The big news from the Paris collections is that the hourglass figure is back. Perhaps it was the only direction the silhouette could take — the fashionable form had become so super-skinny that it couldn’t go any further without vanishing. With the preferred dress size in Hollywood recently reported as zero, we’d no doubt reached the far end of the thin, thinner, thinnest continuum.

It’s interesting how long a major shift in beauty standards takes to emerge on the scene. I can remember the first rumbles of this particular phenomenon from about 10 years ago. When it comes to the female body shape, one thing we can chart with certainty is the cyclical swing back and forth from one extreme to another. Any observer of history could have predicted that the curvy look would eventually return, though it would have been hard to announce exactly when this transition would take place.

During the 20th century, each body ideal has held sway for varying lengths of time, usually several decades. The current spate of thinness began in the ’60s, with the rakelike supermodels Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, though within that span of time there have been subtle variations in standards, with aerobicized muscle tone altering the ideal contours in the ’70s and ’80s, for example.

When you think back over recent years, you realize that there have been several high-visibility celebrities on the scene who have been remarked upon for their unapologetic fleshiness. Indeed, they have seemed like isolated examples, and they have borne the brunt of much scorn. But the fact that they appeared at all is significant.

Among actresses, Kate Winslet stands out both for her curviness and for her defiance about the weight issue; she has often issued statements to the media to the effect that her body is reflective of real women’s bodies. Christina Ricci has a voluptuous figure, while Jennifer Lopez has a more substantial derriere than has been fashionable; famously, Cindy Crawford is said to have remarked upon it publicly with some derision. Similarly, Liz Hurley recently was quoted as saying that if she looked like Marilyn Monroe (weight-wise), she would kill herself.

Sophie Dahl, the zaftig model who recently appeared nude in perfume ads to great controversy, has a traditional sex-bomb figure that is rich in flesh and curves. When she began to model, she aroused shock, disgust and horror among those for whom the meaning of “beautiful” is “thin.” But times have changed. She is now working more and more, on the catwalk and in print.

It seems clear that the more we see of such gorgeous full-figured women, the more we begin to see them as acceptable. And ultimately it is likely that the body type they represent will seem not just acceptable, but preferable. While even now it may be hard to imagine, I would bet that within a year there will be a discernible shift in our body ideal.

Paris has put models in corsets, creating waists and hips where previously there were none. At the moment, with the help of the corset or the waist-nipper, the curvy look is appearing — somewhat ironically — on skinny supermodels, but the best way to achieve it is to nurture natural feminine curves.

So eat! Relax! Say goodbye to the permanent diet and hello to a softer, easier, sexier you.