What is it about?

Ergonomics and health practitioners wish to compare a population’s body shapes (e.g., hourglass, oval, or rectangle) to track health issues and design better-fitting garments. The Female Figure Identification Technique (FFIT) is, currently) the most widely used body classification system. To compare populations’ body shapes, practitioners need a body classification system that is stable and repeatable. Yet the FFIT has never been verified, so practitioners must take its veracity on faith. This paper smashes the industry’s faith in the FFIT’s authority. We take multiple alternative measurement definitions (e.g., two different hip measurements) of 1,679 women that are within the FFIT’s wide-ranging definitions, common within the ergonomics community, but produce significantly different circumferences. We show that a single woman can be classified in three different body shapes for three alternative interpretations of FFIT’s measurement placement. By proving that FFIT can produce contradictory categorisation between practitioners, we establish that practitioners must give specific guidance on how to take measurements so their work can be compared to others (e.g., between populations), or replicated (e.g., their work compared to later studies). We pave the way for a new, more stable method of categorising bodies that cannot suffer from FFITs ambiguity.

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Why is it important?

Researchers, scientists, and members of the public assume the body categorisations they read about and use are correct and comparable to the work of others. Yet these assumptions never come with accompanying measurement definitions to provide veracity. This is disastrous. A practitioner who compares their body-shape research to earlier work or a women 'shopping for her body shape might base their actions on differences of body shape when they are actually differences of measurement-taking. They can come to false conclusions with breathtaking ease. Everyone who uses FFIT body shape must now reconsider if their previous thoughts and conclusions are correct. Previous work comparing populations' body shapes must be critically re-examined.

Perspectives

I loved working on this study and am proud of the outcomes. Using clear statistics, I prove that the FFIT's authority - one of the most sacred ideas in body shape classification - is flawed at its core. Every practitioner who uses FFIT must critically reanalyse their work to see if the same measurement definitions were used between studies. If they are different, then any conclusions they came to must be re-evaluated or rejected. I am proud of this outcome because since I fell in love with ergonomics as a teenager, female body shape has been pervasive in research and popular culture. As an academic, smashing sacred cows is what makes my world exciting.

Dr Christopher J. Parker
Loughborough University

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This page is a summary of: Assessing the Female Figure Identification Technique’s Reliability as a Body Shape Classification System, Ergonomics, March 2021, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/00140139.2021.1902572.
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