In recent years, the hashtag #strongnotskinny has gained more and more traction on social media, as a new generation of reality TV stars turned fitness bloggers (hello, Millie Mackintosh) and fitness bloggers turned celebrities (hi, Kayla Itsines) has changed the way that women see their bodies, with more of an emphasis on being fit than being skinny.
Now, a new study conducted by Frances Bozsik of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, has proven that our perception of what constitutes ‘the perfect female figure’ has changed drastically since the 1990s.
Using images of Miss USA pageant winners from 1999 to 2013, taken during the bathing suit round, Bozsik and her team asked 78 female undergraduates to rate the women’s bodies in terms of how muscular, thin and attractive they were. Based on these findings, she found that recent winners were more muscular than thin. ‘There is a shift in the thin ideal female figure to one that now includes the appearance of physical fitness via muscularity,’ she explained.
In the second part of her study, she asked 64 undergraduates to look at images of women which were ‘thin only’ and ‘toned and thin’, with the ‘thin only’ pictures photoshopped to remove any signs of toned muscles. When shown separately, all the images were deemed attractive, yet when shown side-by-side, it was the toned version which elicited the positive response.
Despite the move away from the ‘thin’ ideal, Bozsik was quick to point out that focusing on any idealized body type was dangerous, particularly when it comes to the social media culture of ‘fitspiration’.
‘These websites allow individuals to collect images of women with whom they identify or admire, essentially allowing them to cultivate their own media repertoire of highly salient thin and fit media,’ she explained. ‘This process of selecting preferred images and then narrowing the media focus by placing these images on their 'boards' may inadvertently increase the risk of developing higher levels of body dissatisfaction, as well as subsequent disordered-eating behaviors that are linked to it.’