12:51pm

Wed August 1, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

You Think Beauty Is Skin Deep? You're Not A Chiropractor

When the nation's chiropractors descended on Chicago for a weeklong convention in May 1956, they threw a beauty contest.

The judges crowned Lois Conway, 18, Miss Correct Posture. Second place went to Marianne Caba, 16, according to an account in the Chicago Tribune. Ruth Swenson, 26, came in third.

But this was no ordinary pageant.

"All three were picked not only by their apparent beauty, and their X-rays, but also by their standing posture," the Tribune reported. "Each girl stood on a pair of scales — one foot to each — and the winning trio each registered exactly half her weight on each scale, confirming the correct standing posture."

At the time, contests like this were pretty common. They were held to burnish the reputation of the profession. "Basically, chiropractic had a PR problem. We were unlicensed in those days," Dr. P. Reginald Hug, a past president of the Association for the History of Chiropractic, tells Shots. "We were the new kids on the block and medicine didn't like us."

By crowning posture queens, the chiropractors could build goodwill without making waves with traditional doctors. "It was a way to get PR that was kind of middle of the road," he says. The message, he says, was that good posture leads to good health. And chiropractors were the people to get you on the right path.

Hug, a retired chiropractor in Birmingham, Ala., has written about the contests in Alabama and elsewhere.

Hug says the contests date to the 1920s, but they became the rage during the '50s and '60s. Contestants were typically judged on beauty and poise, posture, and X-rays to evaluate their spinal structure. "In those days, nobody was concerned about radiation," Hug says.

Physical fitness tests were added to many contests after 1963, when President Kennedy's Council on Physical Fitness drummed up interest in regular exercise.

There were some contests for men, too. But they weren't as popular and didn't last very long, Hug says, adding, "The guys always slouched."

In 1967, the reigning World Posture Fitness Queen appeared on CBS's game show To Tell The Truth. Hug says other winners snagged national TV appearances, too.

But the pageants began to wane as chiropractors achieved their licensure goals. The last big contest was held in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1969. "Their time had come and gone," Hug says.

Hat tip to Retronaut, where you can find even more photos from the Chicago contest in 1956.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.