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Healthy Body Image: Bigger Than Model Thin

Research shows that women — especially those on a diet — in the United States determine their ideal body size and shape from the way models in television ads and fashion magazines look, not from the way women look in real life.

The Kellogg’s survey (published by the Opinion Research Corporation) found that women tend to focus on the specific body parts they don’t like, not on their bodies as a whole. They may like their hair color and think that they’re tall enough, but only 14 percent of the women surveyed were happy with their weights.

Almost a third of the women surveyed said that a woman’s ideal weight is between 110 and 125 pounds, and half said that a weight between 126 and 145 is ideal. But in reality, there is no such thing as an ideal weight, because people are genetically programmed to be different shapes and sizes. Only 1 in 40,000 women has a supermodel-like body — 40,000!

The following table compares the average American woman to the media’s and society’s ideals, demonstrating that when it comes to selling clothes, life doesn’t imitate art. Marilyn Monroe, the pinup girl of the 1950s, wore a size 14 dress — the same size that many women in the United States wear today.

This isn’t to say that a size 14 is healthy for all women. It depends on your height and other factors. If you’re 5 feet tall and you wear a size 14, then you’re probably unhealthy. But if you’re 5 feet 6 inches tall, a size 14 may be okay, even though you’d still be considered on the large side by society’s standards. Today’s models, who are usually at least 5 feet 8 inches or taller, typically wear only a size 6. And between 1955 and 1998, the measurements of a Playboy centerfold dropped by 35 percent.

Female Role Models
Average Woman Mannequin Model
Dress size 12 6 6
Weight 152 120
Height 5'4" 5'10" 5'8" to 5'11"
Body measurements 37-34-40 34-25-34 34-25-34
Percent body fat 34 18
BMI (Body Mass Index) 26.1 17.2

This phenomenon isn’t unique to women. Even male models and mannequins are smaller than the average American male:

Male Role Models
Average Man Mannequin Model
Pant size 37 30 30
Suit size 42 regular 40 regular 40 regular
Weight 180 145–150
Height 5'9" 6' 6'
Body measurements 41 chest 39 chest 39 chest
37 waist 30 waist 30 waist
Percent body fat 22 15
BMI (Body Mass Index) 26.6 20.5
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