Many contemporary American women covet an unrealistically thin body build for themselves (Lamb, Jackson, Cassidy, & Priest, 1993; Mallick, Whipple, & Huerta, 1987; Silberstein, Striegel-Moore, Timko, & Rodin, 1988; Spillman & Everington, 1989), a phenomenon that could be detrimental to their emotional and physical health. The rising significance of the thin ideal is apparent from the changing perceptions of the ectomorphic body type. In the fifty years since Sheldon and Stevens (1942) conducted their somatotype research, the negative characteristics associated with the thin, or ectomorphic, body build have dwindled. In the early 1940s, Sheldon and Stevens found that ectomorphic individuals were perceived negatively by others as nervous, submissive, and socially withdrawn. By the late 1980s, however, this perception had changed. Compared to individuals with endomorphic and mesomorphic body types, ectomorphic individuals were rated most positively and considered to be the most sexually appealing (Spillman & Everington, 1989).
The emergence of the slender body type as a beauty standard for women is especially salient in the mass media, and several researchers have demonstrated how the female body depicted in the media has become increasingly thin (Garner, Garfinkel, Schwartz, & Thompson, 1980; Ogletree, Williams, Raffeld, Mason, & Fricke, 1990; Silverstein, Perdue, Peterson, & Kelly, 1986; Wiseman, Gray, Mosimann, & Ahrens, 1992). Assessing the height, weight, and body measurements of Playboy centerfolds and of Miss America Pageant contestants from 1960 to 1979, Garner et al. (1980) found that the percent of average weight of the models declined significantly.(1) For example, in 1960, the average weight of Playboy models was 91% of the population mean. By 1978, mean weight of the models has dropped to 84% of the population mean. A similar trend was apparent among the Miss America Pageant contestants: Prior to 1970, mean weight of the contestants was approximately...
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