On Sunday night, the utterly meaningless Miss USA pageant aired, and a soon-to-be-forgotten woman from Nevada won the title. But America's fickle fascination has been, for several successive minutes, fixated on a woman who didn't come close to making the final cut: Miss Indiana, a woman who audiences were relieved to observe had a "normal" body. Except she's not even close to "normal."
Over at the Los Angeles Times, Amy Hubbard takes well-placed swipe at reaction to Mekayla Diehl's body, noting that there's nothing normal about her. She's 5'8" tall, a full five inches taller than the average American woman. She's a dress size 4. Hubbard notes that Diehl says she has a BMI of 18, which is actually below the range that the National Institutes of Health say is healthy.
The average American woman, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is 5-foot-3 and 166 pounds. A waist circumference of 37 1/2 inches means that, on some clothing-size charts, miss average America is in the plus-size category. Average BMI for a U.S. woman is 33.
If we want to take Hubbard's comparison further, we'd get closer to Miss Average America, a white woman who is 39 years old and lives near the mean center of the US population, about 3 miles outside of Plato, Missouri. Not Indiana. Nope. Mekayla Diehl isn't close to normal, except maybe geographically.
This isn't to suggest that a beauty pageant celebrate the average (if they have to exist at all), since, you know, the whole point is to pick the most perfectest lady to wear a crown on her head and cry on some flowers, not to find the least remarkable person possible. But public response to Diehl exposes something else about the way that the media has warped people's ideas of how women should or do look. It reveals how badly we want to see ourselves reflected in society's ideal, and how much we're willing to ignore reality in order to seek that identification.