in real life. In magazines, lighting, make-up, photo re-touching, and other special effects contribute to an unreal look.
  • Surveys show that women tend to be much more critical of other women's bodies than men are.
  • If Barbie the doll were a human, she would probably have to crawl on all fours, because her tiny feet could not support her long legs and oversized chest.
  • Real bodies come in every shape and size.
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