anna nicole smith adriana lima
photo: Reuters/Rose Prouser and Splash News

*Trigger warning due to size/diet-related topics*

Both Playboy and Victoria's Secret have signature looks and models associated with the brands (think Anna Nicole Smith and Adriana Lima, respectively). And while both brands have been peddling their version of the ideal woman for decades, we wondered if they were actually changing for the times and adapting to the more body-positive 2010s. 

By looking at the journey of the brands and seeing how they've changed over the years, we saw which brand has become the most modernized — and the answer was surprising.

In order to see if the brands and their ideal women have changed over the years, you have to look at two things: the Playmates of the Year and the Victoria’s Secret Fantasy Bra. 

adriana lima victoria's secret
photo: Splash News/Richie Buxo

Holding those titles is basically like being the Most Valuable Player within the two groups. Playmates of the Year are selected by the magazine's editors following an assessment of the magazine's readers poll, while Victoria’s Secret Angels chosen to wear the multi-million dollar Fantasy Bra are "picked" by the brand, so neither are really democratic decisions by consumers.

Although jewel-encrusted bras and bunny ears may barely concern some, these women — and their images — are heavily marketed and have a lasting impact on consumers. The women chosen to carry the titles exemplify the perfect woman according to the brand.

Take a look at how Playboy's Playmate of the Year has transformed, and what it says about their impact on body ideals over the decades.

In spite of the slim Twiggy look and its popularity in the 1960s, Playboy still held on tight to the hourglass shape of the 1950s for its first Playmate of the Year.

Ellen Stratton, who was the first Playmate of the Year EVER in 1960, was 5'4" and had a 20-inch waist, according to Playboy. In fact, Playmates of the Year in the '60s actually had the smallest waists on average, at just 22.5 inches, compared to future decades. Stratton was smaller in every way than the average Playmate of the Year during ANY decade, signifying a (minor) shift for the years to come. 

Marilyn Monroe covered Playboy's first issue back in 1953, and her curvy shape definitely became the prototype for Playmates during the following years. Although Playboy's measurement conventions varied from bust to bra sizes, the curvy look of the '50s persisted during this decade. The first silicone breast augmentation occurred in 1962, proving women wanted the curves they saw all over Playboy and Hollywood.

By the 1980s, Playmates generally had a thinner frame with larger breasts.

Although Playboy's data doesn't specify which Playmates had breast augmentations, the change in chest size versus body type is still significant. As "Playboy's Greatest Covers" author Damon Brown explained to Forbes in 2012, the Playmates in the '80s changed "from almost voluptuous women to thin, often tiny women with huge chests. A quick look today at the Playmates today shows the trend." 

Thanks to the "Playmate system" in the early 1990s, the models became household names. 

As Playmates ventured beyond the magazine, so did their homogeneous looks. Full-chested and blonde Playmates of the Year such as Anna Nicole Smith and Jenny McCarthy became part of the magazine's brand and extended their Playboy careers into other avenues. Smith, who's arguably the most well-known Playmate of the Year, eventually became an iconic Guess model often imitating another fellow Playboy covergirl, Marilyn Monroe. McCarthy still poses in Playboy, and has starred in countless movies and television shows (even helping her cousin Melissa McCarthy at the beginning of her career). And of course, February 1990 Playmate Pamela Anderson was highly influential throughout the decade, despite never holding the title of Playmate of the Year. 

In the 2000s through today, we've seen the Playmates of the Year become shorter than those of the '90s, but their waist sizes haven't changed much. 

In the 1970s, Playmates of the Year on average were about 5' 6" inches and their waists hovered around 23 inches. In the '80s and '90s, the models suddenly shot up to 5'8", but still had about a 23-inch waist.

The 2000s brought much shorter Playmates at 5'5", but with minor waist changes. From 2010 through 2016, the average Playmate of the Year had a 24-inch waist and stood at 5'6" tall.

The bust size of Playmates in general (not Playmates of the Year), has actually decreased from the '90s through 2008, while cup size has stayed around a C to D, according to Wired. There was an increase in breast augmentations in the US in 2006 versus 2005, and with silicone implants getting approved by the FDA that same year for cosmetic reasons, it's definitely not a coincidence. 

What's most telling is that the differences between the various Playmates of the Year is just a matter of a few inches. Clearly, body diversity hasn't greatly improved throughout the decades; the brand STILL has a ways to go.

While the Victoria's Secret's Fantasy Bra hasn't existed as long as Playmate of the Year, the bra (and the model chosen to wear it) still has an impact on body ideals. 

tyra banks fantasy bra
photo: Reuters/Peter Morgan

The Fantasy Bra actually existed before chairman and CEO of L Brands Leslie Wexner even created the Victoria’s Secret Angel concept in 1998, but the bra has since become a way to mark the “it” model of moment. Victoria's Secret models claim to train like Olympians, so wearing the Fantasy Bra is equivalent to receiving the show's gold medal.

Despite a constantly rotating cast, the models chosen to wear the Fantasy Bra haven't varied that much since the bras were first created in 1996

By having Heidi Klum and Adriana Lima wear the bra more than any other models (three times apiece), the brand has turned the two into revered supermodels, while also showing how unattainable the brand's body ideals really are even for Victoria's Secret models.

victoria's secret fantasy bras
photo: Splash News/Reuters/Mike Segar

Although there isn't much quantitative data available about the sizes of the Victoria's Secret models when they wore the Fantasy Bra, the women chosen to wear the bra the most speak volumes about the brand's version of the perfect woman: one with a slim-yet-athletic body.

