Apparently, we’re one of three types. But what is a somatotype? More importantly, what’s it got to do with health and wellness?
I love a good quiz. Who doesn’t? One can tell me what city I should visit, based on my food choices, and another can tell me my apparent age and height based on my outfit choices. I took another kind of quiz recently, which was based on health and wellness.
If you haven’t clicked on the link above, let me fill you in. It asked me 10 questions about my body type, sleep habits and personality. Then, it told me, definitely, who and what I am. It told me my somatotype. But what is one of those?
The 3 somatotypes
To understand the 3 types, we have to go back about 70 years. In the late 1940’s, Sheldon et al developed the idea of somatotypes to classify the human physique.1 The man himself said:
“Somatotypes are morphophenotypic ranges along continua of variation which possess constantly recognisable characteristics and are the functional end products of the whole genetic and develop-mental complex.”
Wow. What a mouthful! Let me try to translate for you. Basically, human bodies have a range of characteristics. Some are inherited (nature) and some are based on our environment (nurture).
Sheldon used his research and created the 3 somatotypes.1,2 He named them after stages of embryonic development, as he saw similar characteristics between the body types of grown humans and this early stage of our development.
Based on the endoderm, endomorphs have fatty deposits round their body (like the tummy, hips and thighs) and have soft, rounded features. They are also prone to overeating, hence the excessive fat storage.1
Named after the mesoderm, the middle layer of the embyro, mesomorphs are quite well built with a lot of muscle, and will easily gain more through exercise.1
Last, but not least, we have the somatotpye that’s named after the ectoderm. These people can be quite slender and skinny, and can struggle to gain both fat and muscle.1
The theory gets weirder
In the 1960s, Sheldon carried on his research to see if there was a link between somatotypes and psychological disorders (Sheldon was originally a psychologist).1 Here’s what he found:
Endomorphs are lazy, lack energy, and overeat.3
Mesomorphs are more likely to be assertive, aggressive, indifferent to pain and paranoid schizophrenic.3
Ectomorphs are physically and emotionally restrained, reactive and socially inhibited.3
Hmmm. These aren’t exactly glowing descriptions…
Now, it’s really, really important to me to point out that researchers tend not to focus on the psychological aspect of somatypes any more. I can see why!
What’s my somatotype?
According to this quiz, I’m an endomorph. Please, make of that what you will.
Is this accurate?
Frankly, I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand, I do carry fat on my bust, hips and thighs, but I’m not overweight.
I like food, and I like to be comfy (doesn’t everyone?) but as I’ve hit my late twenties I’ve found it a little bit harder to sleep in as long as I used to. This is especially true when I know I’ve got things to do.
If I’m honest, I think that the idea that body shape can determine everything about someone is…BS. It’s too simplified in my mind, and there are so many aspects of what it means to be human, that this formula can’t possibly be all and end all. What’s more, I could lose a fair amount of weight and therefore lose some of my curves (this did happen by the way, thanks for a pesky case of tonsillitis). Would I still be classed as an endomorph if this were to happen?
Somatotypes strike me as being like the Myers-Briggs personality types. According to that, I’m an INFP and whilst it feels fairly accurate…it could just be science based horoscope i.e. specificly vague and vaguely specific at the same time. People can read as much as they want into this, and, for better or for worse, it can affect their life choices.
I think, ultimately, that this applies to somatotypes too. If you do a quiz like this, or hang your hat on what somatotype you are, then you may try some diet or exercise regime that isn’t actually better for you in the long run.
By all means, do the quiz. But don’t think that it will really explain who you are, and what works for you.
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- Singh SP. Anthropologist. 2007;3:251–61.
- Ryan-Stewart H, et al. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(5):1–11.
- Genovese JEC. Evolutionary Psychology.2008;6(3):369–85.