Your Body "Type" Probably Isn't What You Think

If you've flipped through a fashion magazine over the past several years, you probably know what it's like to be assaulted with a series of seemingly random "shapes"—"apple," "ruler," or, my personal favorite, "boy-ish," for example—along with the demand that you pick one to objectify your own body. In truth, this is the dehumanizing ritual that comes to mind whenever I hear or read about somatotypes, a concept that suggests that all people can sort themselves into three body shapes: ectomorph (lean and lanky), endomorph (curvaceous), and mesomorph (athletic). First developed by American psychologist William Sheldon in the 1940s, the concept suggests that our body types predispose us to a certain temperament, intelligence, and even morality.

To be clear, the idea that we can categorically sort ourselves into just three body "types" is incredibly reductive, not to mention exclusionary. (Are we really going to pretend that my body fat percentage has anything to do with my personality—and worse, pass it off as "science"?) But while Sheldon's original taxonomy is now considered wildly outdated (and wrong on so many levels), I do think there is something to be said for taking a more nuanced approach to this line of thinking—that is, going beyond the shape of our bodies to assess our emotional and behavioral patterns and, in turn, better prescribe wellness habits that complement those tendencies.

I found myself immersed in this very concept during a recent stay at the Rancho Valencia resort and spa, just north of San Diego. The spa program at the resort centers itself around this more comprehensive (and inclusive) definition of somatotypes as a way to offer tailored treatments to its clientele. Guests are encouraged to take a short quiz prior to their arrival, which centers more on personality than anything else (questions include "Which word best describes your behavior in a group setting?" and "When it comes to exercise, which aspect do you most enjoy?").

From the treatment types down to the different essential oils used in each one, every element is selected to complement and balance a client's resulting constitution—a term the spa actually prefers to use over "somatotype," since the latter generally refers to physical attributes only, says spa director Kristi Dickinson. I immediately identified with the traits of an ectomorph—highly sensitive, introspective, and observant—and really did feel that my resulting treatments were made for me. The highlight was a Zen-Touch massage, which I can only describe as the marriage of yoga and shiatsu: Basically, the practitioner manipulated my body into dynamic, deep stretches until I felt as though I was keenly aware of every muscle in my body. As a classic overthinker, I found it empowering to realize I could channel that energy into something far more mindful.

And that's kind of the point. While it's not necessarily productive to completely box ourselves into any of these "types," there are lessons to garner and adjustments to be made by looking inward. With that in mind, I asked Dickinson for her rundown on each somatotype, as well as wellness recommendations for each. You can kick things off by taking the spa's quiz, or just see if you identify with the traits listed below.