In 2011, Lima was under scrutiny for revealing TOO much about her pre-show diet routine.

victoria's secret fashion show
photo: Splash News/Jackson Lee

In an interview with The Telegraph, Lima shared her controversial liquid diet. It definitely stood out in comparison to the "healthiness, not just thinness" mantra models have repeated over the years.

“For nine days before the show, she will drink only protein shakes - ‘no solids.’ The concoctions include powdered egg. Two days before the show, she will abstain from the daily gallon of water, and ‘just drink normally.’ Then, 12 hours before the show, she will stop drinking entirely,” The Telegraph reported.

Soon after, Lima backtracked on her comments, calling it a “misunderstanding” and even showing a piece of cake while talking to E! Canada. She said she goes back to a “normal” routine following the show, because, well, even she knows that getting VS-ready isn’t exactly "normal" or easily attainable.

Despite all of the preparation needed to get the look, the brand still sells a narrow body ideal, especially when it comes to athleticism. 

Victoria’s Secret models, who are usually more commercial than most high fashion runway models, often emphasize how athletic they are — and we can see the impact that has on consumers with athleisure's rise in popularity.

And while the intense training that's involved in becoming a model is undeniable, the models definitely don’t reflect the body diversity that, say, an Olympic team would have. The models aren't too curvy, and they aren't too muscular, either.

 This homogeneous Victoria's Secret body type shows how the male gaze persists even for a female-focused brand.

It's not just how their models' look has changed that matters, though. How the brands have responded to criticism over the ages also shows how their perspectives have, or haven't, shifted. 

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For example, Playboy is slowly becoming more inclusive and responsive, although progress still needs to be made. Since its March/April 2017 issue, its stripped “Entertainment for Men” from the coverlines, and even took a brief hiatus from nudity in 2016.

“Playboy will always be a lifestyle brand focused on men’s interests, but as gender roles continue to evolve in society, so will we," chief creative officer and Hugh Hefner's son Cooper Hefner said.  Although the brand's core will still be geared toward heterosexual men, it's definitely a notable change.

Most recently, Playboy has expanded its idea of the Playmate with size-inclusive, age-defying, and LGBTQ-inclusive photo shoots. 

In June 2017, Playboy had its original Playmates recreate their iconic covers, breaking the ageist ideals of what Playmates should look like. Playboy also fought gender norms by casting its first transgender Playmate, Ines Rau, for its November/December 2017 issue. And when the brand was met with criticism for the casting choice, the magazine reminded everyone the first Black Playmate in 1965 was met with similar hostility. In fact, that wasn't the first time the brand ever had a transgender model in its pages — Caroline "Tula" Cossey appeared in the magazine all the way back in 1981.

In probably its most body-positive move yet, its international title, Playboy Brazil, made headlines when it had plus-size model Fluvia Lacerda cover the January 2017 issue.

Although the brand has made noteworthy steps this year, it still needs to make major moves regarding body diversity, since the average sizes of Playmates of the Year aren't that varied. 

Although Victoria's Secret drags its feet on body positivity, the public has been very vocal about wanting size and gender inclusivity on the VS runway.

The brand has received pushback from consumers for not offering a wider range of sizes in stores or featuring plus-size models on the runway. In fact, back in 2014, the brand changed its "A Perfect Body" UK ad campaign to "A Body for Every Body" after a Change petition circulated that received over 30,000 signatures. 

Both brands and individuals alike have encouraged Victoria's Secret to expand its idea of an Angel, but, as of yet, to no avail. Over 40,000 people signed a Change petition in 2013 to have Carmen Carrera be Victoria's Secret's first transgender model, although she wasn't cast. In November 2017, supermodel Ashley Graham’s Instagram post of her wearing VS Angel wings went viral, proving how much people want to see a woman like her walk down the runway. Most of these efforts, supported by tens of thousands, have gone virtually ignored by the brand. 

What’s odd is that when Victoria's Secret actually IS body positive, the brand is pretty silent about it.

victoria's secret fantasy bra 2016
photo: Getty Images/Dimitrios Kambouris/Staff

In 2016, the brand published unretouched images on Getty of Jasmine Tookes' stretch marks, but didn’t post them on its Instagram or clarify whether or not the move was intentional. It was definitely a missed opportunity for the brand to embrace the unretouched trend that other successful lingerie brands such as Aerie have adopted, as instead it stayed mum on the subject.

With all of that history taken into account, Playboy has been the most progressive and size-inclusive out of the two, but that's not necessarily a good thing. 

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In the last few years, Playboy has been more receptive to change and willing to adapt. The Playmates may still fit a prescribed mold, but by recently featuring models such as Rau and Constable and doing away with the "Entertainment for Men" slogan, the Playboy look is slowly distancing itself from the carbon-copied models of the '80s and '90s. 

In contrast, Victoria's Secret has somewhat stagnated on the runway, rather than realizing the potential in embracing size-diverse models. That's an issue, because Victoria's Secret Angels and those wearing the Fantasy Bra are much more influential in the mass market than a Playmate of the Year. Just look at social media: Playboy currently has over six million Instagram followers, while Victoria's Secret has a staggering 57.9 million followers, and a show that pulls in millions of viewers every year. Victoria's Secret showing off more diversity would have the FAR bigger impact on culture.

I hope that Victoria's Secret increasingly values body diversity and actively responds to its fans, because a world in which Angels are only a certain size doesn't sound that heavenly to me.