While diverse body types are becoming increasingly visible in beauty advertisements every day, when asked to picture a “model body,” a pretty specific (and unattainable) image still comes to mind. I asked the Byrdie edit team to name the physical qualities they associate with a model body, and among them were a tiny waist, long legs and smooth skin. Despite the ever-expanding body diversity movement, this is still the image we most often see portrayed in beauty and fashion ads, and thus, the image we associate with perfection. It’s hard not to feel insecure in comparison.
Here’s the thing, though: Statistically, it is almost impossible to have the towering height, flat stomach and cellulite-free thighs we see so frequently in magazines and on Instagram. We know because we consulted research studies, crunched the numbers and determined that objectively, no one “looks like a model.” Not even models. Read on to learn how impossible the perfect “model body” really is.
90% of Women Have Cellulite
Cellulite is a dirty word in the beauty industry. For how many products that promise to get rid of it, you’d think it was a fatal condition. Yet judging by the models in beauty and fashion ads (even ones who claim not to have used Photoshop), cellulite seems not to exist. The truth, however, is that cellulite affects 90% of women. According to Scientific American, cellulite is particularly common in women in part because of our hormones.
Estrogen levels decrease as we age, and this causes the loss of blood vessel receptors in the thighs, which leads to decreased circulation and, thus, a depletion of collagen production. When fat cells protrude through the collagen, that’s cellulite, and because we have three layers of fat around our knees, butt, and thighs, that’s where we’re more likely to see it. “A woman’s body is basically … genetically designed to be a place for cellulite to develop,” says Scientific American. By the age of 30, the large majority of women have it—even models.
70% of Women Have Stretch Marks
The interesting thing about stretch marks, or striae, is that models, in particular, are even more likely to have them. That’s because stretch marks are actually scars that occur when the dermis (aka the thick layer of tissue below your skin) stretches and tears, which inevitably happens after a growth spurt—something that someone of model height would be familiar with. “You don’t get six feet tall during puberty without having stretch marks,” a professional photoshopper told Refinery29 in late 2016.
Stretch marks can also appear after rapid weight gain, say, from pregnancy. In fact, 90% of pregnant women get stretch marks, which is why most products cater to them and why we flip out when we get stretch marks outside the context of pregnancy. In truth, though, 70% of women who aren’t pregnant also have stretch marks, and that percentage includes models like Jasmine Tookes, Chrissy Teigen and all the models who appeared in the unretouched images recently published by brands like ASOS and Aerie.
The Average Height of UK Women Is Just 5'3"
We see a line of six-foot-tall women parade down a runway and instantly all feel like goblins, but since the average height for UK women is just 5’3”, it’s odd that all the women chosen to model our clothes are (or at least close to) 5’10”.
The Average UK Woman Is a Size 16
Models’ waists average somewhere around 25 inches, but according to a 2012 Health Survey of England, the average UK woman’s waist is 31.3 inches. That measurement is up more than three inches from the ’50s, when the average was 28 inches, though models are still as tiny-waisted as ever. Moreover, while most models’ dress sizes are 4s, 6s and 8s, the average British woman (as of 2012) is a size 16. ■
Feeling better about your “non-model” body? We hope so. Because as the data shows, the “perfect” body scarcely exists.