Are Kibbe body types helpful or harmful?

·6-min read
Photo credit: Jessica Lockett
Photo credit: Jessica Lockett

'Soft Dramatic', 'Theatrical Romantic' and 'Flamboyant Natural' sound very much like a new range of fake eyelashes. In fact, they are types of women’s bodies under the style theory known as the Kibbe Body Types.

Published in 1987, Metamorphosis, A Personal Image and Style Book for Women, was written by David Kibbe, a self-proclaimed style avatar and trendsetter. Kibbe is an image professional who headed a personal appearance makeover salon in New York in the 80s, following the principles of his total image system known as the Kibbe Body Types.

The system is largely based on a person’s supposed individual balance of Yin and Yang, or feminine and masculine energy. The main characteristic of Yin is soft and round features, whereas on the other hand, Yang denotes sharp and angular features. Falling across this spectrum are thirteen different body types, with a Romantic body type at the farthest Yin end of the spectrum and a Dramatic body type at the most extreme Yang.

If you're curious about where you might fit into the Kibbe body types, have a read of their descriptions here:

Yin Kibbe body types:

Romantic

On the far right of the Kibbe Type spectrum. Height is moderate to petite. Body type is soft and curvy

Theatrical Romantic

Height is moderate to petite. Body type is soft and curvy but small.

Soft Gamine

Height is very petite. Body type is rounded.

Soft Classic

Height is moderate. Body type is slightly rounded and evenly proportioned.

Classic

Height is moderate. Body type is evenly proportioned between yin and yang.

Gamine

Height is moderate to small. Body type is straight and unlike a blended balance of the Classic, the Gamine is a combination of Yin and Yang.

Yang Kibbe body types:

Dramatic Classic

Height is moderate. Body type is slightly muscular and evenly proportioned.

Soft Natural

Height is moderate to small. Body type is soft and tends towards fleshiness, with a small waist and hourglass shape.

Flamboyant Gamine

Height is moderate to small. Body type is broad and angular.

Natural

Height is moderate to slightly tall. Body type is straight and muscular

Flamboyant Natural

Height moderate to very tall. Body type is straight, broad and angular.

Soft Dramatic

Height moderate to tall. Body type is fleshy particularly through bust and hip area with long legs and arms.

Dramatic

On the far left of the Kibbe Type spectrum. Height is moderate to tall. Body type is straight and angular.

To simplify things, there are broadly speaking only five body types (Romantic, Dramatic, Classic, Natural, Gamine). According to Kibbe's system, each body type is then equipped with guidelines covering all elements of personal appearance, including clothing, hair, and makeup in order to achieve a totally harmonious look

Despite its rather niche mode of categorisation, the Kibbe system appears to have converted a substantial following. Multiple YouTube videos demystifying the different types and walkthroughs detailing how to dress accordingly have racked up hundreds of thousands of views. Where the appeal seems to lie is in the focus on celebrating your features, whatever they may be, and emphasising these by dressing as dictated, as opposed to trying to change or conceal them to fit into arbitrary beauty standards.

However, at first glance there appears to be a glaring issue with this suggestion. You need only click on one of the many blogs or videos dedicated to helping people find their Kibbe body type to see that it is mainly marketed towards predominantly white women. Some of the common celebrity examples include Marilyn Monroe, Jennifer Anniston, Tilda Swinton and Keira Knightley, with a few including the likes of Beyonce, Tyra Banks and Rihanna. Despite the occasional attempts at diversity, it is clear that the system is marketed towards the way white women are shaped and experience their bodies.

Another issue extends to the trend of body typing more broadly. This desire to categorise women's bodies has a long legacy of toxic messaging, echoing extreme makeover shows of days gone by. Objectifying women’s bodies for evaluation is nothing new, with the more common categories of unflattering fruits used to dictate who is allowed to wear what.

These supposed rules intend to make you appear more flattering to the eye by accentuating, hiding, and minimising aspects of the body. According to Kibbe, his system is about emphasising your features rather than trying to conceal them. However, it is hard to see how it doesn’t play into the same dated narratives about what is and isn’t “flattering”. Millennials were found to be the age group whose moods were most affected by their clothes in a study created by Comfort in collaboration with Hertfordshire University fashion psychologist, Professor Karen Pine. It revealed that 17% have asked friends to delete a photo from social media because their outfit wasn’t right, demonstrating how dressing significantly impacts self-esteem.

Photo credit: Jessica Lockett
Photo credit: Jessica Lockett

Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, explains, “Most psychologists hate putting people into categories, mainly because we know people lie on continuums more or less on every psychological or physical trait you can think of. To put people into categories essentialises them. It says you are either, or. Most people are not either, or - they are in-between somewhere.”

“The way the Kibbe has been marketed particularly on this premise of body positivity, on its rejection of the emphasis on thinness and the emphasis on encapsulating the contemporary appearance ideal, is important. It flips it and says you can be different but as long as you follow these patterns and these rules of behaviour. The problem is it reproduces a lot of the nonsense we see in mainstream society anyway,” he says.

A 2019 online survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation found that in the last year one in five adults felt shame, just over one third felt down or low, and 19% felt disgusted because of their body image. These statistics demonstrate that even in the era of body positivity, a large proportion of people are still suffering with poor body image. Significantly, this then increases their risk factor for more serious mental health issues.

Most people have spent years ingesting toxic messaging around their bodies, with body-shaming rhetoric disguised as fashion advice. However that doesn’t mean that body typing systems can’t be useful for some people. For those who swear by the Kibbe body system as the golden ticket to unlocking their personal style, this system of categorisation may help them see their body in a new and more positive light. As Swami elaborates, “It’s a pseudoscience. I think on an individual level if it helps people feel more comfortable about themselves, I’m not going to argue against it. But if you were trying to use it as a means of helping people at a population level feel better about themselves, it’s not going to work.”

Dressing for your body type, your age, or your gender has long gone out of style. Whether it’s jeans and a nice top or a particularly comfy WFH co-ord, just go with what makes you feel good and I promise you’re doing it right.

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