This is Marilyn Monroe:
A lot of words come to mind when you see her picture. The most commonly-used descriptions usually include references to her blondeness and her “iconic curves”, and there’s no denying that Marilyn was both hella platinum and possessing of a very impressive bosom.
However, she was not fat.
She was not even big, not by 1950s standards and not by today’s standards.
A few years ago, there was an exhibition of some of Marilyn’s most well-known film costumes. I read articles about how that journalists and gallery attendants alike were surprised by the petite sizes of the woman who is now the posthumous champion for “curvaceous” figures. Her famous Seven Year Itch dress was measured and would now be considered a size 8 Aussie/4 US. She was five-two and her measurements as provided by dress-maker were 36-22-35. Even with a few inches’ grace, that’s still a very tiny little lady.
She famously stacked on a few pounds around the time that she filmed Some Like It Hot. The reported reasons for this vary: Some speculate that it was related to drug-taking while others claim that she was depressed and developed a compulsive eating disorder. Whatever the reason, at her largest she was still looking like this:
Which is why I find it intolerably frustrating when people use her justifiably-admired body to excuse themselves for looking like this:
I am not advocating skinniness, or even a certain body weight or size, as the “right” female shape. There isn’t a right shape: Nature seems to have a rough idea of a basic format but gets pretty creative on the specifics from person to person. That’s cool. That’s normal.
To me, though, there’s a huge difference between being proud of your natural shape and being proud of being unhealthy.
Before people hurt themselves calling me a bitch, I am not talking about people who are a little out of shape or who don’t look like this:
I’m talking about people who are well over the healthy body weight for their frame, who justify their unnatural size and poor lifestyle choices by saying that they’re championing for “real” women like Marilyn Monroe. “Back when people knew what was sexy!” they cry, around mouthfuls of deep-fried Snickers bars. “Big is beautiful! I’m not ashamed of being a real woman! If you can’t handle it, that’s your problem!”
No. That’s not right at all. Stop it.
There are many reasons that people put on weight that aren’t simply related to poor diet and exercise. Depression, eating disorders, medication, etcetera. That’s completely understandable. There are also many different body types. Some people can exercise all day and eat a diet so healthy that nutritionists spontaneously orgasm at the sight of their pantry, but still have love handles. That’s just life.
But there are limits.
I have had an eating disorder. Back at my thinnest, I weighed about 40 kilos (I’m 167cm). I had people stopping me in the street, expressing concern for my health and appearance. In one hilarious and perplexing instance, a man shoved a fistful of walnuts at me and commanded, “Eat! You’re too skinny!” and walked away. That was strange, but his heart was in the right place. He saw someone who was, in his eyes, unhealthy and who needed to change their lifestyle.
You see it in magazines and other areas of life, too. It’s apparently perfectly acceptable to loudly and righteously criticise a woman for being too thin (or to conversely condemn that too-thin woman for wearing jeans that give her a bit of muffin top), but the grossly-overweight person who is undeniably unhealthy is beyond reproach.
Too skinny or too fat: If you are living in such a way that takes you many many kilos away from the body type that you SHOULD be – that is, the one that you get when you eat well and exercise a bit – then that’s wrong. Don’t eat ice cream for dinner every night and tell me that you’re proud of your “natural” shape. Don’t act like you are a sassy superwoman, defying evil societal conventions as you wheeze up the three steps to the McDonald’s entrance.
You’re fat. You’re unhealthy. You are doing damage to your insides and your long- and short-term health. There’s curvy and voluptuous and there’s medically obese. Big isn’t beautiful. Healthy is, and let the chips of that fall wherever they may on the scales.
People have every right to eat what they want, be the shape that they want, and look in the mirror and feel good about what they see. But please, people. Stop acting like an unhealthy lifestyle is something to be proud of. It’s your choice but don’t warp it into something it’s not.
And for god’s sake. Stop making poor Marilyn the spokesperson for your cause. I’m sure she wouldn’t appreciate it.