Body shapesMay 7, 2012
The English language is full of words that describe the shape of our bodies, some of them positive and some of them less positive. Let’s take a look at some of the more commonly used words for body shapes.
Probably the most commonly used adjective to describe someone who has too little fat is thin. ‘Thin’ is often used in a negative way: She’s very pretty but she’s too thin. Skinny, a slightly informal word, means very much the same: I don’t like his looks – he’s too skinny. Even thinner than ‘skinny’ is scrawny (also a slightly informal word). Someone who is scrawny is so thin that their bones stick out: He was a scrawny little kid. Gaunt, meanwhile, is used to describe a very thin face, sometimes a face that is thin because a person is ill: Her face was gaunt and grey. The adjective emaciated describes someone who is dangerously thin, usually through illness or extreme hunger. It describes the whole of the body: Some of the patients were quite emaciated.
The above adjectives are generally negative, but there are as many adjectives to describe people who are thin in a way that is positive. Probably the most common of these is slim. If someone is slim they are quite thin in a way that is attractive: Charlotte was looking lovely and slim in the photos. Other synonyms for ‘slim’ have an extra meaning in addition to ‘having little fat’. Slender, for example, means ‘slim and graceful’: She was small and slender, like a dancer. Lean describes someone who is slim and strong: Long-distance runners are usually fairly lean. Petite, which is positive in tone, means ‘short and slim’ and is only used for women and girls. Slight, meanwhile, which is neither positive nor negative, means ‘thin and delicate’.
Of course, there are just as many words to describe the opposite situation. Fat is probably the most commonly used adjective for describing someone who has too much flesh but, it is very direct. We sometimes use other, slightly less negative words to describe someone who is a little fat. Stocky, for example, means ‘strong and wide’: He’s got the stocky build of a rugby player. Solid too is often used in this way: As a child, James was always quite solid. Similarly, big is sometimes used as a less direct way of saying ‘fat’: Sophie didn’t use to be so big, did she? Plump and chubby mean ‘slightly fat’ but both sound almost pleasant and are often used of young children: She was admiring the baby’s plump little legs./Look at his lovely chubby cheeks!
Some ‘fat’ words, on the other hand, are very direct. Overweight is an adjective that a doctor might use to describe a fat patient. It is slightly clinical in tone. A patient who is extremely overweight might well be described by the doctor as obese.
So many ways to be fat and thin!