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The 2004 Miss Poland beauty pageant: a poor choice for discerning what makes women super attractive
Another useless study has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, with the title “Body mass index and waist: hip ratio are not enough to characterize female attractiveness.”(1) Duh! Amazingly, even the editor and peer-reviewers allowed this title.
The authors, Pokrywka et al., decided to figure out what physical features distinguish super-attractive women from ordinary women, and guess where they found super-attractive women? The contestants of the 2004 Miss Poland pageant! I first assumed that the authors needed an education regarding what kind of women often participate in mainstream high profile beauty pageants and why, but amazingly, these authors apparently measured the contestants themselves, i.e., saw them up close. Some contestants are shown below; see more pictures and the study in this zipfile (4.6 MB). And, it isn’t just me, but read the comments of many Polish individuals either surprised or angered by such women representing Polish beauty.
Fig. 1. Some contestants in the 2004 Miss Polski pageant. First row from left to right: Barbara Istigniejew, Anna Sadowska, Liliana Nogal. Second row from left to right: Agnieszka Wołochacz, Karolina Szubstarska, Katarzyna Heim, Joanna Kosior.
Fig. 2. Are these among the best female physiques that Poland has to offer? Shown from left to right: Magdalena Lubyj, Elżbieta Sawerska (Miss Poland 2004), Joanna Morteńska.
The authors contrasted the contestants and Polish women students as controls with respect to physical build (Fig. 3). Note that an ectomorphic build corresponds to a thin build and slender bones, an endomorphic build is a heavy build characterized by excess body fat and large bones, and a mesomorphic build is a muscular/athletic build with bone thickness ranging from intermediate to heavy.
Fig. 3. In the scatter plot, the empty polygons represent individual regular Polish women (controls) and the filled polygons represent individual Miss Poland contestants. Significant differences exist between Miss Poland contestants and controls (regular women) if the p value is less than 0.5 (last column; the p value is the probability that the difference between the groups is due to chance).
I translated the measurements in the chart above to the following table.
Miss Poland 2004 contestants Polish women students Height 5-foot-9 5-foot-5 Weight 56.7 kg or 124.6 pounds 58.5 kg or 129.4 pounds Underbust 73.0 cm or 28.7 inches 76.2 cm or 30.0 inches Bust 86.3 cm or 34.0 inches 86.6 cm or 34.1 inches Waist 65.6 cm or 25.8 inches 70.5 cm or 27.7 inches Hip 92.9 cm or 36.6 inches 94.2 cm or 37.1 inches Arm 24.2 cm or 9.5 inches 25.6 cm or 10.1 inches Thigh 52.0 cm or 20.5 inches 55.9 cm or 22.0 inches Calf 34.1 cm or 13.4 inches 35.2 cm or 13.8 inches Hip width 28.7 cm or 11.3 inches 27.7 cm or 10.9 inches
The data are curious. The Miss Poland contestants have less body fat and smaller hips but larger breasts. The Miss Poland contestants have a smaller rib cage in relation to height. The Miss Poland contestants are labeled more ectomorphic, but in relation to height, their knee width and elbow width are similar to the controls, whereas ectomorphic individuals have more slender bones. One could say that with larger size, a greater proportion of one’s body mass comprises of the skeleton and hence similar bone thickness relative to height in much taller individuals qualifies as a more ectomorphic build, but the height difference is only four inches and the ethnic background is mostly similar or close. Ectomorphs also lean toward narrower shoulders and longer limbs, but the contestants and controls have similar shoulder width relative to height and the contestants have shorter arms relative to height. The data are not good. The regular women they used as controls comprised of physiotherapy students. I don’t have the impression that women who gravitate toward this field or something related are often feminine.
Anyway, the authors blindly believed that the Miss Poland contestants represented some of the most attractive women Poland had to offer in 2004, and proceeded to figure out which of the anthropometric differences between the groups most strongly distinguish the “super attractive women,” ultimately concluding that measures other than BMI and WHR are important for a woman’s attractiveness, some examples of which include thigh and calf girth in relation to height (see Table 2 in the paper).
The authors said that slenderness is an essential element of a woman’s attractiveness, and backed this up by citing an example of the slenderness of Playboy models. Consider the following report about Playboy centerfolds’ slenderness. Playmates in the U.S. edition of Playboy magazine from 1953-2003 averaged a reported body mass index (BMI; weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters) of 18.1 ± 1.32, with 16% averaging a BMI less than 17.(2) One only has to look at them to realize that their weights are generally underreported. For instance, this Playboy model was reported to weigh 108 pounds at 5-foot-7.5 and 36A-26-35! There are too many similar examples to explain away as unintentional error. And the authors were surely not aware of what is going on in Playboy magazine, thanks to Hugh Hefner.
The authors also mentioned some other authors’ opinion that a BMI of 18-19 is optimum for health and fertility in white women, but published research suggests the following thresholds pertaining to underweight in 18-plus individuals of European ancestry: 18.5-19.0 for sub-normal body fat levels,(3) 17 for compromised physical work capability(4) and about 20 from a psychological health perspective.(5, 6)
The authors mentioned a WHR optimum of 0.71 pertaining to fertility, but this isn’t true. Their cited literature drew upon the attendees of a fertility clinic, which isn’t a good sample because there wouldn’t be enough healthy women with WHRs in the 0.6 to 0.65 range.
The authors went through all this trouble when a brief look at the contestants should have convinced them they generally do not represent the best looking Polish women, and the authors are Polish. They could have atypical preferences, but they could easily have performed a pilot study asking their students to rate the attractiveness of the contestants. Their study is another useless one.
- Pokrywka, L., Cabric, M., and Krakowiak, H., Body mass index and waist: hip ratio are not enough to characterise female attractiveness, Perception, 35, 1693 (2006).
- Seifert, T., Anthropomorphic characteristics of centerfold models: trends towards slender figures over time, Int J Eat Disord, 37, 271 (2005).
- James, W. P., and Francois, P. J., The choice of cut-off point for distinguishing normal body weights from underweight or 'chronic energy deficiency' in adults, Eur J Clin Nutr, 48 Suppl 3, S179 (1994).
- Durnin, J. V., Low body mass index, physical work capacity and physical activity levels, Eur J Clin Nutr, 48 Suppl 3, S39 (1994).
- Lundgren, J. D., Anderson, D. A., Thompson, J. K., Shapiro, J. R., and Paulosky, C. A., Perception of teasing in underweight persons: a modification of the perception of teasing scale, Eat Weight Disord, 9, 139 (2004).
- Ali, S. M., and Lindstrom, M., Socioeconomic, psychosocial, behavioural, and psychological determinants of BMI among young women: differing patterns for underweight and overweight/obesity, Eur J Public Health, 16, 325 (2006).