Outcry in India over secondary school textbook that lists the “best” female figure size, based on Miss Universe

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Anna Brech
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The Indian government has launched an investigation into a secondary school textbook that details the ideal body proportions of a woman.

The book, titled Health and Physical Education, describes the "best" female figure as 36"-24"-36". The author cites Miss Universe as the source for this patently ridiculous snippet of, ahem, knowledge.

Photos of the offending manual page were circulated online in the past week, prompting widespread anger over the outrageously sexist and incorrect assertion of so-called facts.

The publication, which is used in a variety of schools that follow India's Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) syllabus – the equivalent of the UK’s National Curriculum - also states that, "the bones of hips of females are wider and their knees are slightly apart. Due to this shape, females are not able to run properly".

Having listed the apparently optimum female shape, it continues, "that is why in Miss World or Miss Universe competitions, such type of shape is also taken into consideration". 

Twitter user Anuj Khurana (@HaddHaiYaar) brought a screenshot of the offending page to the public’s attention (above), after being sent it by a friend of his brother’s, who was studying the text for an exam.

Fellow Twitter users responded with bafflement and anger.

“I mean HOW do you make the world a better place to live in? HOW?” asked one.

“This is so screwed up!!” another woman remarked.

A student who had also been given the textbook to study shared another classic excerpt that appears under a section titled, “points to improve body image and self esteem”:

The book was privately published by the company New Saraswati House.

The education board CBSE said that it was unable to monitor privately published books, and added that individual schools must take responsibility for the materials they use in syllabus teaching.

It moved to distance itself from the publication, branding it “totally incorrect”.

Announcing an inquiry, Indian minister Prakash Javadekar said he condemned the "sexist" book and had moved to take "appropriate action".

 "I have instructed the officers to take strict action against those behind this textbook and all schools should ensure they have proper books,” he said.

The publishers, based in Delhi, said they had "stopped the printing, selling and distribution of the revised book with immediate effect".

This isn’t the first time textbooks in India have become embroiled in controversy.

In 2012, a storm erupted over a book that taught 11-year-olds that people who eat meat “easily cheat, tell lies, they forget promises, they are dishonest and tell bad words, steal, fight and turn to violence and commit sex crimes”.

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.