Evulvalution: the portrayal of women's external genitalia and physique across time and the current Barbie Doll ideals.Media depictions of the female body commonly inform women's conceptions of the societal ideal, serving as the gold standard for self-evaluation. Over time, the chasm between the average woman's body and the ideal portrayed within media images has widened, with thinness becoming a hallmark of Playboy Magazine centerfold models, Miss America pageant winners, and fashion models alike (Byrd-Bredbenner, Murray, & Schlussel, 2005; Owen & Laurel-Seller, 2000; Spitzer, Henderson, & Zivian, 1999). Other anthropometric features of media models have also been criticized for being incongruent with the natural female form and unattainable for the majority of the female population (e.g., Byrd-Bredbenner et al., 2005).
Previous literature has documented the destructive impact that exposure to these publicized images has on women's satisfaction with their body and overall appearance, as well as the risks posed to their mental and physical health. Multiple experimental studies manipulating women's duration of exposure to media images exemplifying the thin ideal have documented the link between media exposure and body dissatisfaction (for a review, see Groesz, Levine, & Murmen, 2002). Neither body mass index (BMI) nor objectified body consciousness was found to moderate this relationship within a college sample, suggesting that women may be vulnerable to the harmful effects of media exposure irrespective of their physical appearance or tendency to self-objectify (Hamilton, Mintz, & Kashubeck-West, 2007). In addition to fostering poor body image, media exposure has been linked to multiple negative health outcomes, including depression (Bessenoff, 2006) and disordered eating symptomatology (Harrison & Cantor, 1997).
Although all media depictions of the female body have the potential to affect women's perceptions of their own physical appearance, sexually explicit media images may be particularly influential in determining women's perceptions of their genital appearance. In recent years, the Internet and other technologies have facilitated access to pornographic films and photographs, and female viewing of such imagery has become increasingly mainstream (Braun & Tiefer, in press). However, the images projected through these media commonly misrepresent the female genitalia in their naturally occurring form as a result of digital modification of the images or surgical modification of their subjects (Green, 2005). Further, the taboo surrounding direct display or discussion of the female genitalia has yet to be extinguished (Braun, 1999). As compared to other aspects of physical appearance, women have limited access to sources of information about genital appearance other than the media, including visual exposure to other women's genitalia and factual resources (Blank, 1993; Dodson, 1996). Thus, women's conception of the average or typical appearance of female genitalia may be rooted largely in media images, which may be detrimental to women's genital perceptions to the extent that such media images exhibit a restricted or unrealistic range of genital appearances.
To our knowledge, no existent research to date has systematically characterized the female genital prototype displayed in mainstream U.S. media, with the exception of a single study documenting a tendency to obscure the female genitalia or portray them as a smooth curve between magazine models' thighs, without any extrusions or indentations (Bramwell, 2002). However, the sample of photographs from which this conclusion was drawn was derived from glossy women's magazines and was largely comprised of photos in which women's pubic area was clothed. Further research is warranted to characterize the genital prototypes displayed in sexually explicit magazines, a media source that is likely to be a more powerful determinant of the genital ideals women develop, given the nudity of the models exhibited. In addition, a more comprehensive approach to characterizing genital appearance is needed to address multiple aesthetic features (e.g., size, shape, and color) of the individual components of the genitalia.
The purpose of this research was to replicate and extend previous work by examining the portrayal of women's external genitalia as well as aspects of their general physique within Playboy Magazine, a sexually explicit magazine that targets a heterosexual male audience. The first of the two content analyses (Analysis 1) was conducted to characterize the genital appearance ideals and more general body ideals exhibited by Playboy Magazine centerfolds and their evolution across time between 1953 and 2007. The second content analysis (Analysis 2) was performed to examine recent trends in Playboy Magazine's portrayal of the female genitalia in greater detail, focusing exclusively on issues published in 2007 and 2008 and including all published photographs in which models' montes pubis were visible.
The initial content analysis was exploratory in nature, seeking to characterize the evolution of the genital appearance ideals exhibited by Playboy Magazine centerfolds from 1953 to 2007. Specific features studied included mons pubis and labia majora visibility, labia minora size, labia minora color, and pubic hair style. A second goal of Analysis 1 was to examine the evolution of general physique ideals portrayed by centerfolds across this 54-year period, including hip size, waist size, bust size, height, weight, and BMI.
