- Egypt & Jordan: around 172 pounds & 5'3" (1.59m)
- South Africa: 168 pounds / 5'3" (1.59m)
- United States: 166 pounds / 5'4" (1.6m)
- Syria & New Zealand: 165 pounds - 5'2" (1.56m) & 5'4" (1.6m)
- Saudi Arabia, Russia, Libya & Australia: all around 163 pounds & 5'4" (1.6m)
- France: 147 pounds / 5'4" (1.6m)
The reason I threw in France was to see, by comparison, if it's true that French women really aren't fat. At 5'4" myself, although I don't weigh this much, I can tell you 147 pounds ain't thin. While you wouldn't be considered obese by any stretch of the (normal) imagination, you're certainly not skinny in the way that urban fashion myth has led us all to believe about the fabulous femmes residing in France.
And what's interesting about looking at what women look like on average is to see how completely different real-life women are from the ones employed to sell the rest of us clothing. Your standard fashion model-bot is between 5'8" & 5'11" tall & weighs 90 to 120 pounds, small enough to fit into clothing samples cut for someone between a size 0 and 4. Anyone over a size 6 is Plus Size.
To see what this actually looks like IRL, Plus Model magazine ran this interesting image. And if the "skinny" model strikes you as severely underweight, the fact is that most non-plus sized fashion models do meet the body mass index (BMI) criteria for anorexia. (image)
The gorgeous Myla Dalbesio, above, in all her Size 10 glory, just landed a spot in the Calvin Klein Perfectly Fit underwear campaign. According to her modeling card, here are her measurements:
- height: 5'11"
- bust: 34DD
- waist: 32"
- hips: 42"
In other words: feminine perfection in the flesh. Which she has enough of for her portfolio to appear on the Mother Management site in the category of Curvy - another euphemism for Plus Size. "The modeling world starting using the term a little over 30 years ago," says Dalbesio's agent, Gary Dakin, who has a decades-long career as a model agent and co-founded JAG, which is one of the first agencies to skip the "plus size" label. "We have girls sizes 6 to 18 on the site," he continues. "There should be no distinction."
Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda. The fact is, we do. And what I find fascinating is how the increasing smallness of the models is like a strange reverse-mirror of how much bigger we've become. In 1960, the average American female was only .7" shorter (63.1" compared to today's 63.8") while weighing 140 pounds, more than 25 pounds lighter than today.
They depict such stylishly slender folk, but the reality was the opposite: a significant portion of their society was fat to severely obese. Looking at today's similarly deceptive fashion advertising and magazine editorials, populated as they are by willowy-tall rail-thin mannequins, will anthropologists in the far future make the same flawed assumption about what the women of today actually looked like?
According to "historic gastronomist" Sarah Lohman, our public fixation with being svelte is nothing new - it dates back to the 1840s when public figures like Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister for whom the Graham cracker was named, warned that "spices, stimulants and other overindulgences lead to indigestion, illness, sexual excess and civil disorder." His solution? Dietary abstemiousness. The 1860s brought on the Banting diet craze, the Atkins'esque diet promoted by William Banting who deemed fatness to be a physical disability. "Plump as a partridge used to be a compliment, explains Lohman, but "by the end of the century, Americans had fallen headfirst into this battle against fat. Between 1890 and 1920 specifically, America's image of the ideal body completely changed from one of healthful plumpness to one where fatness became associated with sloth. There was a surprisingly strong current of disgust against people who were perceived as obese."
In fact, during the second half of the 19th century, many women in the European upper crust succumbed to "Victorian anorexia", starving themselves into a state of frailty associated with being feminine and spiritually pure. And since all big social trends to do with what we wear and the way we look originate with whatever the collective unconscious is concerned with, it's interesting to note that the roots of our thin-obsession correlate strongly with seismic social changes taking place between 1815 - 1850:
- 1818: financial crisis & rising unemployment create the first wave anti-immigration sentiment in the US
- 1819: three white women stone a black woman to death in Philadelphia, inciting racial violence
- 1820: the Underground Railroad guides slaves along a network of secret hiding places to freedom in the North
- 1824: female employees at a weaving factory in Pawtucket, Rhode Island strike against a proposed decrease in wages & increase in hours
- 1826: the first national temperance organization, The American Society for the Promotion of Temperance, is founded in Boston
- 1830: immigration rises to 60,000 annually (many from Ireland) & the census records the population at 12,866,020
- 1832: a cholera epidemic ranging from Montreal to New Orleans kills tens of thousands of people primarily in urban areas
- 1833: one of the first local public libraries in America is founded in Peterborough, New Hampshire, giving the middle & lower classes access to reading material and increasing the popularity of reading (ie. the transfer of information)
- 1837: during the Panic of 1837, the worst economic depression America had yet known, cities including New York restrict immigration
- 1840: the census counts 17,069,453 Americans; five cities have populations over 90,000: New Orleans, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and New York (with 312,000 inhabitants)
- 1841: a new fashion trend is annointed by Godey’s Lady’s Book: tight sleeves on ladies’ dresses
- 1845: the Irish potato famine kicks off mass migration of the Irish to America
- 1848: a law granting women property rights equal to those of men is adopted by New York; revolutions in Europe bring about a wave of American immigration, especially from Germany, as people flee violence and starvation
1850: the U.S. Census records America’s population as 23,191,876
An amazing amount of change in such an eyeblink of time. Small wonder people focused on one of the few things they feel they have any control over, the size of the skin they're in. So it is today, what with the various wars around the world, economic uncertainty, racial tension and even an untrustworthy food supply - GMOs and whether all this processed food everyone seems to live on is actually food.
And here we go again, obsessed to the point of silliness with the size of our imaginary girls, even as real ones continue to expand waaaaaay past partridge-like plumpness, however you want to categorize or label it.
- Lesley Scott