With perfectly shaded abs and Facetuned skin dominating our social media feeds, the expectations for our bodies have never been so impossibly high. If you're inclined to chalk that up to conjecture, data from a recent survey suggests otherwise. The website Treadmill Review polled more than 1000 Americans for their "ideal" body type. According to the results, the "ideal" female body is 5'5", about 130 pounds, and has a 26-inch waist.
This is appalling—but not entirely surprising based on the impossible standards forced on women historically and still today. To dig into the impact of "ideal" body type narrative even deeper, and get an expert understanding (aside from our own personal experiences) of how this affects women's body image and health, we spoke to board-certified anesthesiologist and physician Dr. Azza Halim. Read everything she had to say ahead.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Azza Halim is a leading, board-certified anesthesiologist and physician with a focus on aesthetic medicine, anti-aging treatments, and regenerative medicine.
The “Ideal” Body Type: What the Survey Says
Treadmill Review surveyed 1000 Americans and asked them to share their "ideal" body types based on the gender they are most attracted to. The company received responses from individuals across three generations—Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. Their responses varied slightly. However, they largely shared the same viewpoint on the "ideal" female body type. According to their responses, the "ideal" woman would be 5'5", weigh between 121-130 pounds, and have a 25 or 26-inch waist.
Debunking the “Ideal” Body Type
To be clear, the weight-to-height ratio isn't necessarily problematic at face value; it technically falls under the "healthy" BMI range. But a 26-inch waist is very slim for those proportions and would require an extremely low body fat percentage to be conceivable. But even that statement ignores the most obvious issue with this data: by instituting these arbitrary ideas as the thing to aspire to, we're automatically setting ourselves up for dissatisfaction.
"All too often, we are seeing patients coming in to look like someone else all due to social pressure from social media, beauty trends, fashion trends, etc.," Dr. Halim says. Medically speaking, one should focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, good skincare, and enhancing natural beauty instead of trying to reconstruct themselves. It is neither healthy nor safe physically, mentally, or emotionally."
As mentioned above, trying to adhere to rigid body dimensions as those outlined in the survey can affect one's nutrition habits and overall health. In the pursuit of achieving society's beauty standards, medical experts have specifically seen patients engage in unhealthy dieting practices. "Starvation diets have proven to be detrimental to one’s immune system, endocrine function, hormonal health, and emotional well-being," Dr. Halim says. "Instead, all should aim for balanced nutrition and exercise to achieve their ideal body weight for their height, age, genetics as it’s not all about a number."
Dr. Halim also notes that surveys focusing on measurements can also encourage individuals to seek out unnecessary medical procedures to emulate the "ideal" body type dimensions.
The Average Women’s Body
The body dimensions highlighted in the survey do not align with what the average woman looks like today. According to data collected by the CDC, the average female adult (age 20 or over) is 5'3", 170.8 pounds, and has a 38.7-inch waist.
Embracing All Body Types
With the rise in "body positivity" and "body neutrality" movements, society has begun to shift away from celebrating one "ideal" body type. While there is still more work to be done, we now see bodies of all shapes and sizes being centered more in the media. Shedding the widespread narrative that one has to look a certain way and adhere to unrealistic standards to be beautiful sends a powerful message. "We are seeing more [people] that are comfortable in their skin and size," Dr. Halim says. "That also sends a better message as we are all different, and we shouldn’t aim to be someone else."
The Final Takeaway
Promoting rhetoric about "ideal" body types promotes unhealthy physique aspirations. It is important to not internalize surveys like this as fact, and remember that our bodies are all made to look different (and that is okay). "Most of these dimensions are not true statistics but rather based on the perception of people surveyed (which is less than 1000 in the group). Therefore, we must scrutinize them carefully before sharing [the results] as a “statistic," Dr. Halim says.
Cleveland Clinic. Body mass index and body fat. Updated September 18, 2019.