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    Playboy, Barbie And The Average Woman
    By Becky Jungbauer | February 17th 2009 10:58 PM | 16 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Becky

    A scientist and journalist by training, I enjoy all things science, especially science-related humor. My column title is a throwback to Jane

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    Can you connect the dots? Playboy playmates, Barbie, and Wired Magazine.

    Give up? Wired featured a charticle in the February issue on the BMI of Playmates, starting back in 1953 with Marilyn Monroe to the recent January 2009 cover girl, versus those of the average woman. No surprise, the bunnies are trending toward Barbie (who turns 50 this year), while the average woman is slowly crawling up the BMI scale.

    BMI graph
    BMI, or body mass index, is a a measure of body fat based on height and weight.
    Playmate BMI data taken from Wired; average women BMIs verified from 2004 CDC article, using data from all females ages 20-29. (Playmates average around age 22, but depending on Hugh's mood can range up into the 30s.)

    So, you may be thinking to yourself, are there any potentially associated events that fall on this timeline that could explain these trends? There are - but whether they are truly causual or even remotely associated is the subject for another study.

    1959 - Barbie is introduced to the world. Barbie is described as 5'9" and 110 p0unds. Using NIH's BMI calculator, her BMI is 16.2.

    Where does that fall along the BMI scale? NIH and CDC provide the following:

    < 18.5: underweight
    18.5-24.9: normal weight
    25.0-29.9: overweight
    >30: obese

    Obviously Barbie needs to eat a cheeseburger. And after minor adjustments over the decades, Barbie saw a plastic surgeon in 1997 to reduce the size of her hips and bust, and add a few inches to her waist.

    1977 - the cost of importing sugar skyrockets. The more economical choice? High fructose corn syrup. The industrial process had been refined in the late 1960s, allowing greater production. Now you have to look hard to find products that don't have the sweet flavor of obesity.

    Although, if you ask the Corn Refiner's Association, a little HFCS never hurt anybody. I wonder if they use the same PR firm as the clean coal advocates.



    Calista Flockhart, from hollywoodcrap.comMid-1990s
     - Friends and Ally McBeal debut. Calista Flockhart makes her way into the hearts and minds of gazillions of American women, but she forgets to make her way into a grocery store. Her BMI during the show? 15.6. Average woman's BMI during the show? Around 26. Gone are the days of Marilyn and Sophia.

    Meanwhile, the "Rachel shag" is the most-requested haircut - but what about the face shaped by the hair? In Ferris Bueller Jennifer Aniston looked normal, but by the end of Friends she had transformed. Granted, she went on the Zone Diet and now does a lot of yoga.

    The women splashed across every magazine cover were thin - where were the curves, the "real" women photos?

    Well, even the picture-perfect covers weren't entirely real. Digital enhancement, re-touching, manipulation - it's everywhere. This image is almost scary - the contrast between the "real" version versus the "retouched" version is dramatic. (It reminds me of one of scenes in The Exorcist.) And this magazine cover is fascinating - click on the big orange "unveil the fraud" blurb and take a tour of the changes made to the photo. Another really interesting site is Digital Retouch - explore the links on the bottom right to see alterations in beauty/hair, corrections, and shaping. (Of course, this phenomenon isn't just about women - males get the retouching treatment too. Check out this photo of Conan O'Brian - look at his face before and after retouching.)

    2004 - SizeUSA releases results from a two-year study showing fashion designers ignore a woman's real body shape. Most of us don't cut an hourglass figure, embodied by Sophia Loren. In fact, only about 8.4 percent of women have that shape, according to the study. Most of us are rather rectangular, followed by spoon shape, with triangular bodies bringing up the rear (no  pun intended).

    In 2005, Dove started the Campaign For Real Beauty, using "real" women in ads for its firming collection of products. (I won't go into the irony of patting yourself on the back for using real women in a campaign to make women (a) feel better about themselves by (b) using firming lotion to tone and enhance.)

    And in Europe, fashion shows started turning away models because they were too thin.

    You could argue that some progress has been made, albeit a rollercoaster of progressing and regressing over the decades. But has it? Consider the contrast between two recent stories involving Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Simpson.

    Jessica Simpson has always celebrated her curves, but this photo sent the paps and celebrity obsessed into a frenzy. Some called her fat, others rushed to her defense. But while the left hand was insulting Jessica for being too fat, the right hand was lamenting about poor too-thin Lindsay Lohan.

