Note to self: always ask the wife first.
To recap, as the original post is now deleted to avoid preserving my ignorance online, this all came about last week because of Audrey Hepburn. She’s mostly before my time, but she’s a celebrity and effortlessly charming so of course people continue to become fans of her work both on and off screen. Every so often I find myself thinking about Audrey and set about looking for something new – an article I haven’t yet read, a documentary I haven’t yet seen – and there I stumbled across an unfamiliar word: gamine. And I did what any reasonable person discovering a new word would do – I went in search of a definition.
Things began routinely enough with a dictionary definition of the term, all of them referencing a boyish, impish playfulness or its use an adjective for someone or something that possessed those qualities. Not knowing any better, my search into definitions stopped there.
The problem with stopping there is that the searching yielded other results, too. Unsurprisingly, Audrey Hepburn’s name was found along the results, but then so were Emma Watson, Natalie Portman, Keira Knightley, Audrey Tautou, Winona Ryder, Mia Wasikowska, Lily Collins, and Natalie Imbruglia. It was basically a list of women I find exceptionally attractive, which I found odd because, firstly, I’d never considered much of a throughline that linked the names and, secondly, boyish, mischievousness would certainly not be what came to mind.
I was then even more stunned when one of the things I found introduced the “manic pixie dream girl” trope into the equation. Now, I think the MPDG trope has its place in artistic criticism. Done poorly, it’s a condemnation of the writer. Done well, it’s a credit to the writer. Case in point, Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Zooey Dechanel in (500) Days of Summer. Both make excellent ironic use of the trope with the male leads attempting to pigeonhole their characters as MPDGs with the ladies pushing back simply by asserting their personhood. It speaks also, I think, to a major criticism I have of the trope which is that it applies to fictional characters (more specifically the writing of fictional characters) and absolutely never to a real person. That is, we can debate whether Summer is a MPDG and whether the trope was well employed in the film, but Zooey Deschanel absolutely is not a MPDG. People projecting that onto the actress are even more problematic than writers who use the trope poorly.
Still, it jarred me to see a list of women, see them linked by this one word, “gamine” (which I pause to remind you at this point I was reading as a character description), and then a link between performer and a problematic trope. Following the chain, my thought was, “Oh crap, I have some unexamined problematic prejudices here. My brain is latching onto it and then I’m gaslighting myself into thinking it’s fine.”
The next day we are settled into the car with our coffee for a three-hour drive, and I told my wife, “I don’t know what’s on your mind right now, but I definitely a have a topic.” She laughed, and after a brief interlude about how people are often seeking advice on the Internet about how they never have anything to discuss with their partner but we seem to have an endless supply ranging from the banal to the deeply philosophical (sometimes it’s hard to say where a topic falls on that spectrum), I recounted everything I’ve written here so far.
Before my anxiety and OCPD could run away with my brain, she stopped me with, “Oh, you’re talking about the Kibbe body types.”
“I mean…sure? I don’t know what that is and I barely know what any of this is.”
“Yeah, that’s Kibbe,” she continues, already stockpiling articles and videos for me, “I don’t know what the manic pixie dream girl thing has to do with any of it, but the gamine part you’re bringing up is Kibbe.”
To this day, we aren’t sure what the MPDG trope was doing anywhere near this discussion, apart from a tenuous link in one Wikipedia article that snowballed in an anxious mind.
My wife began explaining the fundamentals of Kibbe to me, and I have to say, as a non-scientist but scientifically-minded person I was impressed by this non-scietific theory. It doesn’t hold up to the rigours of actual science, but it was still a lot of observation and, wherever possible, measurement. The other thing I liked about it was that in this scientific spirit it focused on body type but not body type. The latter is what one finds on a dating profile with “slender,” “athletic,” or “fluffy.” I loved that it dealt with ratios and angles, which means that waist size is not the defining characteristic in Kibbe. It may be that certain sizes tend more towards certain Kibbe types, but nowhere is it written that one must be a size 4 to be considered gamine.
What also impressed me is that Kibbe did not seek to encourage women toward a particular type. You are what you are. All Kibbe was doing was matching your type with the clothing styles and techniques that look best. That’s when I the initial throughline with the gamine articles clicked: what I enjoy most about many of the women on the gamine list was their style. The gamine body type in styles that work best produced the aesthetic I most prefer.
This is also where things dovetail with some of the other recent pieces. I was out with my wife and her parents at the outlets recently just browsing through stores. While my wife was in the dressing room, I wandered around the store and let things catch my eye:
My thought with both of the dresses was, “I almost wish I was the sort of woman who looked good in this.” Not, “I’d like to see someone who looked good in this,” but specifically, “I wish I looked good in this.” A natural accepting response here is that clothes are not inherently masculine or feminine, those are things we assign to them socially and the problem is more about whether one can stand up to the social pressure of wearing whatever they choose if it’s not something deemed widely acceptable. That is, I would not judge a man who chose to wear either of those outfits. I, me, the guy writing this, would not look good. I don’t look good in red either. It’s just one of those things (that drives me to dress almost exclusively in shades of blue). It does speak to a state of envy I sometimes possess, and now that state has a name: gamine.