I study English and I can't understand what some of my teacher's questions mean. For example:

Q: What role does the image of a slim figure play in different cultures?

Can anyone explain it for me?

Thank you.

  • Having a slim figure means not being fat. So the question means 'How important is the image of a slim person [likely female, though conceivably male] in different cultures?' And the answer is, always, 'It depends on what the culture calls slim.'
    – John Lawler
    Sep 18, 2013 at 3:17
  • 1
    What research have you done to attempt to answer this question? Is there a specific part of the sentence that's confusing you?
    – WendiKidd
    Sep 18, 2013 at 19:58

2 Answers 2


A person's figure refers to the shape of his or her body. Slim is a word that can mean the opposite of fat, and it's especially associated with bodies. The word slim has a connotation that this is somehow remarkable: a person who isn't fat might not be especially thin either, and we wouldn't call that person slim.

In this particular case, image isn't really referring to something people actually look at (though people certainly can look at slim figures), but the way people think about slim figures. So the subject of the sentence is "what people think about having a slim figure."

For something to play a role in a culture, it has to be important to that culture in some way. This doesn't necessarily mean people have to be aware of its importance, but it has to affect things. Exactly how it affects things is the role it plays.

So the question is asking you to examine different cultures, and look at the ways people think about people with slim figures. Then it wants you to compare the effects that this might have on people in different cultures.


Slim generally means a person who is thin. This question is about female/women being thin.

Basically the question is like, "Does being thin have any importance to the female (or male) in the society?" or "Is person being thin considered with importance in the society?"

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