In 1987, David Kibbe, an image professional based in New York City, published a book called Metamorphosis, A Personal Image And Style Book For Women. In this book, Kibbe introduced a style type theory known today as the Kibbe Body Types.
If you want a copy of the book - which is out of print - you will need to dig deep into your pockets. Asking prices reach into the hundreds of dollars. You also have the option of being personally styled by David Kibbe in his NYC studio. His contact details can be found on his Facebook site.
The Kibbe Body Type System
The Kibbe body types are a total image system based largely on a person's balance of Yin and Yang (feminine and masculine energy). There are 13 different Kibbe body types, each falling somewhere along two axes: Yin/Yang and Contrast/Blended.
Where on the spectrum a person falls is based on their physical characteristics (and personality essence) and will determine their Kibbe body type (also known as Kibbe Image Identity Type). Each Kibbe body type comes with guidelines covering all elements of personal appearance including clothing, hair, and makeup. The aim is to achieve a total look that is harmonious.
How Kibbe Body Types Compare To Other Body Type Theories
For David Kibbe, traditional style theories don’t go far enough, and are in his view extremely limiting. Their focus is on achieving balance and symmetry. Kibbe rejects these theories on the grounds that they lead to everyone looking the same. Instead, he encourages seeking true balance by embracing and emphasising one's natural body type. Additionally, Kibbe suggests taking a holistic approach to appearance instead of following random fashion trends.
Rather than achieving symmetry, Kibbe's focus is on achieving harmony. By recreating your natural, unique Yin/Yang balance in your clothing, your clothes will look very natural on your body. As opposed to trying to live up to a certain style type, Kibbe argues the need to follow your natural lines.
The main benefit that Kibbe's theory has over more traditional body type theories is that it is body-positive. It shows how drastically changing elements of your body (eg through plastic surgery) will not improve it but distort the native lines of your body.
Imagine a very lean, long body that has been significantly enhanced at the bustline. Or a very angular face in which the lips have been treated with filler to make them full and round. These 'corrections' would look very unnatural because they are not native to the rest of the body lines - quite the opposite effect of what the procedures were supposed to achieve.
The Principles Underlying Kibbe's Body Types
Before we dive into the 13 body types, we need to understand their underlying principles. Without this understanding, there is a very high chance of getting your type wrong.
Yin & Yang
The principle of Yin and Yang is that everything exists in inseparable and contradictory opposites, for instance, female-male, dark-light, and old-young. Yin is considered feminine energy and yang is masculine energy.
However, this is not to be confused with femininity and masculinity per se. A strongly Yang influenced body does not mean you look like a man. Understanding the terms themselves, and how they apply to physical features, is critical to understanding how they apply to clothing, accessories, makeup, and hair.
Translated into body types, Yin and Yang manifest as:
Yin [Feminine Energy]: Curved lines, round edges, flowing silhouettes, hourglass figures, fitted waists, rounded shapes, swirls, curves, circles
Yang [Masculine Energy]: Strong vertical lines, sharp edges, stiff, smooth silhouettes, elongated outlines, geometric shapes, rectangles, triangles
While the main characteristic of Yin is softness and roundness, this can be expressed through both youthfulness and sexuality. Hence we can discern two different types of Yin: Petite Yin is characterised by small hands and feet, small noses, and delicate bone structure etc. Features that are Lush Yin are large eyes, full lips, and hourglass silhouettes etc.
Yang, on the other hand, is angularity and sharpness. While Yin has a lot of organic shapes and curved lines, Yang is all about angles and geometric shapes. Again, there are different types of Yang: Sharp Yang is seen in vertical lines, narrowness, pointed edges, long and lean bodies, and prominent jawlines. Soft Yang refers to horizontal lines, broadness, blunt edges, square silhouettes, a tendency towards muscularity, and wider noses.
In the picture above, you can see how the principle of Yin and Yang takes shape in the body types. And this is key to determining the Kibbe body types. We need to understand the lines that are native to Yin and Yang.
Yin is defined by roundness and curves. And this perfectly demonstrated by Marilyn Monroe on the left. Her body type is very round, there are no sharp edges or angles. She has an hourglass figure, a full, round bustline, and round hips. Even her shoulders are round. Her body is also very soft and fleshy. If we look at her face, we can see more roundness. She has round eyes, a rounded nose, and full, round lips. Her jawline and cheekbones appear soft and round. They are covered by lots of flesh, giving her a soft appearance. Marilyn is an example of Lush Yin.
Let's now compare her to Keira Knightley on the right. Remember, Yang is defined by angles and sharpness. Keira's figure is long and straight with no waist emphasis. Her body flesh is very taut with no signs of fleshiness. Similarly, her face is constructed of angles. Her eyes are straight, her cheekbones are prominent, her nose is sharp, her lips straight and thin, and her jawline is very pronounced and angular. Her facial flesh is also very taut, making the bones underneath very visible. Keira is an example of Sharp Yang.
Note that the principles of Yin and Yang are not related to body weight. Marilyn Monroe is not overweight in this picture. Yin body flesh is always soft and fleshy even if underweight.
Contrast & Blend
The terms Contrast and Blend refer to the way Yin and Yang are mixed within a body.
If a body consists of a combination of physical features that are distinctly Yin or distinctly Yang, this would result in a contrasted body type. For example, a person with a large forehead (Yang), big and round eyes (Yin), a small and delicate nose (Yin), thin lips (Yang), and a small chin (Yin) would be high contrast.
Blended features, in contrast, are those that are neither distinctly Yin or Yang; they are mix of both. For example, instead of either large and round (Yin) or small and straight (Yang) eyes, a person may have moderate, almond-shaped eyes. Or a person may have neither a very small (Yin) nor a very straight waist (Yang), but a softly defined waist. Again, this feature would fall someone in the middle of the Yin/Yang scale and would be a blend of the two energies.
