Somatotypology, Craniometry and other detritus

Somatotypology, Craniometry and other detritus

KakNgah came home the other day asking about ectomorphic body types. Do you know about this? I’d never heard of such a thing. Apparently her teacher took some time out of class to tell the students about the Three Body Types of Man, ectomorphic (tall and thin), endomorphic (short and chubby), and mesomorphic (the ideal and perfect one, of course). “I’m ectomorphic, aren’t I?” she said with a frown. It sounded like nonsense to me, and since I had literally just finished “The History of White People” by Nell Irvin Painter, I thought right away of craniometry. I explained to KakNgah how scientists used to go around measuring skulls by the thousand and grouping them according to size and shape (dolichocephalic or brachyocephalic) which presumably revealed the existence of Three Head Types of Man. She thought that was pretty funny and I left it at that with her.

A little compulsive googling later that night showed I was righter than I knew. The theory of body types, or somatotypology, was developed by one William Herbert Sheldon, psychologist, numismatist, eugenicist, an Ivy League professor who earned his PhD back in the ’20s when craniometery was still going strong, most especially among the dolichopodulent waspomorphs who were everywhere running the show. But rather than tie skull metrics into intelligence, personality, natural fitness to rule and similar racial divination, William Sheldon moved on into body type. That slouch your mother warned you about? Proves you’re an idiot. Or something like that.

Bill and Hill via

And that’s when I realized I’d heard of this guy before. Somewhere over the long 20-odd years of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s political career, it came out in the papers that there were, or were rumored to be, nude photographs of her, taken when she was an Ivy League college co-ed. But wait, these nude photographs were for research. The late Dr. Sheldon’s patented research technique was photographing thousands upon thousands of college students in the nude with pins in their backs, and then gazing at and presumably making lots of scientifical compumatations from the pictures to develop his grand theory. This was all back in the ’50s and ’60s and has since been thoroughly discredited and dustbinned.

Which brings me to the big question: what is a bizarre pop-psychology holdover from sixty years ago doing being presented as fact by a Malaysian schoolteacher to a room full of 6th graders? Sadly, a PhD and a Harvard appointment cast a long shadow, and cursory googling reveals an embarrassing number of Sheldon citations in Bahasa Malaysia among Educational Psychologists, Physical Education instructors, Sports Science researchers and more.

Wahai cikgu-cikgu Malaysia! Please leave behind this appalling pseudoscience. WH Sheldon adalah seorang yang sudah lama di tolak. Teorinya tentang ektomorf, mezomorf dan endomorf sudah basi dan tidak dapat pakai lagi di bidang ilmu psikologi mahupun di bidang perubatan. Lihatlah rujukan yang berikut:

“It was the pop-psych flavor of the month for a while … Half the textbooks in [ his ] area fail to take [ him ] seriously,” remarked one academician in a 1992 paper on Sheldon’s legacy. Others, like Hans Eysenck, the British psychologist, have suggested that Sheldon wasn’t really doing science at all, that he was just winging it, that there was “little theoretical foundation for the observed findings.”