A research article in the March 2000 issue of the Journal of the American
Medical Association (JAMA) reviewed the changes in body types of Miss
America winners. The article gives insight into the journey of defining
"ideal female body type" over the last 78 years in the United States.
- Currently, an estimated 50% -75% of adolescent girls are dissatisfied with
their weight and body image. An obsession with thinness is a contributing factor
to body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. How have societal icons like Miss
America contestants contributed to this dissatisfaction?
- Weight data of Miss America winners were compiled from 1922-1999 (pageant was
not held from 1927-1933). There was a significant time-dependent decline in body mass
index (BMI). Early winners had BMIs ranging between 20-25. Over the years, an
increasing number of winners were in the BMI of undernutrition as defined by the
World Health Organization (BMI < 18.5).
- Miss America of 1941 had the highest BMI of 22.4. Miss America of 1986 had
the lowest BMI of 16.9.
- The heaviest Miss America winner weighed 143 pounds (1952). The lightest Miss
America winner weighed 108 pounds (1921). This seems to reflect the
"flapper look" of the 1920's and the "Marilyn Monroe look"
of the 1950's.
- The progressive thinness of Miss America winners is not a result of an
increase in height. Pageant winners average height increased less than 2%
over the years. Body weight decreased by 12%.
- The pageant stopped listing contestants height and weights in 1990. The
chief executive of the pageant states the pageant now emphasizes "brains
over beauty." (Source: AP article by John Curran, Laramie Daily
Boomerang, March 22, 2000.) Does this mean a female must chose between the
two? Does this mean beauty is defined by physical characteristics only? What
about the beauty that encompasses a zest for living, a compassion for others, a
fun loving spirit?
Source: Rubinstein S, Caballero B. Is Miss America an
undernourished role model? (Research letter to the editor.) Journal of the American Medical Association.
2000;283;(12). Available at <http://jama.ama-assn.org/issues/v283n12/full/jlt0322-6.html>.
Compiled by Betty Holmes, MS, RD
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