Friday, September 03, 2004

A waisted story

Women's shapes are changing - but are waist sizes really exploding?

SizeUK, a national survey of body shapes undertaken by University College London, the London School of Fashion and numerous clothes makers and retailers, suggests average waist size has shot up from 27.5 inches in 1951 to 34 inches today - an increase of about 25 per cent. Yet average weight has only increased from 136 pounds to 143 pounds - about five per cent.

Women are getting fatter then - but not very much. Some of this increase can be explained by the fact that women are now taller than they were. Moreover, bust and hip sizes have only increased by an inch or two. One difference is that the first survey was conducted in 1951 - not long after rationing ended, so people were not exactly living in the land of plenty.

The other is that for both surveys, as one of the researchers, Jeni Bougourd, confirmed to me, women were measured in their underwear. This means that many in the 1951 sample would have been wearing girdles and corsets designed to produce artificially narrow waists. As such, the survey reveals as much about changing fashions as changing levels of body fat.

Strangely, however, the role of underwear (and the fact that average weights seem to have increased so little) has been largely ignored in news reports of the survey. Many in the media seem too obsessed with finding the next headline about 'the obesity epidemic' to take a peek at the facts underneath.

SizeUK announce results from UK National Sizing Survey, London College of Fashion, 1 September 2004

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