Sample. The sample was composed of 647 centerfolds from Playboy Magazine, a mainstream heterosexual men's magazine featuring photographs of nude women. Playboy Magazine was chosen due to (a) its widespread circulation and popularity and (b) the sexual explicitness of its pictorial content. We chose to analyze only the centerfold (1) from each issue, as opposed to including other published photographs within the magazine. The centerfold is likely the most commonly viewed photograph in the magazine given its three-page, fold-out format. Further, the centerfold model is considered to be the most physically attractive model of the month and is therefore most likely to embody reigning appearance ideals. The images were obtained via an online subscription to the magazine, which enabled coders to utilize a zoom feature to maximize accuracy. The centerfolds from all monthly issues published before November 2007, beginning with the first issue (December 1953), were included.
Categories and coding. The year of publication was recorded for each centerfold. In addition, the appearance of each centerfold model's external genitalia and general physique was coded. Specifically, each centerfold was coded based on the following criteria.
Mons pubis visibility. Mons pubis visibility was dichotomized as 0 = invisible mons pubis (e.g., obscured by clothing or position) or 1 = visible mons pubis, and was coded according to whether the model's mons pubis could be seen in the photograph.
Pubic hair visibility. Pubic hair style was treated as a continuous variable ranging from 1 (fully visible) to 3 (invisible), and was only coded for the subset of centerfolds in which the model's mons pubis was visible. Coding options were as follows: 1 = pubic hair is visible and appears unaltered, 2 = pubic hair is visible but appears to have been partially removed (e.g., by shaving or waxing), or 3 = pubic hair appears to have been completely removed (i.e., no pubic hair is visible).
Labia majora visibility. Labia majora visibility was dichotomized as 0 = invisible labia majora (e.g., obscured by clothing or position) or 1 = visible labia majora, and was coded according to whether the model's labia majora could be seen in the photograph.
Labia minora size. Labia minora size was treated as a continuous variable ranging from 1 (invisible) to 3
(prominent), and was only coded for the subset of centerfolds in which the model's labia majora were visible. Coding options were as follows: 1 = labia minora are not visible, 2 = labia minora are visible and do not protrude beyond the labia majora, or 3 = labia minora are visible and protrude beyond the labia majora.
Labia minora color. The labia minora color variable concerned the color of the model's labia minora, and was only coded for the subset of centerfolds in which the model's labia minora were visible. Coding categories were as follows: 1 = labia minora are a shade of pink or light red, or 2 = labia minora are a color other than pink or light red (e.g., purple or black).
General physique. Body measurements pertaining to the centerfold model's general physique were published in most issues of the magazine. When available, the model's bust size (in inches), waist size (in inches), hip size (in inches), height (in inches), and weight (in pounds) were coded. In addition, the model's BMI was calculated and coded based on published height and weight measurements using the following formula: weight (pounds)/[[height (inches)].sup.2] x 703 (Centers for Disease Control, 2008).
Interrater reliability. We developed and tested a coding manual for variables related to the appearance of centerfold models' external genitalia. Two independent, blind raters were trained to conduct a content analysis of the centerfolds in Playboy Magazine using the coding manual. Raters were female undergraduate students of unknown sexual orientation. Since rater characteristics have the potential to bias coding, measures were taken to maximize objectivity. Detailed criteria were provided for each coding category, including example images for pubic hair visibility and labia minora size. In addition, raters were unaware of the objectives and hypotheses of the study and blind to the date of publication for each centerfold. During training, each rater coded a random selection of non-centerfold photographs of nude women published in Playboy Magazine in order to establish interrater reliability.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
In the actual content analysis of the centerfolds, both raters independently coded a subset of 446, overlapping on 38% (n = 245) of the full sample. Cohen's kappa, a conservative measure (Perreault & Leigh, 1989), was calculated to assess interrater reliability. A Cohen's kappa coefficient of .77 was obtained, indicating acceptable agreement (Banerjee, Capozzoli, McSweeney, & Sinha, 1999). To address coding discrepancies, the three primary researchers independently coded items on which the trained raters disagreed, and a final code for each item was established when two out of the three researchers reached agreement.
