Editor’s note: Back in 2009, Playboy still enjoyed a peculiar perch in American culture—for all sorts of reasons, good and bad. It was also, as reporter Katharine Gammon found, a database. Thanks to over half a century of (weirdly, let’s be honest) publishing centerfolds’ nominal body metrics, it became a document of the way a certain kind of person thought about idealized body mass index. And that BMI didn’t exactly track with the times. American women’s average BMI went up; Playboy’s largely imagined BMI went down.

Now that Playboy is getting out of the skin trade, we thought we’d look back at the numbers. The world has moved on, but data? That’s forever.

Facts and Figures

Playboy’s Playmate data sheets (you know, where they claim to enjoy cupcakes and The Deer Hunter) provide height and weight, among other stats. Our analysis shows that models are shedding pounds and gaining altitude at an alarming rate. To be fair, Playmates provide their own measurements, so they could be exaggerating. Plus, we wouldn’t put it past the editors to stretch the truth (i.e., Miss March 2008 may not actually want to write “comedic short stories” — or have a 21-inch waist). But who cares? What’s interesting isn’t the veracity of the numbers, it’s what the magazine thinks its readers will find ideal.

Are Those Real?

On the touchy subject of implants, Playboy’s policy seems to be don’t ask, don’t tell. We plotted each model’s bust size (chest circumference at the fullest points) and cup size (breast volume) for all years that data were available (early ’90s to now). While busts have shrunk faster than your 401(k), cup size has remained a buxom C or D. We don’t think evolution can explain this phenomenon.

Implants: A History of Augmentation


1962: Timmie Jean Lindsey becomes the first woman to receive silicone breast implants.

1992: Cosmetic silicone augmentations are prohibited for fear of adverse health effects.

1998: Barbie’s top-heavy figure (BMI of 16.2 — too skinny to work as a model in some European countries) gets a minimal reality check, resulting in a wider waist and narrower hips.

2006: The FDA reapproves silicone implants for cosmetic purposes.

2007: More than 347,000 cosmetic breast augmentations are performed in the US.

Sources: National Health Examination and National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Playboy; The University of Chicago Library. Flash Design: Holl Liou and Viciousesque

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Playboy’s Image of the Ideal Woman Sure Has Changed