This was a long time in coming but well worth the wait. My Body My Image’s investigative Reporter Taylor Owen Ramsey (Finally) gets the Skinny on Levi’s Curve ID
Making Jeans that both fit the body and the gender binary.
Levi’s, the eponymous jeans maker, has created a line of women’s jeans called “Curve ID” that are meant to fit different types of women’s bodies based on the level of curve they have in their bottom half. I, a quite happy curvy woman, was intrigued by this idea for two reasons. First, being a woman with a very curvy body makes finding jeans that fit well undeniably difficult and Levi’s new line proposes to fit my body perfectly. Second, I was interested in these jeans as a one of many cultural mediums through which to explore the commodification of women’s bodies. These two reasons for my interest In Levi’s Curve ID campaign are inextricably linked. Let me explain why, starting with the experience of exploring these jeans myself at Levi’s biggest NYC location.
When you go into the big Levi’s store in Times Square, you’re immediately bombarded by the Curve ID campaign. Does the waist gap in the back of your jeans? You’re a Bold Curve. Is the waist too tight? Slight Curve. If the signs get confusing, not to worry because a sales rep will rush up to you offering to measure you for your own Curve ID. The measuring tape will be pulled out right in the middle of the store and based on several measurements of your waist-hip-booty ratio (on display for all), you will be categorized as either Slight, Demi, Bold or Supreme Curve. Throughout the women’s section of the store, jeans are divided by style and then organized within that style section based on the different Curve IDs. The boot-cut section, for example, has a boot-cut style in every Curve ID.
On the surface and at first glance, this seems like a delightfully refreshing campaign to make a better fitting jean for women’s bodies. And for the most part, this line of jeans does just that; it copes with some variation in women’s bodies, even if only in a very minimal way. However, there are several reasons to be critical. Firstly, the reason women’s jeans don’t fit in the first place is because, unlike men’s jeans, they have been designed to fit mostly as close to the body as possible. They are generally low on the hips, hug the thighs and cling to every curve of the butt. They are meant to put women’s bodies on display. It is simple logic that the tighter an item gets, the less likely it can deal with the variation in human bodies. Women’s jeans are not only designed to fit close to the body but they are cut in the shape that society deems the ideal female shape. If you don’t fit it, there’s something wrong; you’re too far from the acceptable norm. Thus women are in a constant battle to find jeans that they can get on, let alone that fit their shape or they risk feeling bodily deviant. As a result, many women’s magazines devote pages to women’s battle with jeans in the dressing room.
Men’s jeans, however, and despite the recent popularity of the hipster skinny jean, are meant to be worn comparatively loose, accommodating any variety of male body shapes. There tends to be a myth that women’s bodies, as opposed to men’s, are endlessly variable and need “accommodation” and “accentuation” of the finer points and de-emphasis of flaws, whereas men’s bodies are neutral. Of course this isn’t true. Men’s bodies must vary just as much as women’s; genetics doesn’t understand gender constructs. The logic of the endless variety of female bodies and the neutrality of the male follows what feminist theorists sometimes call the male gaze. Women are often treated as commodities meant to be displayed to male watchers/gazers/consumers. Thus, every curve must be accentuated and every flaw hidden so as to attract the greatest number of viewers. The characteristics of the male gazer body are generally unimportant, at least compared to the woman’s body being gazed at.
Of course women play a gigantic role in this schema through the constant monitoring of both their own and each other’s bodies and their active engagement in the constant adorning and decoration meant to emphasize the “sale” of their attractiveness to the viewer. Even at the Levi’s stores, all the female employees were assigned an extraordinarily large pin to wear on their shirt identifying their Curve ID for all to see. I asked one female employee if she had to wear it and she unhappily replied “yes.” While the Curve IDs provide women with some limited variation in their jeans options, the pins remind us we must still categorize our asses into a category or risk deviation once more. The stream of consciousness flowing through the store was palpable. “Is her ass like mine?” “Will my ass even fit an ID?” “What if I am measured and I am too big?” “Is Slight or Bold curve better?” That employee’s ass is perkier and she’s a Supreme Curve. I am a slight curve. I wish I were curvier.”
So after all of this, what has Levi’s done here? They’ve made some nicely fitting jeans, albeit jeans that still fit squarely into a body-oppressive paradigm. Moreover, it should be added the jeans only go to a size 33 in the store. The average woman in the U.S. is a size 14-16 and larger than Levi’s biggest size. For a jean meant to cater to curvy women, it seems silly to make jeans in this size range given that really curvy women are probably bigger than a 33. Finally, the models for these ads until recently have been generally white women that don’t appear to be curvy in the way say Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce or even plus-size model Crystal Renn is/was.
Thus, there is some expected racial norming built into the campaign. So what’s a woman like me to do? I’ll admit I bought two pairs. They just fit so damn well.
If you’re curious, I was measured and was told exactly what I expected, that I was a Supreme Curve. And I’ll admit, I bought two pairs of jeans. I bought one pair of “skinny” jeans in Supreme Curve. In fact, the blue ones I bought and am wearing in the photo
are the exact size and style the Supreme Curve model is wearing in one of the Levi’s ads below.
I also tried on the Bold Curve in the black straight style and they fit just as well.
I have my shirt lifted in the pictures so you can see that the jeans do what they are supposed to do: they don’t gap and aren’t too low in the back for women with J-Lo bottoms.