Do Guys Dream of Electric Playmates (Repost)

This is a repost of an article originally published on 24 February 2009 here in response to a Wired Magazine article that is, once again, making the rounds.

My apologies to Horselover Fat for the title, but what is a boy to do when confronted with Katharine Gammon’s “Infoporn: Today’s Playmates Are More Like Anime Figures Than Real Humans” in Wired Magazine:

Oh, Playboy, why do you want your “readers” to lust after androids? That’s the only explanation we can think of for the proportions of your lovely ladybots.

If Hef is secretly invested in Battlestar Galactica, then the argument that Playboy has been gradually programming American males to “lust after androids” for the past fifty years makes sense.
Battlestar Galactica publicity still
The argument that Playboy drives the public perception of the ideal female form, as opposed to responding to the preferences of their readers (you won’t get any judgemental scare quotes from me) may just be a reflection of Gammon’s socioeconomic philosophy or writing style. It also does not involve fun graphs. Dealing with the specific claim of the article, that Playmates represent progressively more extreme and less healthy body shapes, does.

A cursory glance at the data (the numbers not the Playmates) reveals that we have a biased data set. In the first five complete (January-December) years (1954-1958), there are only 17 playmates with BMIs. In the last five (2003-2008), there are 59.

By throwing out the data prior to 1960 (as well as the only month of 2009), we get an evenly sampled data set (blue). For simplicity, let’s work with the average BMI for each year’s Playmates (pink), which accurately reflects the trends in the full data set. Because we removed the years prior to 1960, our predicted BMI reduction (19.3 to 17.8) from our Microsoft Excel linear trendline (green) is slightly different from Gammon’s (19.4 to 17.6), but the trend (-0.03 units/year) is the same.

Of course, you sticking a linear trendline on a set of data doesn’t make the data linear (insert “lipstick on pig” joke here). You may notice, for example, that most of the pink is above the green for the first quarter of the line, below the green for the middle half, and above the green for the final quarter. This suggests that Playmate BMI is not a single, linear trend.

The Playmate BMI curve may be more accurately represented by three separate trends: 1960-1966 (yellow), 1966-1983 (orange), and 1983-2009 (pink). From 1960-1966, within year and between year BMI is highly variable, but average BMI is relatively constant. From 1966-1983, average BMI declined by nearly 0.09 BMI units per year. From 1983-present, BMI increased at a rate of over 0.02 BMI units per year .

That’s right, since roughly 1982, average Playmate BMIs have been increasing, although not as quickly as they declined in the 1970s, leading to the current reduction in BMI over the past fifty years. Modern American males are not creepily wishing that real women were androids. Our fathers, however, might have. Wired just missed the actual “Playmates with rapidly decreasing BMI” party by thirty years.

From this timeline of American android lust it is not clear that tastes in androids have changed much over this time either.

There are, however, several trends that are linear over the entire 5o years of data. Playmate busts lines are getting smaller (-0.05 in/yr), while cup size is increasing (+0.01 size/yr)*. Waist lines are expanding (+0.03 in/yr) and hips are narrowing (-0.03 in/yr). Playmates are getting taller (+0.05 in/yr), but weight remains unchanged (+0.003 lbs/yr). While average BMI (18.4 in 2008) is only just clawing its way back into the CDC’s normal range (18.5-24.9), Playmate bust-to-waist and hip-to-waist ratios are in gradual decline. Instead of becoming more extreme, Playmate body shapes are closing in on the shape rectangular (the most common female body type at 46.12% of the population).

The simple fact is that normal American men and women are not just creeping up the BMI charts. Between 1960 and 2002, Playmates had a constant weight of 115 lbs and increased in height by maybe two inches, while Americans of comparable age have gained** over 20 lbs and less than one inch. Average male and female BMIs are around 28. In the late 1970s, Playboy’s models had the extreme bodies (BMI = 18.2 vs BMI = 23.7 for average Americans). In 2009, it is average Americans that have extreme bodies (BMI = 26.7).

Hat tip to Becky Jungbauer for bringing the Wired Magazine article to my attention.

For a similar take down, with fewer pictures and snark see Mahalanobis.

*ADDENDUM: This upward trend in cup size is most likely to be a reflection of the history of FDA approval of breast augmentation since 1992, when a moratorium was placed on the use of silicone implants.  Subsequetly, both saline and silicone implants have been approved for use in augmentation surgery.  Reporting of Playmate cup size prior to 1992 was extremely spotty (4.3%).  Following 1992, reporting was significantly increased (70.9%).  As a result, the apparent increase in cup size is likely to be an artifact of breast augmentation regulatory history and not actual trends in cultural preferences.
**While certianly not average, I did my duty during this time period by gaining 220 lbs (offsetting the weight gain for 10 of you; you’re welcome by the way) for a BMI around 30. It is, however, well known that BMI cannot be accurately applied to high performance Rugbyologists.

1) Infoporn: Today’s Playmates Are More Like Anime Figures Than Real Humans by Katharine Gammon (Wired Magazine: 17.02, 19 February 2009)
2) Ogden et al. 2004

Author: Josh Witten

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