L. VECOLI, I. YOON & C. WU
The Evolution of Beauty Standards as Expressed by Miss
In the last five decades, there has been a large body of studies investigating how beauty standards arise and develop according to their socio-cultural contexts (Calogero, Boroughs, & Thompson, 2007; Corbett, 2008; Mazur, 1986; Karupiah, 2015). For centuries, pursuing ideal appearances has been a monumental force determining the beauty standards of both men and women in every culture (Yan, 2017). Yet, there is no universal consensus of what beauty really is, and there exists no standard measurement to evaluate an individual’s physique. As the world globalizes, and as international pageant competitions such as Miss Universe gain popularity, what will the ideal appearance become, and how will beauty standards change over time?
The invention of television in 1927 in the United States markedly enhanced the volume and speed potential of communications (Hilmes, 2003). The popularization of television not only helped circulate information, but also cultural ideas and trends. The type of beauty exemplified by advertisements set a standard for “ideal beauty” that was very much Western. This westernized definition of beauty soon became a prototype of ideal beauty around the world, as mass media tapped into international audiences (Botta, 1999; Martin, 2012).With social and economic advantages and political dominance, the Western world is shaping the specific beauty standards and driving the current trend towards slenderness (Pauli, 2019; Grogan & Wainwright, 1996). For instance, the rise of In the 1950s, Besides, the phenomenon of western beauty standards leading the world could be witnessed. bBbreast fetishism (or “bosom mania”) in the 1950s emerged between the 1950s and 1960s in the United States was, punctuated by a rise in breast implants (Mazur, 1986; Swami & Tovée, 2013).
Although Western-centric beauty standards tend to dominate in media or advertising, different beauty ideals aside from the Western framework are found in the literature (Altabe, 1998; Parker et al, 1995). Calogero, Boroughs, & Thompson (2007) found that not all ethnic groups are influenced by Western beauty standards. One one hand, African American women are open-minded and non-judgmental in regard to body fat and have their own beauty standard. On the other hand, Hispanic women are more easily judge their body shapes, especially when wearing swimsuits.
The intent of this paper is to determine how beauty standards have changed over time, as represented by the winners of Miss Universe pageants. In so doing, we will investigate whether the concept of ideal beauty has become more inclusive in recent years, extending from Western beauty standards towards other body types. Based on Calogero, Boroughs, & Thompson’s (2007) finding, our hypothesis is that over time, the winners of Miss Universe represent a more expansive image of beauty, one that gradually includes different body colors and features. This study is relevant in an age where society is permeated with images constantly reminding women of what is considered beautiful, and in which professional success has become associated with beauty.
A review of the relevant literature on the topic will open this paper, followed by a method section. The research method used in this paper follows the guidelines outlined by Rose (2000), regarding the selection, coding, and analysis of large samples of images. In addition to these steps, an SPSS analysis is carried out to evaluate the progression of beauty trends over time. The study results will then be analytically discussed, concluding with limitations and suggestions for future research.
U.S. Trends in Beauty
When studying the trends in feminine beauty and overadaptation in America, Mazur (1986) hypothesized that the ideals of feminine beauty vary greatly over time. Using past media such as photographs, paintings, and Miss America pageant yearbooks, Mazur (1986) indeed found a changing trend in beauty standards over the years, moving from the celebration of voluptuous figures in 19th century America to, more recently, the incline towards slim figures. He found, in his investigation of Miss America winners, that initially the pageants’s hips and busts continued to increase, in the 1920s, no winner had a larger bust than hip, and in the 1940s, almost all winners had larger busts than hips. From 1969 onwards, winners’ heights rose, and weights fell, contributing to the trend of slenderisation (popularizing a thinner physique) that is still prevalent today. Although Mazur’s (1986) research focuses on American media and its influence in shaping American society’s beauty standards, it is relevant to this study given that the American beauty ideal often serves as a benchmark for international beauty contests such Miss Universe (Banet-Weiser, 1999).
Miss Universe and Globalization
Hoad (2004) puts forward that beauty pageants at a regional, national, and international levels are in powerful positions to impose standards of beauty. He adds that these types of pageants generally are prone to criticism due to issues surrounding “representations of femininity circulating in national and international public spheres” (Hoad, 2004, p. 73). Analysing more than fifty Miss World winners, Hoad found that white ideals of beauty also prevail in non-white winners.
