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Body Image Ideals Shift to be More Unattainable

Runway models, social media influencers, pageant queens, celebrities and even Barbie support troubling body image ideals. They are almost unequivocally identified as beautiful, as evidenced by the money we spend and who we choose to idolize.

Dr. Brooke Whisenhunt has studied media influences on body image for more than 20 years. As a professor of psychologyat Missouri State University, she works alongside her colleague, Dr. Danae Hudson, leading a lab of graduate and undergraduate students to research this and related topics.

For Whisenhunt, this began as a research project of pageant contestants when she was an undergraduate college student.An interview with Dr. Brooke Whisenhunt

Decades ago, Dr. Rick Gardner from the University of Colorado gathered historical and contemporary images of pageant contestants and Playboy centerfolds. He also collected height and weight data to examine body image ideals.

Whisenhunt coauthored a publication with former graduate student Frances Bozsik that built upon this research. The findings gained national attention, revealing that in addition to the ideal being taller and thinner over time, the new ideal was also muscular.


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Nicki received a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Business Administration from Missouri State in marketing, in 2002 and 2004 respectively. After gaining experience in writing, marketing, special event planning, fundraising and public relations, she returned to the university to work as the public relations specialist in the office of university communications. There she tells the university’s story by sharing the stories of individuals at Missouri State.