Results and Discussion
Independent samples t tests showed an increase in the visibility of the centerfold models' montes pubis, t = 27.59, p < .001; and an increase in the visibility of their labia majora, t = 20.18, p < .001, over time (in years). Among the subset of centerfolds in which the model's mons pubis was visible (n = 328), pubic hair became less visible (i.e., shaved, waxed, or otherwise modified from its natural presentation) as years increased (r = .70, p < .001; see Figure 1). The limited number of centerfolds exhibiting labia majora (n = 16) precluded statistical analysis of change in labia minora size over time, as labia minora size could not be evaluated for those centerfolds in which the labia majora were not visible.
Consistent with Bramwell's (2002) notion of "invisible labia," a noticeable tendency to minimize the appearance of the labia minora or portray them as absent altogether was observed within the subset of centerfolds with visible labia majora. Specifically, the labia minora were completely invisible in 14 of the 16 centerfolds showing labia majora; instead, only the line demarcating the division of the labia majora (i.e., the labia line) was apparent. Further, none of the centerfolds portrayed prominent labia minora (i.e., labia minora protruding beyond the labia majora). No variation in labia minora color was observed; labia minora were unanimously portrayed as pink or light red among the few centerfolds in which they were visible.
A series of Pearson product-moment correlations was run in order to assess changes in the models' general physique across time. As seen in Table 1, as time (in years) increased, the models were characterized by smaller hips (r = -.28, p < .001) and a lower BMI (r = -.19, p < .001), the latter of which is attributable to the models' height increasing while their weight remained constant. In contrast, bust size of the models (r = .10, p < .01) increased over the years.
These findings suggest that the overall body ideal is shifting farther away from a natural female form, calling for women to exhibit ectomorphic body types and sizeable busts simultaneously--a combination that is difficult to attain without taking extreme and potentially dangerous measures (e.g., undergoing cosmetic surgery). Results pertaining to pubic hair visibility and labia minora size and color suggested similarly unnatural genital appearance ideals (e.g., hairlessness and invisible labia minora). However, the latter conclusion required further investigation and empirical support given the limited number of centerfolds in which the model's mons pubis and labia majora were visible. Since labia majora visibility was more prevalent in recent issues of Playboy Magazine relative to earlier ones, a finding consistent with previous reports of increasing sexual explicitness among photographs published in Playboy Magazine over time (e.g., Bogaert & Turkovich, 1993), a second content analysis was conducted that focused exclusively on photographs published between 2007 and 2008. Rather than restricting the sample to centerfolds, all photographs in which models' montes pubis were visible were analyzed, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of the genital ideals presented by Playboy Magazine.
Analysis 2 was designed to investigate recent trends in Playboy Magazine's portrayal of the female genitalia in greater depth by describing the genital appearance ideals depicted in a wide range of photographs published between 2007 and 2008 in which models' montes pubis were visible. In keeping with the finding in Analysis 1 that the appearance of centerfold models' genitalia was becoming increasingly deviant from a natural female appearance, we hypothesized that pubic hair would appear partially or completely removed among the majority of the sample in Analysis 2. In addition, based on observations made during Analysis 1, we hypothesized that labia minora would be undetectable among the majority of the sample in which labia majora were visible, and would be a shade of pink or light red when visible.
Sample. The sample was composed of photographs from all monthly issues of Playboy Magazine published between May 2007 and April 2008, obtained via an online subscription. All photographs in which the model's mons pubis was visible (i.e., not concealed by clothing or the model's positioning; N = 185) were coded.
Categories and coding. All categories used in Analysis 1 that pertained to genital appearance, with the exception of mons pubis visibility (per the inclusion criterion requiring that the models' montes pubis be visible), were included in Analysis 2.
Interrater reliability. The same coding manual developed for Analysis 1 was employed in Analysis 2. Two female undergraduate raters underwent training to conduct a content analysis of the pictures in Playboy Magazine using the coding manual. To establish interrater agreement during training, each rater coded a random selection of non-centerfold photographs of nude women published in Playboy Magazine prior to 2007.
