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(the following was originally published at h2g2.com and written by me of course)

There was a time, some historians slate it as pre-Victorian, when a woman who weighed less than her man was not only considered unhealthy but unseemly. It was simply unthinkable. Were a man from even Victorian England to see the cover of a modern-day fashion magazine, no doubt he would feel sick to his stomach. A woman whose bones were actually visible underneath her skin would most probably be assumed to have scurvy or the plague. Certaintly not bulemia or some other eating disorder. In fact, a mere few centuries ago, the idea of an eating disorder was an individual without any upper limbs who had to learn to hold a fork with his toes.

My, how times change. The phrase rubenesque (and its many misspellings including reubensesque, reubenesque, or even rubenesque but never rubinesque) is predominantly reserved for a woman who actually has curves amidst her cleavage. The term lies somewhere between obese and 'beanpole.' It is not grossly overweight, while at the same time it is not a walking skeleton. Unfortunately there are some people who do not understand the delicate balance of this definition, and use it in reference to anyone they deem as quote fat unquote.

In the latter half of the twentieth century there was a conspiracy. Organizations in the media, the fashion industry, and many other fields have successfully shoved down the throats of society a belief that a woman must be practically two-dimensional in shape in order to be viewed as attractive. Their cheeks must be sullen and their eyes must be sunken in. Their clavicles must be visible and they must allow their ribs to protrude underneath their skin. To put it bluntly, it's gross. Skeletons with skin. However, many are brainwashed by society to believe this is preferred, and the more healthy image of a large woman is disdained. How absurd! There is an old adage: "the bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin." Now granted, that is a chauvinistic perspective in the eyes of some. However, from the perspective of comfort and appreciation, it should be very clear that there is no harm in a little cellulite.

Women (and men for that matter) should not be shaped like bowling balls, but they should also not be shaped like scarecrows. Rubenesque is a pleasant way to describe a healthy and huggable woman who should be praised above and beyond the walking coat hangers that present-day society improperly describes as beautiful. Mae West and Rosie O'Donnell are 20th century examples of this concept of beauty. (the preceding message was brought to you by the Foundation to Force-Feed Calista Flockhart until she Begs for More)

"Rubenesque" comes from the art of the Flemish painter Pieter Paul Rubens, although just about every other baroque artist featured the same body types. Most likely his then-popular series of twenty paintings featuring King Henry IV and Marie de Medicis (along with several other women) was the source of the term.

The term is an adjective for a particular female body type. The closest synonym would be "voluptuous," or perhaps "curvaceous," but those words tend to refer exclusively to a woman's breasts. "Chubby" is wrong, and is in any case pejorative, where "Rubenesque" is not. "Full-figured" is probably accurate, but these days that's just a euphamism for "chubby." The best way to explain it is simply to point a finger to some suitable artwork, but as E2 is a text-only medium, I shall strive to do my best.

A Rubenesque woman is not "slender" or "athletic." She's not "fat" or "overweight." She's certainly not "obese." She has some body fat on her, but only as much as was considered healthy and appropriate in Rubens' time. She does not suffer from heaving cleavage. She is still very definitely shapely, an hourglass figure--the hourglass is just a bit wider, that's all. The word is not an insult. It is simply meant to be accurate and, hopefully, flattering.

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