Thursday, January 15, 2015

throwback thursday: why marilyn monroe ('s size) still matters

Her is one of my most popular posts, originally published in 2012.

A recent Slate article by Simon Doonan on Marilyn Monroe, "Marilyn Monroe’s Two Secrets," aroused the ire of many readers for its hidden title, "Was Marilyn Monroe Fat?" Doonan claimed to know the answer (No) because he was on hand (as an employee of Christie's auction house) to view some of her last possessions, including clothing:
"Right away, I discovered that Marilyn was shockingly and unimaginably slender. She was sort of like Kate Moss but fleshier on top. Didn’t see that coming, did you? 
When it came to finding mannequins to fit her dresses, I simply couldn’t. M.M.’s drag was too small for the average window dummy. Smaller “petite” mannequins existed, but I could not bring myself to place Marilyn’s iconic garments on these perky fiberglass dollies."
Doonan stacks the deck, because he writes about Marilyn being a size 12, but women's off-the-rack dress sizes have radically changed over the years. What he doesn't address is that most women, Marilyn included, are hardly the same dress size throughout their lives. We put on weight, lose weight, fill out, get pregnant, lose the baby weight, etc. Our teenage bodies are different from our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc. bodies. If Marilyn had lived past 36, she would have continued to fluctuate in weight as many women do, and most likely in an upward trajectory. Case in point — Elizabeth Taylor. The author implies that Marilyn's curvy Some Like It Hot body would have been wearing the same little black dress she wore when she as Mrs. DiMaggio entertained troops in Korea. Photos show that this probably wasn't the case.

"When you look at Marilyn on-screen and — armed with the information I have just provided — you realize that the busty, ample gal brimming over Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot is literally one-third your size, you have every right to become suicidal. If she looks like that — zaftig, almost chubby — what on earth would you look like under similar circumstances?"
Way to reinforce body-shaming, Doonan. Just look at the black and white photo. She's gorgeous. Chubby? Why does that word even come up?

He also repeatedly calls her "tiny," based on the dresses he found among her belongings, but Monroe's measurements, according to her dressmaker, were 35-22-35 inches, with a bra size of 36D, and height of 5 feet, 5½ inches. I'm a shade under 5 feet 7 inches and people have always considered me medium height to tall. Marilyn was a classic hourglass, which would have been even more accentuated if she wore a girdle. The Fat Nutritionist has an interesting article about Marilyn, which points out that her "small" dresses might have been a bit of an illusion:
"Also, I’d like to note that a reason occurred to me why Marilyn’s dresses would seem so tiny when viewed in person: Marilyn’s dresses were often sewed onto her and, as Lena Pepitone asserts, her clothes were often so tight that they required regular mending of split seams and zippers. To get her clothing onto a dressform without ripping out seams and re-sewing them, they would have to choose smaller-than-Marilyn dressforms so that the dresses would maintain a normal amount of ‘ease’…though in Marilyn’s lifetime, she wore them without that ease. If you stuffed them as tight as sausage-casings, as she wore them, you could have an accurate 3-D depiction of her nude body size/shape (since it is reported that she didn’t even wear underwear [Lena Pepitone], let alone girdles and other shaping garments popular at the time.)"
But the real question about Marilyn is why oh why should it matter what size dress she wore when? Marilyn was beautiful, unique, and wonderful. No matter how many pounds this way or that. Why are so many people so concerned with the size of a woman instead of the shape? And why do we continue to put up with this sort of discourse? In the article Doonan talks about being gay, and generalizes on how gay men love tragic women, etc., etc. He also claims that gay men are just as obsessed with women being thin as women are. This isn't exactly news, as the fashion industry seems to push a thinner and thinner "ideal" woman every year. Why can't we ignore that pressure?

It is such a difficult situation. I have to admit to wanting to shed a few pounds myself. Who doesn't? We can never be too rich or too thin, right? But where does the simple desire to want to shed a few pounds to be able to get into some old jeans that are now feeling a bit tight, turn into looking at photos of actresses and models and feeling inadequate?

Hollywood and fashion have always favored thinner than thicker. Actresses have always been pressured to diet. Marilyn Monroe, who this year will have been gone 50 years, is still a female icon. She is being mimicked in magazine shoots and portrayed in current movies. Why it would matter to Doonan or anyone so many years after her death what dress size she wore shows how much the Marilyn mystique endures. And how much Marilyn is still viewed as an iconic female. She may really be the modern goddess.

As important as Monroe still is to us, her look, her hourglass figure, is not. Styles inevitably change, but we still seem stuck in the '60s. The fashion industry wants women to aspire to a Twiggy look, which is virtually impossible to achieve without the right bone structure. At the same time, we still seem endlessly fascinated by Marilyn, who had a look that can be more easily achieved — curves can be accentuated, waists can be cinched to approach an hourglass. Yet stick-thin is in, and people are talking about whether Marilyn Monroe was fat.


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