Playboy Playmate Curves and the State of the Economy

October 24, 2008  |  Data Sources, Economics

Terry Pettijohn and Brian Jungeberg of Mercyhurst College took a very close look at the curves, um, measurements of past Playboy Playmates of the Year in relation to the state of the economy.

Here's the abstract from their paper (bold added to emphasize point of interest):

Past research has investigated ideals of beauty and how these ideals have changed across time. In the current study, facial and body characteristics of Playboy Playmates of the Year from 1960-2000 were identified and investigated to explore their relationships with U.S. social and economic factors. Playmate of the Year age, body feature measures, and facial feature measurements were correlated with a general measure of social and economic hard times. Consistent with Environmental Security Hypothesis predictions, when social and economic conditions were difficult, older, heavier, taller Playboy Playmates of the Year with larger waists, smaller eyes, larger waist-to-hip ratios, smaller bust-to-waist ratios, and smaller body mass index values were selected. These results suggest that environmental security may influence perceptions and preferences for women with certain body and facial features.

How would you visualize the data?

The data, past Playmate measurements, were made available. You can download them here in CSV format. Do the data really show a correlation? If so, how strong? Gold star goes to the best visualization of the data.

[via Marginal Revolution and kottke]

UPDATE: John S. did some plotting in R. Notice anything interesting?

20 Comments

  • daniel wolfe October 24, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    I don’t care how useless they are; this is begging for something like Chernoff faces.

  • like playmate faces? :)

  • Kevin Carlson October 24, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    How about a timeline animation using ActionScript shape tweens of a somatotype outline with fill color indicating annual % GDP change?

  • I hate to be a spoilsport, but is there any truth to this paper’s assertions? I don’t think so. Does anyone know what the “general measure of social and economic hard times” is? I tried plotting these ladies’ BMI (and various other measurements) against annual percent change in GDP, and the results weren’t pretty. If there are relationships lurking in these data, they are well-hidden by noise.

    Looked at as time series however, there are some interesting trends here. The playmates have grown slowly over the years, both in height and weight: the 2006 model is on average 5 pounds heavier and 3 inches taller than her 1960 counterpart. Bust sizes have gone the other way, falling by about 2 inches over that time.

    Also my internet research tells me there is no way Carmella DeCesare (Miss 2004) can have 27-inch hips. But I will keep searching for more photos to verify this.

  • Why stop at only the Playmates of the Year? Where’s the monthly playmate data?

  • Also, not to be a spoilsport, but is there any reason to believe that this data has been properly audited – do we really trust Playbot to accurately report Playmate vital statistics?

  • @John S. – That’s exactly what I was wondering and wanted to see a time series. I had a strong feeling that the correlation wasn’t as strong as some might suggest. Can you share your graphs? I’d love to update this post with them.

    @ME – I’m guessing playmate of the year was more readily available, and I’m sure the data aren’t completely accurate, but there must be some truth to them – since people can after all check out the measurements in the mag

  • ME: I suspect that PMOTY was chosen because there is more direct public input in that choice. I think the PMOTY is chosen by vote of readers from the monthly PMs while the monthly PMs are chosen by Heffner and editors.

  • Generalized Hard Times Measure, eh? The best facial features R² was 0.262, on eye width versus this large economic fudge factor. Height did somewhat better, at R²=0.368. They didn’t look at, or at least include in their analysis, such items as nipple diameter. Looking at the dual timeline charts in figures 2-4 (which use smoothed curves, not straight line segments, by the way), it looks like all of the factors are mostly increasing with time. I’d judge that these measures are all simply varying with time, and there is no causality.

  • I meant to add, like most academic papers, they managed to make their topic rather boring.

  • There’s a strong outlier, Carmella DeCesare, on the waist/hips ratio.
    Her line is given as
    “2004”,” Carmella DeCesare”,21,34,24,27,68,118
    On wikipedia, her hips are given as 34″…

  • The weights reported for centerfold models don’t jive with my experience. Off the top of my head, I recall reading a recent one where she listed height at 5’4″, weight at ~108, with 36DD. The problem is that the rest of her body looked normal. Legs, rear end, etc, all pretty normal.

    That combination doesn’t work in my experience. At that height, with the pictured figure, a woman should be about 125. The women I have been with that tipped in under 110, were _slender_. A/B cups at that height. The only DD I ever knew under 100 lbs was 4’11”

    Interesting graphs, but the story they tell may not be exactly what you think you are trying to say.

    (BTW, I do have a PhD in engineering, not to brag, just to reinforce that I am pretty skeptical in general, and really skeptical about women’s claims with respect to their figures. The reported data never really squares with my experience ;)

  • I once came across a website that had full-length photos of a large number of people, along with their BMI. My guess is that a woman with a BMI of 18 (which looks to be the average here, at least according to the given data) would not be centerfold material. The NIH classifies that as “underweight”.

  • it’s probably worth remembering that playmates tend to be very skinny girls with very large implants

  • Nathan –

    I’d say, not that skinny and the implants are probably reasonable, at least in a conservative publication like Playboy. It’s probably more likely that the so-called statistics overstate height and understate weight.

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