MANILA, Philippines — Miss Universe is one of the most popular and anticipated beauty pageants in the world. This year, in its 64th iteration, the new Miss Universe French Iris Mittenaere was crowned in the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City on Monday after the one-year reign of Filipina Pia Wurtzbach.
With its history of beauty and glamor, the pageant offers a fascinating peek into how standards of beauty for Miss Universe compare with those of the average person, and how these standards can create unattainable ideals.
A study commissioned by the United Kingdom-based medical services firm Super Online Doctor revealed that there were significant differences between how the early and today's Miss Universe contestants looked.
The early days of the competition were more modest in terms of clothing. For example, in the 1950's, contestants wore full-coverage swimsuits. Participants started revealing more of their bodies as the decades went by.
"Swimsuit styles, and thus body expectations, have changed drastically over the life of Miss Universe," the report said.
Final judging of five finalists in 1960, when Miss USA Linda Bement became Miss Universe. MUO Archives
There were also discrepancies between the body mass index (BMI), height and weight of an average woman and Miss Universe contestants. These disparities can fuel serious health issues including poor self-image, obesity and competition pressure on participants.
Far from average
According to the study, the BMI of Miss Universe contestants has gradually declined while that of an average American has steadily inched higher over time. This same trend can also be seen among Filipinas whose BMI has increased in the past years, according to another study published in the journal Obesity Research in 2004.
The BMI is a measure of whether or not an individual is of normal weight and health and is computed by dividing one's weight in kilograms by his height in meters squared.
These differences in BMI averages raise concern over the rise of obesity among women and falling BMI which could be seen as a by-product of the pressure on pageant contestants, according to the research which compiled pictures and body measurements of Miss Universe winners from 1952 to 2015 and used BMI, weight, and height data from the Center for Disease Control in the United States.
Another serious issue is media's portrayal of unreachable beauty standards that could fuel poor self-image among women, according to the study. It cited research that showed that women with poor self-image gained more weight than those with positive perceptions of their bodies.
"While many factors have contributed to the increasing BMI of the average woman, poor body image may play a greater role than one might expect," Super Online Doctor said. It added: "It's clear that negative feelings do not trigger healthy behaviors."
Miss Universe 1993 Dayanara Torres poses with Pedro Rossello, the Governor of Puerto Rico, and his wife, the First Lady of Puerto Rico. MUO Archives
The year 1990 was a milestone according to the data because it was when the average BMI values of American women moved from normal to overweight while that for Miss Universe women plunged from normal to underweight range, shifts which could spell serious health problems for both groups.
"The average BMI for a woman in the U.S. moved from a normal BMI to overweight, which could lead to a higher risk of certain health complications such as stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease," the study read. "At the same time, the average BMI for a Miss Universe contestant dipped into the underweight" which can result in health issues such "as a weakened immune system, missed periods, and a risk of osteoporosis."
In fact, it was only in 1953 (Miss France) and 1956 (Miss United States) when the BMI values of contestants hued alongside the values for average Americans, a further sign of the disparity between how the average woman and Miss Universe contestants look like.
Miss Universe 1953 Christiane Martel from France holds the new crown up in the air as the delegates for the 1954 Miss Universe reach for the coveted prize. MUO Archives
Weight is also another aspect in which the standards of Miss Universe contestants are removed from those of majority of women. The report showed that on average the weight of Miss Universe contestants has remained consistent in 60 years while the average of American women has steadily risen.
This might pose a serious problem especially if the contestants engage with strict work regimens and diets to maintain their body figure for the pageant. This becomes more serious especially if revelations that judges look for evidence of physical fitness and proper body care and maintenance are proven true. This implies that candidates must maintain a certain size and weight to have a change of winning.
Height is another area that may become a concern especially if media or beauty pageants portray a particular height as "ideal."
On average, the height of women in any given country has remained steady while that of Miss Universe contestants has increased by three to five inches in the pageants history although contest guidelines state that height is not a factor in judging.
Because BMI is calculated using height and weight data, this could explain the decrease of BMI values of Miss Universe candidates in the past years.
But even if Miss Universe perceptions don't have any bearing on how some women view themselves, societal factors could lead women to unhealthy behaviors because of their self-image.
"There is plenty to unpack when it comes to Miss Universe's height, weight, BMI, and body issues," the report admitted. However, it added: "Even without the pressures of Miss Universe- the societal pressures of the ideal body have fueled a steady increase in new cases of eating disorders, body dissatisfaction, depression, and other issues."