Ivory Towers: Lavatories, breasts and the Bank of England lending rate.
Tuesday 04 June 1996
The use of public opinion surveys dates back to 1824, when a poll in Delaware showed Andrew Jackson leading John Quincey Adams in the US Presidential race. Getting that one wrong, however, did not prevent the practice spreading into academia, particularly in sociological areas where hard scientific data are not easily acquired. We must single out, in that respect, a paper by SM Jourard and PF Secord published in 1955: "Body-cathexis and the ideal female figure," (Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, vol 50, 243-6) which reported the results of asking people how they felt about forty different parts of their own bodies, from hair to feet, from knees to nose, from sex drive to bowel function.
One interesting result was that for male respondents, the taller, fatter and more broad-shouldered they were, they more satisfied they were with their height, weight and breadth. For women, however, the reverse was true. Women tended to think that most of their bodily parts were too big. For height, weight, waist, hips, thinghs, calves, ankles, feet, nose length, shoulder width and neck length, smaller measurements obtained higher satisfaction ratings.
The only measurement that led to increased satisfaction as it grew was that of the bust. A detailed analysis of the results showed that the average woman thought she was 2.94lb overweight, with a waist 1.18 inches too big, hips needing 2.37 inches off them and a bust 0.69 inch too small. The ideal woman, incidentally, is 65.53 inches tall, weighs 122.48 lb and her vital statistics are 34.83-24.27-35.06.
We have no figures for the ideal man, though surveys in the past year indicate that the average British male has sex 77 times a year and marries at the age of 28. Only 23 per cent of them wash their hands before making love and only 27 per cent of British managers know (even approximately) the Bank of England lending rate.
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