The Miss America beauty pageant looks a lot different today than it did 94 years ago when it was called a “popularity contest” across nine East Coast newspapers.
But today’s two-hour TV extravaganza differs from the original in another fascinating way — the winners’ body types have gotten much thinner over the years, according to educational website PsychGuides.com (first spotted on the Huffington Post).
PsychGuides.com tracked the evolution of the Miss America winner’s body types since the contest started in 1921 using all the publicly available pictures the team could find. PsychGuides.com then made a morph to show the dramatic shift, which you can really see emerging in the fitness-obsessed 1980s.
The website went further and also charted how the average American woman’s body differed from Miss America’s, tracking down all of the heights and weights of winners available to calculate the women’s body mass indexes.
The graph below shows that as Miss America has gotten thinner, the average American woman in her 20s has gotten heavier.
The only decades when the average U.S. woman and the Miss America winners fell in the same range were in the 1940s and ’50s, according to PsychGuides.com.
“Miss America represents the highest ideals. She is a real combination of beauty, grace, and intelligence, artistic and refined,” the official Miss America website states. “She is a type which the American girl might well emulate.”
But PsychGuides.com wrote that the contest can have a negative effect on women’s perceptions of themselves if they try to “emulate” these winners.
“The strong focus on beauty and body, combined with the high publicity of the contest, can be difficult for women who don’t consider themselves fitting of this perfect image,” the PsychGuides.com team wrote, adding that these images of women’s bodies “can perpetuate an unrealistic expectation for the average female’s body.”
It’s not the first criticism of the pageant, which was protested in the ’60s and draws numerous op-eds today questioning why the $50,000 scholarship competition still emphasises a bikini-focused swimsuit segment where only the contestants’ bodies are judged.
The competition has also waned in popularity in recent years. In 2014, viewership was down to 7.6 million, according to Deadline, which was 25% lower than in 2013.
To read the full PsychGuides.com findings, click here.
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