, Volume 40, Issue 7-8, pp 545-565

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

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Abstract

Mean body mass indices (BMIs, kg/m2)of North Americans aged 18 to 24 collected from 11national health surveys were compared to: Playboycenterfold models, Miss America Pageant winners,andPlaygirl models. The survey samples were representative of themix of different ethnic and racial groups in Canada andthe USA. No racial or ethnic information was availablefor either the Playboy women or the Miss America Pageant winners. Ninety percent of the Playgirlmen 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 ofPlayboy centerfold models remained below normal bodyweight, the body sizes of Playgirl models and youngadult North American women and men increasedsignificantly. The increase in body size of Playgirl modelsappears to be due to an increase in muscularity, whereasthe increase in body size of young North American menand women is more likely due to an increase in body fat. Thus, in the 1990s, the body size andshape of the average young adult North American becameincreasingly different from the ideal being promoted bythe media. Furthermore the difference in male and female body sizes depicted by the media inthe 1990s was huge, whereas the difference between thebody sizes of 18- to 24-year-old North American womenand men was actually quite small. These discrepancies are discussed in relation to the differentsociocultural expectations for the two genders and theincreasing prevalence of body dissatisfaction reportedby both women and men.