The shape that you're in figuratively speaking is a topic of never-ending interest. What shape are you in? To find out, you must be fully aware of your body contour or type. One of the first theories of body typing was developed by psychologist William Sheldon.

A tireless investigator, Sheldon categorized figures according to the relative predominance of certain body tissues. He concluded there are three basic morphological body types or somatypes. He called them ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph.Commonly used as a basis for research today and discussed in popular magazine articles, I am often asked by readers to further define or explain what somatotyping might mean to them, as real-life individuals.

For the record, an ectomorph is lean and lanky, with a body made up of comparatively more skin and nerve tissue than the other two types. This type is described as tall, with more surface body area relative to mass; as thin or slender, with less fat and muscle; as angular rather than curved, with protruding ribs and hip bones; as delicate and fragile.

Shoulders and hips are narrow. Hands and feet are narrow. Chest and stomach are comparatively flat. Ectomorphs seem to be able to eat all they want without putting on weight that is until middle age, when weight gain is common. Excess weight is not distributed evenly and tummy bulge is typical.

Ectomorphy is regularly said to be our current female cultural ideal, leading to anxiety in girls and women. Ectomorphs can wear a large variety in clothing unless they are ex-tremely thin, at which point they look more attractive in slightly fuller clothing styles and fabrics that fill out their figures.

A mesomorph is athletic, with a body characterized by more muscle and bone tissue. This type is described as average or medium in height and weight, with medium to large bones, less fat and firm, well-developed muscles; as compact, with a rectangular body.

Shoulders and chest are broad. The pelvis area may be wide and the stomach is flatter. Arms and legs are muscular. Mesomorphs often weigh a few pounds heavier than they look or than average weight tables recommend. Excess weight tends to be distributed more evenly over the body, without concentration in any one area.

Mesomorphs typify the traditionally male body build. It should be noted, however, that mesomorphic traits are often seen in combination with ectomorphic and endomorphic traits.

With current emphasis on physical fitness, a combination ectomorphic-mesomorphic figure is more culturally desirable in women than is the ectomorphic figure defined above hence, the current fashion interest in body-hugging clothing styles and fabrics intended to "show-off" the body.

An endomorph is chubby, with a body characterized by more fat tissue. This type is described as shorter, with less surface area relative to mass; as curved or rounded or soft often appearing plump even when not over recommended weight; as having less bone and underdeveloped muscles.

The neck, arms and legs are shorter. The abdomen is prominent and hips are wider. Upper arms and thighs are heavier. Wrists and ankles are often slender. Hands and feet are small. Endomorphs gain weight easily, usually in the stomach, hips, buttocks and thighs. However, it is entirely possible for an underweight person to be endomorphic in terms of body tissue type.

Only during ages past have endomorphic traits been seen as desirable in either men or women. Endomorphic figures appear attractive wearing clothes that fit easily and smoothly over the body with tailored styles made of firmer fabric to hold their shape and draped or slightly gathered styles made of pliable, lightweight fabrics.

Whatever the case, somatype is hereditary that is, determined by your genes. It does not change. Somatype is most easily verified at about age 30. It is difficult, however, to accurately type or pigeon-hole everyone due to the intermix of races and peoples, introducing many variations within each type.

While it is possible for nutritional factors to alter individual measurements, the actual skeleton and dominant type of body tissue remain the same. This explains why some individuals can never achieve a particular ideal body shape, no matter how little they eat or how much they exercise.