The Search for Norma
She is modelled from recent measurements of
15,000 women from many parts of the United States
and from various walks of life, including series of
college students and other thousands of native
white Americans. She is slightly heavier yet more
‘‘athletic’’ than her grandmother of 1890 and has
lost the shrunken waist induced by tight corsets. As
to the beauty of her figure, tastes will vary; fashions
change ideals from one generation to the next.
Norma is not meant to show what ought to be; she
shows what is.
‘‘A Portrait of the American People,’’
Natural History, June 1945
With these words ‘‘NORMA—the average American girl’’ was introduced to
the public in the summer of 1945. Her body was straight and strong, her
arms were relaxed at her sides, and she looked directly ahead with the level,
proud gaze of heroic statuary. Her stance proclaimed her right to a promi-
nent place in ‘‘A Portrait of the American People,’’ cast in plaster and on
display in the Cleveland Health Museum. The portrait was a flattering one.
Norma was young, healthy, and unashamed, and she was as ‘‘normal’’ as the
combined forces of science and art could make her. That is, her curves and
planes were three-dimensional renderings of the statistical ‘‘norm or average
American woman of 18 to 20 years of age.’’∞ Norma was an emblem of the
national body, modern era, sexed female.
Norma was escorted by Normman, a strapping youth available with or
without a fig leaf. His figure incorporated the measurements of several
million twenty-year-old Doughboys, as well as those of young men in the