You can see in the picture above that Marion Cotillard has blended features. She doesn't have a full hourglass figure, but neither does she have a very straight figure like Keira Knightley above. She is somewhere in the middle, a blend between Yin and Yang. You can see the same principle in her face. Her eyes are neither very large and round, nor very small and straight. Instead, they are moderate in size and evenly spaced. The same with her lips: neither very full and round, nor very thin and straight.
Mia Farrow on the right side demonstrates contrasted features. Her body is very Yang dominant - it looks much like Keira's body. Her face also shows signs of sharpness around her cheek and jaw area. However, her eyes are very large and round and therefore Yin features. This is a contrasted body type.
The 5 Type Families
Although there are 13 body types in total, there are five main types or families. These are pure types. The other 8 types are mixtures of these pure types and that’s where things can get confusing. So before we can understand the mixed types, let’s first discuss the pure types or type families.
Below you will find an overview of the Yin/Yang spectrum. On the left side are the type families that are more Yang influenced (Dramatic and Natural). On the right side are the Yin influenced type families (Gamine and Romantic). And in the middle is the balanced Yin/Yang family (Classic).
Note that Kibbe differentiates between a body's Bone Structure, Body Flesh, and Facial Features (Facial Bones + Facial Flesh). All three sections of your body can have a different Yin/Yang balance. But what makes the pure types pure is that all of the three sections of their bodies have the same Yin/Yang balance.
The Dramatic family sits on the very left of the Yin/Yang spectrum and is defined by Sharp Yang. This type family has no Yin influence. This means a Dramatic will appear very elongated with sharp edges. A Dramatic body type has the following physical characteristics:
- They appear very tall, narrow, and elongated
- Their shoulders are narrow with sharp edges
- They have long arms and legs
- Their hands and feet are large and narrow
- They have a flat bustline, straight waistline, and straight hips
- The flesh on their bodies is very taut
- They have prominent, sharp, and angular facial features (nose, cheekbones, jawline)
- They have small, close-spaced eyes, straight, thin lips, and taut cheek flesh
All A answers on the Kibbe Body Type Test are Dramatic features.
The Natural family is also Yang dominant but to a slightly lesser degree (Soft Yang). There is a small amount of Yin in the blended mix. This means that while they are still angular, their edges are less sharp and more blunt. A Natural body type has the following physical characteristics:
- They appear tall, but broad
- Their shoulders are wide with blunt edges
- They have long arms and legs
- Their hands and feet are large and wide
- They have a wide, flat-ish bustline, straight and wide waistline, and straight hips
- The flesh on their bodies is taut but muscular
- They have wide, angular facial features (nose, cheekbones, jawline) with blunt edges
- They have wide-spaced eyes, straight, broad lips, and muscular cheek flesh
All B answers on the Kibbe body type test are Natural features.
The Classic family is characterised by a balanced blend of Yin and Yang. They will appear very symmetrical with moderate features. A Classic body type has the following physical characteristics:
- They look their actual, moderate height
- Their shoulders are neither fully straight nor sloped
- They have moderate arms and legs
- Their hands and feet are moderately proportioned
- They have an evenly proportioned bustline, waistline, and hips with a slightly smaller waist
- The flesh on their bodies is neither very taut, nor very curvy, but evenly proportioned
- They have very symmetrical and proportionate facial features (nose, cheekbones, jawline)
- They have moderate eyes, lips, and cheek flesh
All C answers on the Kibbe body type test are Classic features.
The Gamine family is characterised by a combination of Yin and Yang. This is different from Classics as a Gamine's features will not be blended, but will be either (Petite) Yin or (Sharp) Yang. A Gamine body type has the following physical characteristics:
- They look petite, but their bones are angular and straight
- Their shoulders are sloped and tapered
- They have long arms and legs
- Their hands and feet are small and delicate
- They have a straight bustline, waistline, and hips
- The flesh on their bodies is quite lean
- They have angular facial features (nose, cheekbones, jawline)
- They have large eyes, moderate to thin lips, and taut cheek flesh
Some D answers on the Kibbe body type test are Gamine features.
The Romantic family sits on the far right end of the Yin/Yang spectrum and is characterised by Lush Yin, with no Yang influence. They will appear very soft with round edges. A Romantic body type has the following physical characteristics:
- They appear delicate and shorter than they are
- Their shoulders are sloped with round edges
- They have short arms and legs
- Their hands and feet are small
- They have a full bustline, a full hourglass figure, and curvy, rounded hips
- The flesh on their bodies is very soft, voluptuous, and fleshy (even when at ideal weight)
- They have small, delicate facial features (nose, cheekbones, jawline) with round edges
- They have large, rounded eyes, full lips, and round cheekbones
All E answers on the Kibbe body type test are Romantic features.
The remaining 8 body types are a combination of the pure types. Most people in fact are one of the subtypes. Pure types are quite rare.
Below you will find each type family together with their subtypes. Each family - with the exceptions of Dramatic and Romantic - has two subtypes, one leaning more towards Yang than the pure type and one leaning more towards Yin than the pure type. Dramatic and Romantic only have one subtype because their pure types are already at the very end of the Yin/Yang spectrum, so there is nowhere else to go from there.
The following table shows the Yin/Yang distribution for each type and the type of Yin/Yang. For example, a Soft Dramatic has a Sharp Yang bone structure (as outlined under Dramatic above), but Lush Yin body flesh and facial flesh (as outlined under Romantic above).
Next, we will walk through the Kibbe body type test to determine your Kibbe body type.