Banet-Weiser (1999) argues that pageant diversity is encouraged to invite women of color into the “carefully guarded boundaries of white femininity even while the pageant denies and obscures opportunities for celebrating particular ethnic identities” (p. 206). From this, it can be extracted that it is the adherence of a contestant to sexy norms as dictated by modern white Western standards which will determine the chances to win the title. Hoad (2004) uses the success of Miss Nigeria as an example; she was six feet tall and very slim, while in Nigerian culture “Coca-cola bottle voluptuousness is celebrated, and ample backsides and bosoms are considered ideals of female beauty” (p. 75). Hoad’s study is relevant to our research as it focuses on the beauty pageants of Miss World, a very similar but older contest compared to Miss Universe, owned and managed by a different organisation. While the former focuses on contestants’ intellectual levels, the latter draws more attention to their appearances. Moreover, Hoad (2004) critically examines how each cohort of winning pageants influences global beauty standards, and conversely, how global beauty standards in turn influence the next candidates of beauty pageants.
Given the aforementioned literature, we formulate the hypothesis that while beauty pageants have become more diverse with the acknowledgement of more nationalities from different continents, the standard of beauty that is held highly in such pageants, namely Miss Universe, has not changed over time and still sticks to Western ideals.
In this study, a quantitative content analysis was performed to evaluate the beauty standards as represented by Miss Universe contestants since the beginning of the competition in 1952. Content analysis is defined as “the systematic reading of a body of texts, images, and symbolic matter, not necessarily from an author’s or user’s perspective” (Krippendorff, 2004). Content analysis is used to objectively analyze large numbers of images thanks to its rigorous procedure of selecting, coding, and analysis of images (Rose, 2016). This type of analysis is well suited for this study, for it can generate objective data out of pictures that represent a highly subjective topic, namely, beauty. Given that this method is methodologically explicit, it can also be replicated by other researchers. Moreover, it is the most efficient method given the relatively large sample size of the study (136 images in total). Lastly, this method detects patterns among the images that would be imperceptible through the use of other manual techniques (Rose, 2016).
The pictures of each winner of Miss Universe are a mostly face close-ups, retrieved from the official archive of Miss Universe (n.d.), which displays the winners’ photographed portraits in a gallery spanning from the first (1952) to the most recent contest (2018). One of the codes selected for this research includes the bust-to-waist measurements of the pageants. Given that it is impossible to derive such measurements from the selected images, an additional source (“Evolution of Miss Universe (1952 - 2016)”, 2017) was used to derive the pageants’ bust-to-waist ratios.
The images were then coded by the authors based on aspects that are relevant to the research question, “How have beauty standards, as represented by the winners of the Miss Universe pageants, changed over time?”. Some codes include: eye color, nose shape, eyebrow shape (Supplementary Materials including codes, pictures, and reports on statistical processings can be accessed online). The codes are grouped into two main categories: build characteristics, and grooming & makeup. Although types of makeup and hairstyles are not characteristics unique to the models, they nevertheless complement natural features. Furthermore, the style of makeup and grooming reveals what the beauty ideal should look like according to the consensus of a specific time and place. It is therefore relevant to include both categories in our coding procedure.
To limit research bias, each picture was coded by all three authors, who first coded the pictures independently, and then compared their ratings. If some traits were rated differently (for instance, one author coded for a V-shaped chin while another coded for an oval shaped chin), the authors re-evaluated the picture to reach an agreement.
Once all the pictures were coded, a frequency analysis was performed using SPSS software. A frequency analysis is a descriptive statistical method that shows how often a chosen variable occurs (“What is frequency analysis?”, n.d.). In this paper, the frequencies are shown in percentages. The frequencies were also analysed in relation to other values such as the year in which each picture was taken, the location in which the competition was held, as well as the winner nationality. These values help to contextualize the images, and judge whether the beauty standards expressed by Miss Universe winners were convergent with major fashion trends of the time, and whether they were influenced by the location in which the competition took place. Considering that infrequent codes may be just as significant as frequent codes, particular attention was paid to codes that appeared less frequently. This allowed us to assess what was not considered beautiful.
Table 1 displays the most frequent physical characteristics of Miss Universe contestants since 1952, while table 2 displays the least frequent physical characteristics. Both tables suggest that the type of beauty promoted by Miss Universe contestants represent the physical traits that are most frequent in Western societies: fair skin; brown or blue eyes; brown, flaxen, or golden hair; a long and straight Roman nose with a curved tip; and a V-shape face (Frost, 2014).
Table 1. Most Frequent Physical Characteristics of Miss Universe ContestantsAs shown by Table 2, to this date only 6% of Miss Universe winners have monolid eyes, and only 1.5% have a funnel-shape nose (typical of African descent). Most strikingly, there has been no Miss Universe with dark brown or black skin tone, nor with red hair.
Table 2. Least Frequent Physical Characteristics of Miss Universe ContestantsTable 3 shows the overall frequencies of grooming and makeup styles of Miss Universe contestants since 1952, with the highest frequencies marked in bold. Makeup is popular among the winners, yet only if used with moderation (38% of “medium” level of makeup, versus 3% of “heavy” makeup). Long and wavy hair is generally preferred (with frequencies of 32.8% and 37.3%, respectively).