In the actual content analysis, raters independently coded a subset of 122 centerfolds, overlapping on 32% (n = 59) of the full sample. A Cohen's kappa coefficient of .77 was obtained, indicating acceptable agreement between raters (Banerjee et al., 1999). As in Analysis l, raters were blind to the hypotheses and objectives of the study. To resolve coding discrepancies between the two raters, the three primary researchers independently coded discrepant items and used the code agreed on by the majority.
Results and Discussion
The representation of the female genitalia in recent issues of Playboy Magazine was assessed by conducting frequency analyses of pubic hair visibility, labia minora size, and labia minora color across photographs that displayed the model's mons pubis. Pubic hair was visible and appeared unaltered in 18.9% of the pictures (n = 35), visible but altered in 19.5% of the pictures (n = 36), and altered to the point of being invisible in 61.2% of the pictures (n = 112). Two of the photographs (1.1%) were not coded because the pictures could not be conclusively categorized for various reasons (e.g., dark shadowing). Of the 183 photographs that clearly depicted the model's mons pubis, 60.5% obscured the labia majora so that the appearance of the labia minora could not be determined. Of those photographs (n = 73) in which the labia majora were visible, 82.2% (n = 60) depicted the labia minora as absent, with only the labia line visible, 15.1% (n= 11) depicted the labia minora as present but contained within labia majora, and 2.7% (n = 2) depicted the labia minora as present and protruding beyond the labia majora. Overall, labia minora were visible in only 7.0% (n = 13) of the full sample of photographs, and were a color other than pink or light red in only a single photograph.
Thus, findings from Analysis 2 corroborated and extended results of Analysis 1, indicating that the growing trend observed among centerfolds for both pubic hair and labia minora to be minimized was upheld across other types of photographs recently published in Playboy Magazine.
In sum, findings from Analysis 1 indicated that minimal pubic hair, invisible labia minora, narrow hips, and a low BMI are becoming increasingly common among centerfold models, and findings from Analysis 2 confirmed that an unnatural genital appearance has become normative among centerfold models and other models alike in recent years. Taken together, these prototyped characteristics for women's genital appearance and overall physique in many ways emulate those of a Barbie doll, an American icon that has been described as an image of perfection, the definition of physical beauty (Kuther & McDonald, 2004), and the ideal sought by heterosexual men for their female partners (Cunningham, 1993).
The Barbie-like slenderness and narrow hips (Norton, Olds, Olive, & Dank, 1996) increasingly exemplified by Playboy Magazine centerfold models are consistent with previous research documenting the glorification of thinness among women within the media (e.g., Byrd-Bredbenner et al., 2005; Owen & Laurel-Seller, 2000). Correspondingly, young men have reported low body weight and narrow hips to be attractive and desirable attributes for female romantic partners to possess (Singh & Young, 1995).
There is a striking parallel between Barbie dolls and Playboy Magazine models in terms of their portrayal of female sexuality. Despite Barbie's designation as a sexual icon, her sexual anatomy is incomplete; while featuring a prominent bosom, she lacks any semblance of genitalia. In light of her inaccurate representation of the female body, she has been criticized as being a "simulacrum of a human being, a sad grotesquerie" (Cunningham, 1993, p. 81). However, it appears that this same distortion of female sexuality has reemerged in human form: The images presented in Playboy Magazine also emphasize breasts but mask or minimize genitalia, presenting them in a hairless, prepubescent form. Thus, the warped perception of the adult female body that young girls may acquire via exposure to Barbie dolls may be reinforced later in life via exposure to images in Playboy Magazine.
The juvenile ideals exhibited for women's genitalia match existing social constructions of women's sexuality according to which women's sex drive is absent and their sexual demeanor is subdued. Such a portrayal contradicts the natural appearance of a sexually mature woman's genitalia, particularly during sexual arousal given the swelling that occurs (Blackledge, 2004). Accordingly, the modern idealization of diminutive labia minora may be rooted in historical attributions of elongated labia minora to sexual promiscuity (Manderson, 2004). Historically, elongated labia have also been tied to marginalized groups of women including Black (e.g., Sarah Bartmann, also known as "Venus Hottentot") and homosexual women (Gillman, 1985; Terry & Urla, 1995). Thus, the presentation of the genitalia of Barbie dolls and Playboy models alike may represent a natural progression from longstanding social constructions surrounding female sexual anatomy and female sexual behavior.
