Old Data in the Globe and Mail

There was an article in last weekend’s Globe and Mail about super-skinny fashion models and their impact on the physical and emotional health of women. I only skimmed the full page piece by Siri Agrell. Though it covered familiar ground, it seemed credible and cogent enough.

The article was accompanied by a large infographic. It combined data from several sources, but featured the results of a study about body size perceptions. I snapped a photo of the page in the paper, so you could see for yourself:

Globe and Mail Article

In truth, I was a little surprised by the results-they seemed kind of moderate. On a five-point scale (with one being darned skinny and five being obese), a survey of 500 women identified their current body shape as 3.6. They identified the ideal female body shape at 2.7.

A 23-Year-Old Study

Then I noticed the date of the study: 1985 (I believe it’s erroneously identified as 1995 in the caption). I’m no sociologist, but I wonder how relevant this data is in 2008. That’s basically an entire generation of women.

And surely this generation of young women–thus under the age of 25–have been exposed to more ‘idealized’ images of women than any other. More skinny women in TV, films, magazines, the web (not to mention the mainstreaming of pornography) than ever before.

If we replicated this study in 2008, would women answer the same way? I don’t know, but I’d guess that the ideal body shape needle has moved. What do you think?

This seems like a bit of editorial laziness. It feels like somebody stumbled upon these images, and stuck them next to the story without much scrutiny. At a minimum, they ought to have added a note explaining the inclusion of a 23-year-old study.

On Saturday I sent Ms. Agrell an email inquiring about the inclusion of the old study, and CC’d an editor. I haven’t received a reply, but I’m still optimistic.


  1. I heartily agree that we see a lot more images of strangely-idealized women’s bodies than we used to. Heck, the covers of a lot of health and exercise magazines at the supermarket (Shape, Oxygen) would probably compare to Playboy covers a few decades ago. Not to mention FHM and even GQ.

    Kids today, I tell ya.

  2. True, but on the same token I think we need to keep in mind that there is also a chunk of today’s teens that are aware of the unrealistic body images portrayed in media – be those opinions taught by their parents or teachers.

    Media studies seems to be a required portion of Grade 10/11 humanities/English classes (or at least it was when I was in highschool 10 years ago) and one of the things that comes up consistently is the this ideal female form which is portrayed by media and how unrealistic it is.

    Still, I haven’t seen any recent studies on the subject so I’m only speaking from what I perceive. It would be interesting to see actual results from a study.

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