    We can't have it both ways, especially those of us who don't have personal chefs and can barely make it through the day, much less work out for the recommended 30 or 60 or 90 minutes. Can there be a happy medium?

    Comments

    Hank
    Women in Europe are objectified a lot more than Americans - there are nude and seminude things on billboards and TV all of the time and you can't walk down any street without getting whistled at.    And don't even get me started on Asia.

    We are simultaneously blaming society for 'making' women anorexic due to unrealistic body images while we have gotten fatter and fatter.    It's no different for men.   William Holden didn't have a great body, nor did Humphrey Bogart, but Brad Pitt does and GI Joe can do anything.   So why aren't men beset with these image issues today?      

    Men do not look to designers for their clothes or their body images - I don't wear shorts and a sport coat, which I saw in GQ last month.     Are we just mentally tougher than women?   ;)
    Stellare
    I'm afraid I disagree with you on the issue of objectification of women, Hank. My impression is the exact opposite. And I think you can tell your Italian friends that they are not the only country in Europe. :-) (Italians are the whistlers.)

    Men are getting more vain - or subject to the same pressure as women - every day. With the help of the beauty industry. Men do look to designers and they do put on lotion, too. Maybe not the average geek, but geeks are after all just a minority.

    I have an alternative conclusion and theory on the mental strength of men vs women, but that is not suited for this format. :-))

    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Becky Jungbauer
    Women in Europe are objectified a lot more than Americans
    I'd argue that the billboards are less about objectification and more about a cultural comfort level with sexuality and nudity. There is a huge difference in context between an ad on the Paris metro and a Girls Gone Wild video.
    you can't walk down any street without getting whistled at.
    Since you aren't a girl, I'll give you a pass on this one. Walking past construction sites or groups of young Hispanic men (not stereotyping, just my experience) is always an exercise in self-control, because I don't like the whistles and comments. (Do they realize that I speak Spanish? I don't think so.)
    We are simultaneously blaming society for 'making' women anorexic due to unrealistic body images while we have gotten fatter and fatter.
    Exactly my point. Where do we go from here?
    So why aren't men beset with these image issues today?
    Because shows like King of Queens, Family Guy (which is one of my favorite shows), and others feature a portly, sometimes balding, usually rather low on the IQ totem pole, man with thin, attractive, desirable wives/girlfriends. And look at rock stars and rappers. Bret Michaels and Flavor Flav? Really? If they weren't rich and famous, they wouldn't have a shot in hell of landing any of those chicks. American culture still holds women to a higher appearance standard than men - not that men don't have their own pressures; I readily acknowledge that. But I'd argue that substitution of money, power, etc can go a long way toward a guy "winning" a girl, whereas a girl has to have some physical attractiveness to be considered.
    Hank
    I'd argue that the billboards are less about objectification and more about a cultural comfort level with sexuality and nudity.
    This is just cultural spin, really.    In America we would gripe about objectification but we'll give Europe a pass and say they are just comfortable with really hot naked women??
    Because shows like King of Queens, Family Guy (which is one of my favorite shows), and others feature a portly, sometimes balding, usually rather low on the IQ totem pole, man with thin, attractive, desirable wives/girlfriends.
    Fatties with hotties was, at least for a time, also the entire CBS lineup.
      
    We're nowhere near as bad as Mexico - Telemundo shows always have some portly old guy surrounded by young women.    But I get your point.    

    It may be that men are held to a different standard than women but that is not an American culture thing.   Go to Bulgaria, go to France, go almost anywhere, and you will see ugly men with ridiculous women.    Europe:

    Well, though it's true things have gotten/are getting more "equal" in this realm, the image pressures on men still aren't nearly as strong as for women. You gave a few examples, but nearly every female celebrity, whether actress or musician, is model-esque. In contrast, while the majority of male stars may be, there are a lot that aren't. Look at Jack Black, Seth Rogan, Kevin James, etc. They have almost no female counterparts (the only examples I can think of are Queen Latifah, Cathryn Mannheim, and Oprah). And there are a slew of male actors who, while not quite as extreme as those previous examples, definitely don't have bodies the equivalent of most female stars. Look at Nicholson, DeNiro, Pacino (all of whom also bring age into the mix also, but who even in their prime weren't exactly statuesque), Ed Norton, lots of other male actors, and just about any male musician I can think of.