Playboy Magazine models' bust size is ever increasing, creating even more of a paradox next to their amorphous, underemphasized genitalia. The idealization of larger breasts has been supported in recent decades by research documenting males' preference for larger breasts (e.g., Singh & Young, 1995), as well as females' desire for their breasts to be larger and their belief that males prefer larger breasts (Thompson & Tantleff, 1992). Furthermore, both sexes associate negative attributes (e.g., depression or loneliness) with smaller breast sizes and positive attributes (e.g., popularity and confidence) with larger breast sizes (Thompson & Tantleff, 1992).
Taken together, the disproportionate physical features exemplified by Playboy Magazine models may perpetuate the Barbie doll ideals that are unmatched by the majority of women in the general population. Glorification of this combination of features lacks an evolutionary basis, as some aspects (e.g., a BMI at anorexic levels) are contraindicated for survival and reproduction. Nonetheless, as these ideals are increasingly embraced, women's physical deviation from the prototype may become especially salient to them and cause significant body image disturbance. Moreover, with some population norms shifting in the opposite direction of Playboy ideals (e.g., increasing BMI; Spitzer et al., 1999), more women are likely to be affected and greater discrepancies in appearance are likely to be perceived.
Women may be particularly prone to developing distorted impressions of their genitalia as a result of exposure to media images, as evidenced by previous experimental research demonstrating the malleability of women's perceptions about their genital appearance. Schick, Calabrese, and Rima (2008) found that women exposed to a set of images of vulvas pre-labiaplasty subsequently judged their own labia minora to be significantly smaller, as compared to women exposed to a set of images of the same vulvas post-labiaplasty (i.e., with surgically reduced labia minora) or a set of images of Playboy centerfold models' vulvas. Further, pre-labiaplasty images were rated as significantly less attractive than the images shown in the other two conditions, consistent with Braun and Tiefer's (in press) report that a "tucked-in look" is one aspect of the prototypical genital appearance that is promoted by pornographic imagery and, consequently, sought and desired by women. Given women's vulnerability to developing distorted perceptions of their own genital appearance, the unnatural genital ideals upheld by Playboy Magazine may encourage unhealthy self-comparisons and be particularly detrimental to their self-image.
Although considerable variation in the appearance of labia minora among women has been documented (Blank, 1993; Lloyd, Crouch, Minto, Liao, & Creighton, 2005), a highly restricted range of labia minora appearances was found in the images presented by Playboy Magazine. The labia minora were depicted as absent in the vast majority of photographs, even when the labia majora were visible. Moreover, the reported proportion of photos in which labia minora were present may be an overestimate of the actual proportion of photos in which labia minora are seen in print versions of the magazine. Whereas the Internet version of the magazine enables viewers to magnify images, a feature heavily utilized during data collection in both analyses, fine details, such as a glimpse of labia minora peaking out from the labia majora, may be missed during the viewing of photographs in print. The apparent homogeneity of the images of labia minora presented in Playboy Magazine may not only lead women to view their own genitalia as differing from the ideal, but may also lead them to view their genitalia as differing from the majority, evoking significant concern about the normality of their genital appearance. As Braun and Tiefer (in press) stated, "Women's perceptions and experiences of their genitalia are far from straightforward, positive, or even neutral.... Numerous concerns, often related to appearance, are expressed by women, and 'many women nurture fearful fantasies about the abnormality of their genitals' (Laws, 1987, p. 9)" (p. 5).
Media images may not only contribute to concerns about genital appearance, but may also affect women's sexual health via the body modifications they encourage. According to a 2001 excerpt from Shine Magazine (as cited in Braun, 2005), "A lot of women bring in Playboy, show me pictures of vaginas and say, 'I want to look like this'" (p. 413). Women who undergo cosmetic genital surgery in an attempt to more accurately fit media ideals put themselves at risk for reduced physical sensation (Liao & Creighton, 2007), among other complications. Even seemingly more feasible and benign physical changes may confer negative health repercussions; for instance, shaving pubic hair increases the likelihood of spreading sexually transmitted infections (Palefsky & Handley, 2002). Thus, the unnatural ideals presented in Playboy Magazine can have far-reaching implications for women's physical self-image as well as their sexual health.
