Are You an Apple or a Pear?

Once you know what to look for, you can often identify which women are apple-shaped and which are pear-shaped just by looking at them. Spend a day people-watching in a shopping mall and you'll see many examples of both classic apple shapes and classic pear shapes. You'll also spot a few mixed-type body shapes. For example, some women have more of a banana-shape -- a body that is straight up and down, with thin upper and lower extremities, small chest, and no waist. There is also a body shap sometimes called the "inverted pear," characterized by large breasts and thick, wide shoulders tapering down to slender hips, but with no discernible waist. And, of course, there is the famous hourglass figure, defined by large breasts, a narrow waist, and relatively large hips. Banana-shaped and inverted pear-shaped women have, for all medical purposes, variations of an apple shape. Women with an hourglass figure have the equivalent of a pear shape. All women, thin or fat, curvy or flat, can be categorized as either apple-shaped or pear-shaped. The key is the waist-to-hip ratio.

The Tape Measure Test

Figuring out your body shape is easy -- all you need is a flexible tape measure and a calculator. First, measure around your waist. (If you have a visible waist, measure around the narrowest part. If you don't have a waist, measure around the widest part of your middle, usually about one inch above your navel.) Stand up straight, but relaxed. Don't suck in your gut. Hold the tape measure loosely, without putting pressure on the skin. That number is your waist circumference. Next measure around your hips -- not at the hip bones, but about three to four inches lower. (This actually corresponds to the point where the top of your thigh bone -- the femur -- meets the pelvis. You should be measuring around your buttocks, not above or below. If you have any doubt, take the measurement at the widest point of your lower body.) Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to get your waist-to-hip ratio, or WHR.

If your WHR is 0.80 or lower, your body is classified as pear-shaped. if your WHR is higher than 0.80, your body is classified as apple-shaped. For example, if your waist measurement is 26 and your hip measurement is 37, then the calculation is 26 ÷ 37 = 0.70, which means that you are pear-shaped. If your waist measurement is 35 and your hip measurement is 38, then the calculation is 35 ÷ 38 = 0.92, which means that you are apple-shaped. it's that simple. But embedded in that simplicity is a whole new dimension of women's health...

Which is Better -- Apple or Pear?

Women seem to have preconceived notions of which body type is "better," apple-shaped or pear-shaped. Each woman tends to think that whichever type she isn't is the more desirable. Pear-shaped women often silently curse their hips and thighs, they dread bathing suit season, and they can be embarrassed by their very womanly, Rubenesque figures. They have to fight the impression that they are wide at the bottom because they sit around all day -- "secretary spread" is a prejorative for ample buttocks on a woman with a desk job. Apple-shaped women are often uncomfortable with their bellies, they become geniuses at dressing to camouflage their lack of a waist, and they are often frustrated to tears at the inability of sit-ups or crunches to slim their middles. They feel shamed into making excuses for their shapes, such as blaming a large tummy on the effects of pregnancy, "baby weight" that never went away (as you'll see in Chapter 3, that's actually partly true!).

In reality, neither body shape is better than the other. It may sound as though science is picking on apple-shaped women, but apple-shaped women can be just as healthy as pear-shaped women. It's not really about shape -- it's about "visceral fat." Shape, through waist circumference and WHR, is just a convenient way to measure that deep fat tissue. So apple-shaped women can really consider themselves lucky to have such a good advance warning system for disease! Pear-shaped women may have less immediate disease risk, but they can become apple-shaped after menopause. And in old age, they face the quiet devastation of osteoporosis. There is no "better" or "worse," there is only what you are.