Table 3. Total frequencies of Miss Universe grooming and make-up stylesIn Table 4, the frequencies of each sub-category that had been coded are compared between two year groups, 1952-1985 and 1986-2018, to see how the preferred physical characteristic and makeup styles of Miss Universe have evolved over time. The most frequent characteristics that remained common to both year groups are: a fair skin tone, no special features such as freckles or dimples, natural-looking lips, a Roman nose, a V-shaped face, high cheekbones, almond eyes, an oval face shape, a symmetrical breast-to-waist and waist-to-hip ratio, and lastly, a medium level of makeup. In the table below, the most frequent characteristics are marked in bold.
Table 4. Cross-tabulation of model characteristics per year groupsFinally, Table 5 shows the distribution of Miss Universe nationalities over the two year groups, 1952-1985 and 1986-2018. In both year groups, South America dominates. However, between 1986 and 2018, the representation of Europe by Miss Universe dramatically decreased by 17.4%, along with the representation of North America (-5.5%), and Australia (-2.9%). Instead, an increase in the representation of Asia (+6.4%) and South America (+16.1%) can be noted.
Table 5. Cross-tabulation of Nationality per Year GroupsMoving on to nationality, Figure 1 illustrates the distribution of nationalities represented by Miss Universe winners. An overwhelming 37.31% of winners are from South America, followed by Europe (17.91%) and North America (14.93%). For analytical purposes, the Middle East was counted as separate from Asia. As such, it is the least represented region of the world in the Miss Universe competition (with 2.99% of Miss Universe winners).
Figure 1. Pie Chart representing the continents of origin of Miss Universe winners since 1952.
The least and most frequent physical characteristics observed in winners (a fair skin, a Roman nose, natural lips, a V-shape chin, almond eyes, high cheekbones, and a proportionate bust-to-waist ratio; see Tables 1 and 2) suggest that the type of beauty promoted by Miss Universe contestants is a prototype of the Western beauty ideal. Interestingly, the nationalities represented by Miss Universe have indeed diversified in recent years, with a greater number of South American and Asian nationals (see Table 5). However, the models’ physical characteristics have remained constant since 1952 (see Table 4), indicating that regardless of the models’ nationalities, these models still possess typically Western features. This exemplifies that the influence of Western beauty standards in international competitions is still strong. These outcomes are consistent with Hoad (2004) and Banet-Weiser’s (1999) findings (p. 206) that beauty is still heavily influenced by white hegemony.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the outcome of bust-to-waist ratio (equal bust-waist to waist-hip) coincides with the modern trend of slenderness as described by the literature (Pauli, 2019; Grogan & Wainwright, 1996; Mazur, 1986).
Some beauty traits have noticeably changed since 1952. In the earlier half of the competition, blue eyes and short, blonde hair were most common among Miss Universe winners, along with dramatic rounded eyebrows. However, our findings show that regardless of nationality, western physical traits still dominate the competition. Hence, we cannot conclude that the beauty standards promoted by Miss Universe have, in essence, expanded past Western beauty ideals, leading us to reject our hypothesis.
It is surprising to note that throughout history, the preference of judges in Miss Universe has shifted with regards to hair length; contestants with ear-length hair were preferred from 1952 (the beginning of the pageant) until 1984, and then those with longer hair gained popularity from 1985 onwards. However, the judges’ opinions on skin tone did not change; even though the spread of nationalities diversified over time, the preference for a fair skin tone prevailed. The fact that Miss Nigeria wore makeup to lighten her skin tone (Hoad, 2004) corresponds with the judges’ preferences of skin color, as corroborated by our data. In addition, the outcome also supports Banet-Weiser’s (1999) finding that though there are more diverse ethnic winners in the pageants competition, the beauty ideal of white femininity is the key factor for success.
Lastly, due to the lack of complete personal profiles for the different Miss Universe, the classification of bust-waist ratio was mainly made on the basis of online resources such as the website Evolution of Miss Universe (1952 - 2016)(2017). The validity of the source could not be fully confirmed and some information about the winners’ characteristics were unattainable, therefore this category might possess bias or inaccuracy.
The purpose of this study was to determine whether the pageant competition of Miss Universe has become more inclusive of different types of beauty throughout time. The results section support that Western beauty standards, such as slenderness and fair skin tone, are still very much prevalent in Miss Universe winners, despite the increased diversity of ethnicity. This finding leads us to reject our hypothesis that beauty standards have become more inclusive, departing from the Western perspective.
Given the influence that looks can have on self-confidence and self-concept, this narrow and monocultural view of beauty produced by the results is eye-opening and somewhat worrying; this kind of perspective seems to be out of place and rigidly old-fashioned in an increasingly globalized and connected world. We hope that this research can motivate more studies to investigate the homogenization of beauty, and contribute to raising awareness in order to encourage a wider definition of beauty, one that includes all colors and body shapes.
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