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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stick Figures and Women Wanting Low, Low BMI

What does a woman consider to be the ultimate beautiful body? The public perception of beauty has shifted dramatically over the last 25 years, as evidenced by media’s almost exclusive depiction of healthy bodies as extremely thin, toned and free of any unsightly “blemishes” like cellulite. Ever-present media narratives tell women how to fix their flaws in order to find love, happiness, success and – perhaps most the most dangerous lie of all – health.

By the early ‘90s, the vast majority of magazine health content focused on weight loss as a means to improve appearance. While science tells us that current beauty ideals of extreme thinness and tall, shapely perfection have little to no correlation with actual indicators of health and wellness, we still see tons of evidence that people believe this myth to be true:

  • The vast majority of girls and women now perceive underweight bodies and extremely low body weights as being ideally healthy
  • Even underweight and average-weight females are striving for weight loss using dangerous and unhealthy means, such as disordered eating and abuse of laxatives or excessive exercise
  • According to studies done in the last five years, 66 percent of adolescent girls wish they were thinner, though only 16 are actually overweight
    (Lindsay Kite. "The Lies We Buy: Defining Health at Women’s Expense." Conference paper presented at the National Communication Association, Nov. 18, 2011) 

In the last decade, we can see evidence of low Body Mass Index (BMI) insanity:

* A 446 percent increase in the number of cosmetic procedures in the U.S., with women undergoing 92 percent of those – the majority being liposuction. 

* A figure of  $7 billion per year U.S. women spend on beauty products,

* A flourish in the weight loss and diet industries unlike ever before, with an estimated $61 billion spent on the quest for thinness in 2010 – more than twice as much as Americans spent on all types of diet programs and products in 1992.

Now, even girls as young as 6 are commonly unhappy with their weight since this media culture has become dominant. The result has been the massive spread of previously rare eating disorders and lifelong unhappiness toward one's own body. 

What is BMI? It is a person's weight in kilograms (kg) divided by his or her height in meters squared. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) now defines normal weight, overweight, and obesity according to BMI rather than the traditional height/weight charts.

Twenty years ago, models weighed, on average, 8% less than average American women. By now, they weigh 23% less. Most models now have a weight that’s considered clinically anorexic.

As the average BMI of women has increased, models have remained significantly below this average, often with BMIs of a mere 15 or 16 – considered clinically underweight.

The BMIs of celebrity women are only slightly better, most commonly ranging from 17 to 20.

("Women's Body Image and BMI." 

The average BMI of a beauty pageant contestant in 2010 was 18.9.

("Woman's News." Columbus Dispatch. January 1, 2014)

The result of this low BMI idealism is that, for a growing number of American women, the image of beauty portrayed in media is simply impossible for them to achieve and potentially unhealthy even if they did achieve it.

Look to research on the connection between BMI and ideals of beautiful women and we find the same.

David Frederick (2006), utilizing survey data primarily from readers at found a clear relationship (plotted in the image to the right) between BMI and body satisfaction. In this study, women tended to feel best about their bodies when their BMI was between 17.5-20.

The study reported that women prefer being slightly underweight to on the low-side of normal weight. While no single illustration can accurately depict BMI (a range of heights/weights/ body types can produce identical BMI scores), the following images (available from BMI-Club)  might be helpful:

(D. Frederick, L. Peplau, J. Lever. "The Swimsuit Issue: Correlates of Body Image 
in a Sample of 52,677 Heterosexual Adults." Body Image. 2006)

 Barbie’s BMI would be just 16.24, so she would fit the weight criteria for anorexia. 
(Note: when diagnosing anorexia, other factors do come into play.)

If Barbie were an actual women, she would be 5'9" tall, 
have a 39" bust, an 18" waist, 33" hips and a size 3 shoe.

So, What Do Women Want to Attain For the Perfect Body?

If American women look at beautiful women and absolute perfection as models, celebrities, and beauty pageant contestants; then, the BMI they wish to achieve is 15-20. And, believe me, thanks to modern media, most women and young girls do want to have this low, low BMI.

What female BMI do most men drool over? A recent University College London paper called "Female Physical Attractiveness in Britain and Malaysia: A Cross-Cultural Study asked 682 men to give a score to photos of women. This was then collated and the most attractive BMI was found to be 20.85. What’s more being over this figure is “more attractive” than being under. So while an obese woman (over 30?) was only half as attractive as a woman with the perfect BMI, skinnier women were rated even lower.

To put that in a frame of reference, a woman who is 5 foot 6 inches tall would have to weigh 135 pounds. The study also found that 75% of a woman’s physical attractiveness to men is determined by her BMI.

(Alyce Vayle. "What is the Most Attractive BMI? What Should You 
Weigh to Look Your Hottest?" June 6, 2013)

Women and beauty and BMI -- the measurements of attractiveness can be very deceptive. Although a BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9 is within the "normal" range, a BMI of 25 to 30 can present an attractive body. I certainly believe too much pressure is realized by females who strive for unrealistically low BMI. Too low is just unhealthy. I am of the opinion most men want some soft curves, and I wonder if most women wouldn't be happier accepting that fact.

What do you think about these "beauties"?

Fashion models

Venus Williams with the 21 BMI most men like.

Aleksandra Karius of East West Models
40 inch bust, 28 inch waist, 40 inch hips
A BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9 is within a normal weight range.

Read more :

Jessica, a triathlete, is considered "overweight"
155 lbs.
BMI 25
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