Gender Differences in Population Versus Media Body Sizes: A Comparison over Four Decades1

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Abstract

Mean body mass indices (BMIs, kg/m2) of North Americans aged 18 to 24 collected from 11 national health surveys were compared to: Playboy centerfold models, Miss America Pageant winners,and Playgirl models. The survey samples were representative of the mix of different ethnic and racial groups in Canada and the USA. No racial or ethnic information was available for either the Playboy women or the Miss America Pageant winners. Ninety percent of the Playgirl men were white; 10%, black; 1.5%, Hispanic black; and .8%, American Samoan. From the 1950s to the present, while the body sizes of Miss America Pageant winners decreased significantly and the body sizes of Playboy centerfold models remained below normal body weight, the body sizes of Playgirl models and young adult North American women and men increased significantly. The increase in body size of Playgirl models appears to be due to an increase in muscularity, whereas the increase in body size of young North American men and women is more likely due to an increase in body fat. Thus, in the 1990s, the body size and shape of the average young adult North American became increasingly different from the ideal being promoted by the media. Furthermore the difference in male and female body sizes depicted by the media in the 1990s was huge, whereas the difference between the body sizes of 18- to 24-year-old North American women and men was actually quite small. These discrepancies are discussed in relation to the different sociocultural expectations for the two genders and the increasing prevalence of body dissatisfaction reported by both women and men.

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