Does 'The Perfect Woman' exist?

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January 9, 2013, 9:16 am

(NECN) - The phrase: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" hasn't changed over time, but the image of beauty itself - particularly among the U.S. Media - certainly has.

In 1912, The New York Times printed an article that named Elsie Scheel, 24, "The Perfect Woman".

Elsie was 5-foot-7-inches, weighed 171 pounds, and had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 27. The number would put her in the "overweight" category, by today's standards.

Scheel lived to be 91, until she died of a perforated bowel.

Dr. Sherry Pagoto, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the UMass Memorial Weight Center, joined "The Morning Show" to discuss the concept of "The Perfect Woman".

"Our image of the "perfect" body (very size driven) does not align well with what is a healthy body (more habit driven---one that is active, eats healthy, and keeps risk factors at bay). We have become very hung up on size and I think this research suggests that it's just more complicated than that," Pagoto said.

"One of the challenges is that we view 'health' or 'perfection' very unidimensionally----so much focus is on weight, yet so many factors go into what makes someone healthy, and having a slightly elevated BMI doesn't necessarily mean you are unhealthy."

How has the idea of the "perfect woman" changed from 1912 to now?

"In terms of the change over time, there certainly has been one.  I always think of how Marilyn Monroe was a huge sex symbol of her day yet might be considered overweight by today's standards of beauty. Could she even get into the business if she were alive today? An interesting coincidence is that as the collective American BMI grows, the size of our celebrity icons has shrunk. One refreshing change as of late though is celebrities coming out about their own weight struggles and body image issues, such as Lady Gaga, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Hudson, etc. The downside of that is they seem to be shooting for the same slim ideals as the rest of us---they are certainly under tremendous pressure to do so."

Explain the importance of this new BMI study and how people should respond.

"In terms of factors associated with lower mortality rates, physical activity is more predictive than low BMI.  The best thing someone can do is go to their doc and find out what risk factors they have (e.g., blood pressure, blood sugars, lipids) and focus entirely on reducing those risk factors which more strongly predict risk for disease. For example, your waist circumference is a stronger predictor of risk for diabetes and heart disease than BMI."

What major lesson can we learn from this article?

"The focus needs to shift from body size to healthy behavior. You can be healthy at many sizes-and what this comes down to is your lifestyle.  Are you active?  Are the majority of your food choices healthy?  Do you have a handle on your stress?  These factors are far more important than BMI."

Tags: Weight, health, women, the morning show, women's health, dr. sherry pagoto, The Perfect Woman
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