An hourglass figure is a very specific physical form exhibited by some women. Women with this type of figure have wide hips and busts that contrast starkly with a very narrow waist, creating a silhouette that resembles an old-fashioned hourglass. This figure is often considered to be an epitome of female beauty, with some scientific studies suggesting that the form has a distinct evolutionary advantage in addition to a social one. Certainly narrow waists have been prized for centuries, as can be seen in many works of art.
In a woman with a true hourglass figure, the measurements of her hips and bust are essentially the same, and the waist measurement is equal to less than 75% of either the hip or bust measurement. The result is a very curvy figure that emphasizes broad hips and large breasts, two traits that have been prized historically in many cultures. In cultures where the figure is considered a beauty ideal, the narrow waist is considered a sign of femininity.
During the 1800s, some women went to extraordinary means to achieve the desired figure, using corsets and other garments to actually change their body shapes. Depending on how a corset is worn, it can take the role of a foundation garment, or it can more actively reshape the body of the wearer. When combined with bustles and breast-enhancing bras, a corset can create the desired hourglass look, sometimes with considerable discomfort on the part of the wearer.
The hourglass figure was known as a “wasp waist” during the Victorian era, and all fashionable women strived to achieve the desired look. Studies on long-term corset use have shown that some women in this era probably suffered from a variety of serious health problems as a result of the displacement of various organs caused by pressure from the corset. Extensive wearing of corsets can also cause deformed ribs, as the corset pulls the lower ribs out of alignment.
Many classic movie stars, such as Sophia Lauren, have fine examples of this figure. The measurements of such movie stars are often highly publicized, and changes in these measurements have historically been a topic of widespread discussion, especially in the tabloids. Other women with well-known hourglass figures include Marilyn Monroe, Scarlet Johansson and Rita Hayworth.