Monday, September 14, 2015

The Marilyn Myth

How many of you have seen a quote something along the lines of this?

Yes, I have too.  Though the size seems to fluctuate when I hear it, anywhere from a size 12 to a size 16.

Every time I see some sort of motivational quote about body acceptance and beauty standards that ties in Marilyn Monroe, I get super frustrated.  Not because the concept is wrong - I whole heartedly agree that you should accept who you are.  I get frustrated because beauty standards have not changed over the years like people try to say they have.  And here's a photo example of why:

Wait, wait, wait - how can this be?  What is going on above?  Is this a visual trick?

Nope, check this out:

"In 1945, a 19-year-old Norma Jeane signed up with modeling agency Blue Book. The receptionist wrote down her measurements as 36-24-34, which at 5’5” and 118 pounds would be considered, by today’s BMI standards, a completely healthy, average size. But even then, the head of the company referred to her as "too plump, but in a beautiful way." Another note from the receptionist: "Size 12.""

OK, so yes - even in the 40's, Marilyn was considered "plump" via fashion standards.  But let's compare her to some modern day divas:

Throwing Marilyn into the above shows that there's really not much different in the spectrum of what we consider attractive today, right?  Yes, we could say that someone like Cameron Diaz would look like Twiggy compared to the women above, but again ... even Marilyn was considered curvy by media standards back in the 1940's, so let's just compare like with like here.  No "Twiggies" allowed.

Also, before we move away from the above, I want to point out something interesting - look at Marilyn's measurements compared to Beyoncé.  Yet no one is using Beyoncé as some sort of plus sized fashion icon ... right?  Why is that?  Well, simply put, Beyoncé would never be measured at a 12+ using today's sizing standards.

How is that true?  How could Marilyn be recorded as a 12-16 size and Beyoncé never larger than ... oh, maybe an 8? 

To address that question, let's talk about how Marilyn was sized in the 1940's, and the introduction of vanity sizing in consumer fashion in the early 1980's.

"Before World War II, women's clothing was mass-produced with the same sizing mindset as men's—the only measurement taken into account was the chest. While an assessment of the chest measurement can roughly deduce the proportions of the rest of the body for menswear, that obviously doesn't hold true for women. Following the war, more standard measurements were put in place for women's wear, and in the 1950s, a commercial standard was set. Women's clothing for off-the-rack production would range from 8 to 38 based first on bust, and then height, hips, and girth. There was no such thing as a sizes 0 through 6.

This sizing was standard through the early 1980s when it was withdrawn—companies noticed that appealing to one's vanity helped with sales (which still holds true today). The private standards organization ASTM International, which publishes annual updates for clothing manufactures, regularly accommodates for this size inflation. As the size and shape of the average American woman began to change, so did the vanity sizing aimed at soothing egos. While a size 8 was considered the smallest available in 1958 when the initial sizing standards were put into effect, an 8 corresponded to roughly a 31-24-33 body. By 2008, a size 8 had increased by five to six inches for each of those measurements. By 2011, the ASTM even had a standard size 00."

So ... there you have it.  Sizes have changed.  And Marilyn was never "plus" sized. 

So please stop using her as a plus sized inspirational icon.


If you want to read more of the source article, which I quoted above and which inspired this post, check out this article.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! I saw an article a few months ago depicting society's vision of "the ideal female figure" each decade dating back to the 1920s. It is amazing how much that vision has changed over time and repeated itself in some ways! It's just like all the fashion trends!