The safety and well-being of younger members of the female population may also be affected by the prepubescent ideals promoted by Playboy Magazine. By sexualizing childlike physical characteristics, Playboy photographs have the potential to condition readers to experience sexual arousal in response to viewing or fantasizing about girls and young women. In addition, repeated masturbation to these pornographic images is likely to reinforce and enhance any formed associations. Moreover, the "childification" of Playboy models may lead readers to not only regard children and adolescents as sexual objects, but to justify treating them as such and desensitize them to any internal inhibitions surrounding pedophilia (Russell & Purcell, 2006). Disturbingly, in addition to depicting models in a childlike form, Playboy Magazine often includes childhood photographs of its centerfold models within their individual pictorials, further intensifying the connection between children and sexuality presented to its readers.
The body ideals espoused by Playboy Magazine are widely recognized and endorsed among males and females living in the United States. With national circulation exceeding three million copies per month (see Playboy Cyber Club, 2008; www.playboy.com), Playboy Magazine has become well established as a sexually explicit media force over the past five decades. Although the magazine predominantly targets a heterosexual male audience, over 19.3% of subscription-holders are female (Simmons Choices III, 2006), suggesting that many women actively seek this publication out and regularly view its depictions of the female body. Countless more women are likely to encounter these published images, although perhaps on a less frequent basis, as approximately 32% of undergraduate women report having viewed sexually explicit magazines at some point in their lifetime (Schick, Rima, & Calabrese, 2009).
Not only does Playboy Magazine have the potential to directly impact women's conceptions of appearance ideals via the images it presents, but it also could impact them indirectly via Playboy's male readership, who may impart the ideals to women. Previous work has documented the influence of male sexual partners on women's body image (e.g., Grogan, 1999). Thus, irrespective of the frequency with which women actually view the magazine, the physical characteristics exemplified by Playboy models may impact their self-evaluation by setting cultural standards for attractiveness that are adopted and reinforced by significant others and society in general.
Limitations and Concluding Remarks
Findings of this study provide key insight regarding the physical ideals promoted within Playboy Magazine. However, the extent to which women are actually viewing the magazine and internalizing these norms is uncertain at present. Although statistics suggest that hundreds of thousands of women subscribe to the magazine, these women's motivation for purchasing the magazine (e.g., because of same-sex attraction, as a basis for self-comparison, or as a gift to male partners) and the frequency and nature of their perusal of the imagery contained within remain unknown. These contextual factors surrounding women's exposure to Playboy Magazine images are likely to modulate the effect of such exposure on women's perceptions of their own genitals. Regardless, any amount of exposure to these media representations of the female body, whether actively sought out or unintentionally absorbed, is likely to have some bearing on women's conceptions of the physical prototype.
However, Playboy Magazine is not the sole media source informing such conceptions. Although findings of this study are informative with regard to the genital and general physique ideals portrayed by Playboy Magazine, ideals espoused by other sexually explicit media cannot be assumed to be identical. It is possible that the presentation of women's bodies in other media may be more diverse or embody different ideals depending on numerous other factors (e.g., economic and technological resources or target audience). Future research examining the presentation of the female genitalia and general physique in other magazines and alternative types of media (e.g., pornographic videos) would be beneficial in developing a broader conceptualization of the appearance ideals upheld in mainstream society and the associated pressures faced by its female members.
In addition, Playboy Magazine and other sexually explicit media may not be the sole source of information shaping women's conception of appearance norms and ideals. It is possible that some women may be turning elsewhere for more healthy self-comparisons. For instance, some women may be able to overcome the cultural taboo associated with genital discussion and exhibition to locate more realistic genital referents (e.g., friends or female partners). Alternatively, women may possess personal characteristics (e.g., high body esteem) or receive external messages about their bodies (e.g., positive feedback from sexual partners) that mitigate the potentially harmful effects of exposure to media images such as those presented in Playboy Magazine. Further research is warranted to identify additional factors influencing women's physical self-evaluation, as well as protective factors that could buffer any negative effects of exposure to unrealistic media imagery.
