Ninety-four years ago, Washington, D.C.’s Margaret Gorman won the first Miss America pageant, then called "The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America."
The pageant, like its title, has changed since 1921, moving from a competition that judges women solely by how closely they meet European standards of beauty to one that continues to require whitewashed glamour and grace but also demands smarts and talent.
Another change: that beauty ideal has become more narrow – literally.
A new project by mental health resource website Psychology Guides, called "The Evolution of Miss America Since 1921," illustrates just how much the pageant’s concept of beauty has transformed since the Roaring Twenties in an amazing GIF.
In an accompanying report, Psychology Guides shows that in Miss America’s earlier years, winners had Body Mass Index (BMI) scores that placed them in a "normal" or "healthy" weight range. Today’s victors, however, score in a lower, "less healthy" range, revealing that the ideal body is becoming increasingly thinner and thinner.
While it’s true that the bodies of Miss America winners have become more waiflike, this alone does not mean that these women are less healthy. In fact, BMI standards are both ridiculous and unreliable, seeing as the measurement, which doesn’t take into account muscle weight, is flawed and that health itself cannot be measured by the naked eye. In other words, both fat and skinny women can be "healthy," and others with similar body types can be "unhealthy."
What the slimming waists, arms and thighs of contestants actually means is that society’s conception of "beauty, grace, and intelligence," – the pageant’s mantra – has become more restrictive and difficult to attain. Yet, the organization itself insists that it is "a type which the American Girl might well emulate."
But the "type," being svelte, white – or light-skinned – with European phenotypes, leaves out millions of girls and women, creating a higher risk of unhealthy body image, which can lead to dangerous activities and mental illnesses like skin bleaching, diets, eating disorders and depression.
Psychology Guides’ project doesn’t just depict how the bodies of Miss America winners have scaled down or how these narrower notions of beauty can be harmful; it also illustrates the danger in making bodies, and body types, into fashion and beauty trends.