The Fat Acceptance Movement, Marilyn Monroe, and the Fantasy of a Plus-Sized 1950’s


I’ve been inspired to write this article because of some of the memes I’ve seen on tumblr and elsewhere. It made me wonder, was the 1950’s really that different from today as the fat acceptance movement argues? So let’s start with the picture. I’m sure we’ve all seen this meme on tumblr:


I’ve seen a whole lot of pictures like this, and I’m sure you have too. These beauties from the past are used by the fat acceptance movement to argue that today’s ideals are too extreme. Marilyn Monroe in particular has somehow become the poster child for plus-sized beauty. They seem to think that if this beauty icon is labeled plus-size, they will win some sort of moral competition. In addition, the fat acceptance movement has tried to glorify the past by implying that women back then were free to be curvy and large.

So let’s start with their poster-child, Marilyn. It turns out that Marilyn was used as an impossible ideal back in her day as well. People seem to forget that her weight fluctuated throughout her career because of her depression, and that her normal size was a lot smaller than her depressed -state size. Curiously enough, I never see this meme with Marilyn at her natural weight. What were her normal, healthy measurements according to her dressmaker?

Height: 5 feet, 5½ inches, 166.62 (centimeters)

Weight: 118-120 pounds, 53.5 kilograms

Bust: 35-37 inches

Waist: 22-23 inches

Hips: 35-36 inches

Bra size: 36D


Not exactly plus size. Should we make a new meme of “When did this become hotter than this?”

Marilyn’s unusually small waist with larger hips and a larger bust was the perfect impossible ideal for filmmakers to use. In fact, when her clothes were displayed in London they had to make special molds for new mannequins because of her extreme hour-glass shape. Today’s models are 34-24-34, which is close to Marilyn’s normal size, but they are much taller so they look thinner. We also idealize more toned and muscular bodies, so body fat percentages also play a role in making todays models look thinner than the skinny mini Marilyn. To see what I mean, check out this article. She is the same weight, but her muscular body makes her look thinner and lighter.

So Marilyn is out; she was beautiful at any size. What about the average woman in the 1950’s? The fat acceptance movement would have you believe that the 1950’s was a paradise for curvy women.

Today, the average American woman is 54, has a waist size of 34-35 inches and weighs between 140-150 lbs. In the 1950’s, the average woman was 53-4 with a waist size of approximately 24-25, she weighed about 120 lbs and wore a size 8. But wait!! Size 8! That proves the fat acceptance movement is right! Wrong again.

There was actually a uniform sizing system for women’s clothes until the US Department of Commerce dropped it in 1983 noting that the traditional sizes were no longer reflecting the size and shape of the average consumer. Today, in order to cater to women’s vanity, as women have gotten larger, designers have manipulated sizes so that truly larger sizes are marked as smaller. A size 8 in the 1950s is now a size 4 or less today. Source here.

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Very interesting.

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Captain America was #1 at the box office for the 3rd weekend in a row. That means every one is going to see this thing. So why haven’t you? It’s that good, so just go do it. Also I love that in it’s 3rd week it beat out the opening of that Transcendence movie. Johnny Depp sucks these days. Furthermore… Marvel recently surpassed Harry Potter and Star Wars as the most financially successful franchise in entertainment. Fuck yeah Marvel.

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