While many Gen Z content creators focus on redefining beauty standards and promoting body acceptance, there has been a resurgence of young TikTokers referencing a styling system from the 1980s called the Kibbe body type scale.
A Sustainable Closet, a Sweden-based fashion blog, explains that the Kibbe body type scale derives from Manhattan stylist David Kibbe, who introduced the concept in his 1987 book, David Kibbe’s Metamorphosis: Discover Your Image Identity and Dazzle as Only You Can.
What is the Kibbe body type scale, and how does it work?
The Kibbe body type scale “was developed as a tool to help people understand their natural beauty and to provide style recommendations that enhance their appearance,” Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a New York-based neuropsychologist, told In The Know by Yahoo.
The New York Times described Kibbe’s classification of body types as “a welcome rubric for dressing” in the 1990s and explained that Kibbe created the body-typing system “as a corrective” to “‘fear-based’ style advice that told women they needed to minimize their features.”
According to the Kibbe scale, people fall within five base families of “image identities” based on their proportions of bone structure, body flesh and facial features:
Within each category, there are different subtypes, garnering a total of 13 body image identities. The types are also predominantly based on the concept of “Yin” features, which are more rounded, soft and short, while “Yang” features are more angular, long and blunt.
As just one example, personal stylist Liana Melabimage (@liana.melabimage) explains that actress Florence Pugh is often considered to be a “Soft Natural” Kibbe type, although she has her personal suspicions Pugh is actually a “Theatrical Romantic.”
What are the 13 Kibbe body type categories?
Dramatic: Characterized by a long vertical line, being tall and angular and having a bony structure.
Soft Dramatic: A blended type with a long vertical line and sharp facial features but some curviness.
Flamboyant Natural: This type has a mix of sharp and blunt angles and a broad frame.
Natural: Blunt angles and a strong bone structure with a vertical line through the body.
Soft Natural: In contrast to Soft Dramatic, Soft Naturals have a softer bone structure and a balanced vertical line but with similar curves.
Classic: This type is all about symmetrical features and lines.
Soft Classic: A mix of Classic and Romantic with balanced lines and bone structure.
Flamboyant Gamine: This type has sharp angles and a small frame topped with more delicate bone structures.
Gamine: Similar to Flamboyant Gamine but with slightly softer features.
Soft Gamine: Gamine with Romantic features, including some curves.
Romantic: Rounded edges and delicate, soft features.
Theatrical Romantic: Combines Romantic and Dramatic types with sharp facial features and a soft, rounded body structure.
People who support the Kibbe body scale say it’s a universal type of body typing system that highlights the wearer’s natural features and encourages embracing someone’s current body.
“I use Kibbe body types every single day,” says style consultant Essie “Priest” (@stylingbypriest) in a video. “The great thing about Kibbe is it will work for every height, every race, every weight.”
Priest claims that the Kibbe body types “will take the features that you have and exaggerate them to turn them into strengths.”
Stylist Ellie-Jean (@bodyandstyle) uses Taylor Swift as an example of how dressing to one’s Kibbe body type can accentuate natural features and help identify clothing styles and fits that complement the body.
She claims that Swift is a “Dramatic” but not a “Soft Dramatic” because her “sharpness is more dominant” than the curves in her body, leading her to look “amazing” in “more tailored elements.”
Ellie-Jean also points out one of the fundamentals of the Kibbe system: “Curves” in the body are not the same as “curve,” which defines the body’s overall shape and structure.
Dr. Hafeez noted that the Kibbe system itself is just a “tool” but added that the “way individuals interpret and use the system, as well as their personal experiences with it, can potentially have psychological effects, both positive and negative.”
“For some individuals, discovering their Kibbe body type and following the system’s style recommendations can boost their self-confidence and self-esteem,” explained Dr. Hafeez. “Feeling that they are dressing in a way that enhances their natural beauty can be empowering and psychologically beneficial.”
Concerns with using the Kibbe body type system
On the other hand, Dr. Hafeez noted that despite the benefits some people see with the Kibbe system, there are some potential drawbacks to consider.
“Some people may take the system too seriously and become overly fixated on conforming to its guidelines,” pointed out Dr. Hafeez.
“This can lead to body image issues, anxiety or feelings of inadequacy if they feel they do not fit neatly into a specific body type,” she explained. “Perceiving oneself as ‘wrong’ or ‘unattractive’ according to the system can be harmful.”
Dr. Hafeez also pointed out that the Kibbe system largely “relies on subjective interpretations of physical characteristics, which means that different stylists or enthusiasts may categorize individuals differently. This subjectivity can create confusion and frustration for some people, potentially leading to negative psychological effects.”
Lastly, she noted that “the desire to fit into a particular body type category or to achieve the idealized version of a particular style may lead to social pressure and conformity, which can be psychologically taxing.”
“Also, can I really trust a man to have the female body figured out? No,” she quips.
“I completely agree with this – kibbe is something to be explored if you find fashion fun and you like investigating etc. It is not an easy answer,” wrote @bodyandstyle.
In the end, while the exact methods and pros and cons of using the Kibbe system can be debated, the impact that seeing or using the scale has on individuals can vary greatly, said Dr. Hafeez.
“Some people may find it empowering and helpful for their self-expression, while others might experience negative effects if they feel pressured to conform to its guidelines or if it exacerbates body image concerns,” she noted. “It’s important to approach style and self-image with a healthy perspective and not to rely solely on any one system for self-worth and self-acceptance.”
And anyone who finds any method of classifying their body to someone else’s “scale” to be triggering or harmful to their health should seek help, she added.
“If you find that a particular system is negatively affecting your mental well-being, it’s advisable to seek support and guidance from professionals or to reevaluate your relationship with the system or your body image,” said Dr. Hafeez.
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