Importantly, the perceived relevance of the ideals presented in Playboy Magazine may vary according to women's racial and ethnic background, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation, particularly given the apparent homogeneity of the models featured. Past research has documented differences in body attitudes and ideals across demographic categories, including race (e.g., Harris, Walters, & Waschull, 1991) and social class (Wardle & Marsland, 1990). Accordingly, for some female viewers, the ideals embodied by Playboy models may not represent the ideals embraced by their predominant culture, which may enable these women to more comfortably reject such ideals. However, other research indicates that women belonging to racial, sexual, and socioeconomic minority groups are not impervious to mainstream cultural values and experience similar pressures to conform to reigning body ideals as does the majority (Grogan, 1999), suggesting that Playboy imagery may in fact affect a diverse audience.
This study provides compelling evidence for a shift in the genital appearance ideals endorsed across five decades. However, some of the trends observed over time may alternatively reflect advancements in technology and medicine as opposed to shifting ideals. It is possible that the digital enhancement techniques and surgical procedures that have become available more recently have enabled models to more closely approximate ideals that were always prevalent. Nonetheless, whether the current ideals presented in Playboy Magazine are novel or longstanding, the fact remains that they comprise a narrow and skewed representation of the female body and have the potential to foster significant body image disturbance among female viewers.
An important next step will be to investigate women's reactions to viewing Playboy photographs, particularly in terms of its impact on genital perceptions. Although the general body image literature suggests that women's body image is likely to suffer from exposure to representations of the female body that deviate from population norms (Groesz et al., 2002), further research is needed to confirm that this exposure effect applies to genital perceptions as well. In addition to studying cognitive and emotional aspects of media exposure effects, future research is needed to explore the behavioral repercussions of exposure to Playboy photographs and other pornographic materials; the prepubescent appearance of women's genitalia typically portrayed within this media may encourage body modifications such as shaving and female genital cosmetic surgery. Finally, alternative media images representing a natural and diverse range of adult female bodies, including sexually mature genitalia, need to be introduced to combat present ideals and empower women to feel good about their physical appearance.
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Vanessa R. Schick
Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University; and Department of Psychology, George Washington University
Brandi N. Rima and Sarah K. Calabrese
Department of Psychology, George Washington University
Sarah K. Calabrese was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award for Individual Predoctoral Fellows (F3 MH08558401A1). An earlier version of this article was presented at the 9th Congress of the European Federation of Sexology in Rome, Italy, April, 2008. We are thankful to Katie Armstrong, Brittany Novak, and Diana Pierszchala for their assistance with data coding. We are also grateful for Alyssa Zucker's help and guidance throughout various stages of the research process.
Correspondence should be addressed to Vanessa R. Schick, Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University, HPER Building 116, Bloomington, IN 47405. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Since a three-page centerfold format was not included in issues of Playboy Magazine published before March of 1956, the featured Playmate photograph was substituted for the centerfold in our sample for issues published between December 1953 and February 1956.
Table 1. Intercorrelations between Magazine Publication Year and Centerfold Models' Physical Characteristics Variable 1 2 3 4 1. Year of publication -- -.190 *** .170 *** .010 2. Body mass index -- -- -.610 *** .460 *** 3. Height -- -- -- .065 4. Weight -- -- -- -- 5. Hip size -- -- -- -- 6. Waist size -- -- -- -- 7. Bust size -- -- -- -- 8. Pubic hair style -- -- -- -- Variable 5 6 7 1. Year of publication -.280 *** .320 *** .100 ** 2. Body mass index .370 *** .180 *** .240 *** 3. Height -.210 *** .030 -.050 4. Weight .500 *** .500 *** .360 *** 5. Hip size -- .320 *** .300 *** 6. Waist size -- -- .240 *** 7. Bust size -- -- -- 8. Pubic hair style -- -- -- Variable 8 1. Year of publication .700 *** 2. Body mass index .090 3. Height .030 4. Weight -.060 5. Hip size .080 6. Waist size .150 ** 7. Bust size .270 *** 8. Pubic hair style -- * p < .05. ** p < .01. *** p <.001.