TORONTO -- In yet another blow for the fashion line Victoria’s Secret, a new study finds it may have helped perpetuate unattainable beauty standards for women.

Over the past 20 years, Victoria’s Secret runway models have become more slender, even as the waist and dress size of the average American woman has increased, according to the study from Boston University.

The researchers found that, from 1995 to 2018, the models on average have gotten thinner, with smaller busts, waists, hips and dress size.

“Conversely, the average American woman’s waist circumference and dress size has increased and varies between a misses size 16 and 18,” corresponding author Dr. Neelam Vashi, assistant professor of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine, said in a press release.

Vashi's team noted that measuring female body attractiveness is complex, but media and sociocultural standards definitely play a role in determining perceptions of beauty.

To examine the trends of physical body attributes, the team used the so-called waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), which measures body fat distribution and has remained an ideal beauty trait over time and across cultures. It’s calculated by dividing the waist measurement by the hip measurement.

Researchers found that the Victoria Secret models’ are getting skinnier, but a low WHR and height of around 5’11” has remained constant for the most part.

The findings may not come as a surprise to many fashion-watchers. As body positivity movements have grown, the Victoria’s Secret televised fashion show has faced increased accusations of being sexist and anti-feminist.

In November, Victoria’s Secret’s parent company L Brands even cancelled that year’s fashion show after failing ratings. In fact, the once-massively popular show had its worst reported ratings in 2018.

Boston University researchers also found a spike in cosmetic surgical procedures that they attributed to growing female waistlines coupled with unrealistic standards of beauty partially perpetuated in pop culture.

Butt and lower body lifts have increased by 4,295 per cent and 256 per cent respectively since 2000. The team suspects this may be due to efforts to chase tinier waists and fuller hips.

Vashi, who also is director of the Boston University Cosmetic and Laser Center at Boston Medical Center, said the idealized waist-to-hip ratio hasn’t changed over time.

“Our results represent a potentially changing weight ideal of beauty that is moving farther away from the characteristics of the average American woman; however, a constant idealized WHR remains intact,” she said.


Part of the reason for growing waistlines are factors such as changes to eating behavior such as people overall consuming more processed foods, greater access to fattier foods and portion sizes, and decreases in physical activity.

Potentially compounding this issue are other studies that have found that women see toned female bodies as preferable to thin female bodies. This is echoed in recent trends on social media, in particular Instagram, where there are nearly 6 million posts accompanied with the hashtag “strongnotskinny.”

The preference for a toned and thin figure, rather than just thin, is also part of the bigger "fitspiration" on the platform. But the "perfect female figure" may also be may inadvertently increase the risk of developing higher levels of body dissatisfaction,” the study’s author Frances Bozsik of the University of Missouri-Kansas City told AFP in 2018.

In fact, a 2015 study encompassing 27,000 people across 22 countries found that about one in five Canadian women were not satisfied with their appearance.

Platforms such as Instagram have been attempting to clamp down on promotion of cosmetic surgery on the site, including shutting down augmented reality filters.

The move to ban these filters appears to an attempt to curb the reported spread of body dysmorphia disorder (BDD) on the popular platform. The Mayo clinic defines BDD as a mental disorder involving an inability to stop lingering on one or more perceived defects in appearance.

One 2018 study showed “exposure to idealized Instagram images (attractive peers, celebrities) has a detrimental impact on body image.”