Playboy Centerfolds Becoming Androgynous

Bust and Hips Have Shrunk Over Time; Waist Growing

From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 23, 2002 -- Some women strive to have that hourglass shape of a Playboy centerfold. But according to a new study, that vision of perfection appears to be changing with time.

Body shape and size affect not only physical health but also have a large impact on emotional well-being. In fact, as some women struggle to live up to this standard flashed on movie and TV screens everywhere, the end result is sometimes eating disorders.

But Austrian researchers noticed that the "hourglass" figure of Playboy centerfolds seems to have made some transformation since its inception in the 1950s. This, they say, is contrary to evolutionary research, which suggests that attractiveness reflects evolved optimal design and should not be subject to changes over time.

By analyzing body shape -- including weight and bust, hip, and waist size -- of Playboy centerfolds from 1953 to 2001, researchers found a definite change over time.

The study, by researchers in the department of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy at the University of Vienna Medical School, appears in the Dec. 21-28 issue of the British Medical Journal.

All measures except weight -- which remained nearly stable -- changed over the nearly 40 year period.

Whereas bust and hip size decreased over time, waist size increased. Height also increased over time, but the researchers say this reflects an overall increase in height among the entire population. In addition, body mass index -- a measure of body fatness -- decreased.

The bust-to-hip, waist-to-hip, and waist-to-bust ratios decreased as well -- all indicators that Playboy centerfold bodies have become more androgynous through the years.

Given that it's already very difficult for American women to live up to the ideal of a Playboy centerfold, the fact that this vision of perfection continues to change may only lead to more negative effects on women's physical and mental health.

SOURCE: British Medical Journal, Dec. 21-28, 2002.