Bodies come in different shapes and sizes, influenced by a person’s frame and composition. This is part of what makes every human unique.
Some bodies are curvier, some have broad shoulders, and some have more musculature.
People usually have a defined body type after puberty, but this can change based on activity level, dietary habits, and other major lifestyle and hormonal changes.
This article focuses on common body shapes, common body types, what determines body shape, and ways a person can improve their body image.
A person’s body type depends on the distribution of muscle mass and fat. Some people are long and lean, while others are curvier.
Likewise, some people find it challenging to gain weight, whereas others have difficulty losing weight.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
In the 1940s, psychologist William H. Sheldon introduced the concept of different body types, or somatotypes.
While many people tend to think that this type of classification only refers to males, it can also describe the female body. This classifies the body based on how lean a person is or how easy it is for their body to store fat.
Per this classification, there are three different body types:
- Ectomorph: This is when the body is lean and slender and tends to have less body fat and muscle. People with this body type can often find it challenging to gain weight in the form of muscle or fat. Fashion models are an example of this body type.
- Endomorph: This is when the body has more stored fat, lots of muscle, and gains weight easily. People with this body type are not always overweight. Football lineman and Marilyn Monroe are examples of this body type.
- Mesomorph: This is when the body is athletic and strong. People with this body type are neither overweight nor underweight. Swimmers and volleyball players are examples of this body type.
Females tend to have more fat mass. They also tend to be curvier due to a combination of larger breasts, wider hips, larger buttocks, and bigger thighs.
While every body is unique, there are several broad categories for the female body shape. An older 2004 article notes that this historically stems from the fashion industry.
Common shapes include:
- Pear or triangle: People with this body shape have narrower shoulders than their hips. A person tends to distribute most of their weight in the buttocks, lower hips, and thighs.
- Inverted triangle: This is when the lower half of the body is smaller than the top, with shoulders wider than the hips. People with this body shape tend to gain weight in the upper body and stomach areas. They also tend to have larger chests and narrow hips.
- Rectangle: This is when there is no major definition at the waistline and hips. People with this body shape have similar hip and shoulder width, and the body tends to be in equal proportions.
- Hourglass: This is when both the top and bottom halves of the body are equally broad. People with this body shape tend to have a smaller waist than the chest and hips.
- Oval or apple: This is when the top and bottom halves of the body are narrow. People with this body shape tend to carry weight in the chest and stomach areas and have slender legs.
- activity level
Changes in activity level and diet may affect a person’s body shape. For example, if someone is an ectomorph and wants to gain some weight, while they will have to put in some extra effort, they can do it successfully with a proper diet and exercise routine.
While some people may find it helpful to identify their body shape, others may find little benefit. The appearance of a person’s body can change with exercise and diet. Additionally, a person’s body type may not be an indicator of their overall health.
A person who seems to have an ectomorph body type may believe that they will not experience as many benefits from working out as a type that may find it easier to gain muscle, such as endomorphs.
However, people with all body types will notice improvements in strength, flexibility, and weight if they follow an exercise routine to reach their goals.
Some people may assume that certain body types are less likely to develop conditions due to overweight or obesity. However, this is not necessarily true.
Low amounts of physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and not following a healthy, balanced diet are all risk factors of having metabolic obesity. While some genetic factors also exist, experts have not investigated this link fully.
People should not assume that they are at a lower risk of developing conditions associated with obesity due to their particular body shape.
A person who displays characteristics of one body shape but wants to look like another may develop poor body image issues or body dysmorphia. In some cases, a person may develop disordered eating patterns.
The researchers suggest that people who see a “thin ideal” on social media may be at a higher risk of developing disordered eating patterns in an effort to achieve this ideal.
Eating disorders can severely affect the quality of life of people living with these conditions and those close to them. Early intervention and treatment greatly improve the likelihood of recovery.
Anyone who suspects that they or a loved one has an eating disorder can contact the National Eating Disorder Association for advice and support via:
- phone or text at 800-931-2237
- online chat, by going to this link
These services are only open during specific hours. Someone in crisis can text “NEDA” to 741741 at any time to get support from a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line.
Alternatively, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) run a Disaster Distress Helpline that people can contact on 800-985-5990 for 24-7 support.
Many other resources are available, including:
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness
- F.E.A.S.T., who provide support and educational resources to friends and family who want to help someone living with an eating disorder
Sometimes, people do not feel comfortable with their body shape.
For example, a very curvy person may wish for a more rectangular-shaped body, while someone with a rectangular-shaped body may want to have more curves.
It is common for some people to feel pressure around the concept of the “ideal body” shape or type, but ultimately there is no ideal body shape — health is the most important factor.
The National Eating Disorders Association outlines some thought patterns a person can consider for a more positive body image:
- Appreciate what the body can do.
- Remember that beauty is not skin deep.
- Be around positive people.
- Shut down negative self-talk.
- Wear comfortable clothing that inspires confidence.
- Be critical of social media images.
It is important for people to consider that all bodies are beautiful and unique but are only a part of what defines a person. How individuals treat others and behave are also important aspects.
If a person suffers from poor body image issues or body dysmorphia, they should seek support from a medical professional.
All bodies are special and unique. One aspect of what makes them unique is their shape and how they carry weight and muscle.
There are many different body shapes and many different body types. Sometimes, people do not feel comfortable with their body shape. If a person has concerns about their body, they should consult a doctor.