    That being said, as mentioned these issues are starting to become more prevalent in the male population, from what I've heard. They tend to manifest differently in males though, for one thing. Since the pressures on men are not being lean but rather being muscular, excessive weightlifting/excercise/sports and steroid use are the bigger problems and are, I believe, on the increase.

    aaanouel
    I'll tell you why: Very deep and simple human feelings, men only have to be a good stable providers so image is not very important, women have to be good procreators and have to be attractive enough to achieve it. Being in shape is good for a healthy life, fat in excess is synonymous of health problems, laziness and annoyance. Young people as they are, seems to be too much conscious about those facts, but as Bente said, young males are getting more and more vain. I dare to think it may be because the growing mother's and feminist influence. In a chapter of "South Park" they called it "Metrosexual fashion". Hahaha...!!!
    Becky Jungbauer
    And for those who rank a step above the metrosexual, there's now the übersexual.
    Stellare
    I really don't know what übersexual is, but I think I'd like to be it! I'm so über anything. Hahaha Great article, Becky. Awesome research on images supporting your message. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Becky Jungbauer
    Thanks! I had fun researching this one. And I agree, I love being über anything. :) The difference:

    metrosexual (n, adj): a heterosexual male who has a strong aesthetic sense and inordinate interest in appearance and style. Example: Ryan Seacrest, Ben Affleck (Jennifer Lopez era). (A quiz for you men, in case you're wondering.)

    übersexual (n, adj):  male who is similar to a metrosexual but displays the traditional manly qualities. Examples: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, David Beckham, Ben Affleck (Jennifer Garner era).
    Fossil Huntress
    Very good points, Becky. I don't think either sex has it easy. We sexually exploit tweens to sell more T-Shirts then badmouth them for looking tarty at 23. We love sexuality on the surface but there is still a fair bit of cultural judgement.

    Eating disorders and plastic surgery stats are on the rise for North American men. I think it is a taboo subject in the media so it gets less press but I can't imagine they have it easy. Still... they could move to Mexico and enjoy the young treats of a culture that supports the old guy&six hot chicks.... or chiquita's as the case may be. 
     
    jtwitten
    Becky, have you seen the economic research on the impact of economic conditions on the dimensions and age of Playboy playmates?

    I wonder how much those percentages for body types change depending on the definition (i.e., how many women are on the margin?).  Because they use absolute numbers (e.g., up to 1" less than hips and at least 9" less than bust) not ratios, I am suspicious that their definition of an hourglass figure would not match up with a normal definition of hourglass.   It could become very difficult for a petite woman to have an hourglass figure by their terms.

    HFCS is not any more toxic than normal sugar, which is really all the ads say (corn industry, are you listening, I await my check), although it is not what they imply.  The problem with HFCS is that it adds unnecessary calories to our food.  For example, bread does not need HFCS, but it is a cheap way to add "flavor."
    Becky Jungbauer
    I don't know how I missed that one - fascinating! I wonder if the older heavier women appeal to a primitive mating need, as they look more maternal, whereas the fake tan fake blond harlots are more for times of surplus.

    I wondered about the hourglass measurements myself - a lot of the traditional hourglass figures used girdles to achieve that shape, so maybe it isn't as natural as we'd think, or the definition in our common parlance needs some refinement.

    And no, HFCS isn't poison, but the extra calories are a big (pun intended) problem.
    jtwitten
    I once took a look at the data for that economics study (I also looked at the numbers) and it seemed to me that most of their results were driven by a few outliers, especially since the sample size was small.

    The hourglass definition to me seems overly narrow, no matter how achieved.  I would call Mrs. Rugbyologist's figure hourglass (doubly so to her face), because she is both curvy and fit.  She would not meet their requirements though.  The hourglass figure for models is an extreme form of this shape.
    Becky Jungbauer
    As the eminent economist Sir Mix-A-Lot once posited, "36-24-36? Ha - only if she's 5'3"." His recommended bust to waist to hip ratio satisfy said criteria for hourglass figures, so perhaps he is working with a special subpopulation of thick soul sisters, rather than the beanpole dames in magazines.
    Jen Palmares Meadows
    Thanks! That was a very interesting read!
    One underlying factor behind all the points on the timeline is consumer demand.