Images courtesy of Krystal Bick at This Time Tomorrow
First, a test. Don’t worry it’s super easy (not that you wouldn’t be up for a challenge!). Which box is wider?
If you picked the one with with vertical stripes, you would be incorrect. The boxes are exactly the same size. The concept that vertical (i.e. up and down: I have some kind of dyslexic block with that one and always have to sing Olivia Newton John’s Let’s Get Physical: “I took you to an intimate restaurant, then to a suggestive movie, there’s nothing left to talk about, unless it’s horizontally! AHEM!”) stripes make you look wider and horizontal stripes make you look thinner was introduced by Hermann von Helmholtz in the 19th century. But the fashion industry thought they were smarter and have been ignoring Dr. Helmholtz for more than 100 years. Rude!
So in 2008, Peter Thomson, a “perception expert” at the University of York took up the issue anew. We are not, after all, two-dimensional boxes. Perhaps there was something about the 3D-ness of wearing stripes on our persons that had a widening effect?
Nope. Thomson showed study volunteers 200 sets of pictures featuring women who were the same size wearing horizontal and vertical stripes. The vast majority perceived the horizontally striped women as thinner. He dug even deeper and found that women wearing horizontal stripes could be 6 percent larger than those striped vertically and appear to be the same size. Audrey Lustig, who studies cognitive neuroscience, discusses the matter further at Ionpsych. And Ms. Krystal Bick of This Time Tomorrow illustrates for us how lovely horizontal stripes really are above and below.
So there you have it. As promised, I have (hopefully) relieved you of horizontal stripe anxiety. Your mother still might say you look as wide as a barn in them. Smile and nod, but ultimately ignore. Science has proven her wrong.