The quest for Norma

In June 1945, a statue was created to depict the normal American white woman.

This statue, Norma, was the result of measurements taken from more than 15,000 women. It represented the embodiment of female normality as understood in the middle of the twentieth century. Yes – for women of merely one ethnicity to be considered the ‘norm’ in a heterogenous world is deeply problematic in itself. Yet, there is more.

The state of Ohio then created a contest to find the real life Norma. They encouraged women to send it measurements of their body, with a reward for the woman whose body came closest to the statue of Norma.

The contest received over 3700 entries. Yet one thing was clear – none of the measurements were close to that of the statue. The winner of the contest was Martha Skidmore, who was photographed next to the statue. You can see for yourself that despite being the closest match, Skidmore was quite different from ‘Norma’. It turns out that our ideas of normality are statistical realities that are often practically impossible.

Does our obsession with normality serve us? Or does it distract us from celebrating the unique gifts we bear? The results of a problematic contest in the thick of the eugenics movement serve as a grim hint.

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