Body Image

I just received an email informing me that Marilyn Monroe’s birthday is on June 1st and it included this picture.


The email was a pitch wanting me to share about a contest to win a set of body shapers from Kymaro, but that isn’t what I’ve got on my mind.  I’ve never been one to idolize Marylin Monroe.  I’ve never given her much thought, really.  But when I got that email this morning and I looked at this photo of this iconic woman who is perhaps the ultimate American sex symbol, and I thought to myself:

If she lived in 2010, she would be a plus sized model and the Hollywood tabloids would be a buzz with stories of the shame of her weight.

But this photo shows a REAL woman — not today’s Hollywood icon who exists on leaves and twigs and works out with a trainer until she’s got less than 10% body fat.

What has happened to us in the last 50 years?  How have we allowed our beauty ideal to become so skewed from what is normal and healthy?  Are we too far gone to get it back?

Join The Conversation

35 Responses

  1. Wow. I’ve never really had Marylin Monroe on my radar either. So…when I saw that picture I was definitely taken aback. Because she’s only existed in my little realm of awareness as an icon, I’ve never been clued in to how she actually looked, up close. In fact, the only two images of her that I can recall are the blowing skirt and the poster of the corner cafe where she’s hanging with James Dean (that is her, right?).

    What a refreshing image. Definitely a confidence booster for me as bathing suit season approaches!

  2. Amazing isn’t it? She’s considered the iconic sex symbol in our country and yet by today’s standards would be considered overweight? I believe our media has skewed our sense of proportions and beauty for women and men. There is a lot of airbrushing that happens to models so when we do see them in their au natural state, we are disgusted. Who says we aren’t controlled?

  3. I got the same pitch and was blown away. It is so sad to me because I cannot believe how young girls are today when they start calling themselves fat. My friend just told me her 6 year old was saying how fat she was. I wish we could turn back the clock…..

  4. I totally here you! Back in the 50’s your standard size person was a size 10 that was average. I am sure the size 0, 2, 4, and 6 were looked on like there was something wrong with them.

  5. What I love about Marilyn Monroe is that she looks like I do! (Well when I’m not pregnant) but no one seems to remember what she really looked like. They pretty much assume she was a size 0. I’m not saying that women should ‘let themselves go’ and not be healthy but we shouldn’t go so far in the other direction that we work out so much that we aren’t healthy b/c we are too thin to have a period either! We need this happy medium! And what better way to promote it then talking about how she STILL is the ultimate American Sex symbol & she looks like 90% of the population- NOT the 1% that ‘Hollywood” represents!!

    1. Well, lol. Let’s not get too carried away. 90% might be pushing it. 😉 According to Wikipedia, she was 120 lbs and 5’5″ — that’s my height and 15 lbs less than I weigh. So while it’s “healthy” it’s STILL at the lower end of a healthy weight range. But compared to today’s Hollywood sex symbol, she looks positively full-figured. It’s all relative, I suppose.

  6. Yowza! She wasn’t eating carrot sticks and rice cakes, now, was she? She was just a normal woman eating what normal women eat–go figure! Not too much; not too little. As my great-grandma taught me–everything in moderation.

  7. I just got the same. exact. email. And guess what? I had the same. excact. thoughts. And you know who I look like (well, in body type anyway!? ha!) Yep, her. Thanks for putting this out there. I may just have to link back to you…

  8. We women all seem to feel the same way, but I know for a fact that most men don’t. Therein may be the problem. We know they (generally) prefer very thin and we strive to meet that. Of course, their fantasies are just that…fantasies. The media continues to confirm those fantasies by requiring thin female “stars”. The emphasis needs to be on being “fit” and having healthy eating habits, but we are learning to be more aware of that aren’t we?

    1. I don’t know. I think a lot of men like a little bit of meat on the bones — at least in real life. On the big screen, all bets are off. 🙂

  9. J-L, I thought EXACTLY the same thing as you did, the second I saw that photo. She would be considered plump these days – Monroe! I’ve always somehow identified with her, b/c we share the same birthday.

    I once dated a particularly repulsive boy in college. (He’s now a grown man and vastly improved, I believe.) He told me that, to men, there are two kinds of women. This was in 1985. There’s the kind of woman you want to be seen with (she would be SKINNY), and there’s the kind of woman you want to snuggle with (she would be plump). B/c there’s a big disjunct between what society tells men is a beautiful woman and will improve their image, and the kind of woman that men honestly, instinctively want to touch. But back in the 50’s? Men were more in charge of their own culture, IMO, and didn’t let themselves be dictated to by hollywood and the modeling industry about what’s attractive.

    Men love curves. They love breasts and hips and rear end. There’s nothing attractive (especially to touch) about bones, and skin on bones. Clothing hangs well on it, and that’s about it.

  10. Marilyn Monroe really was very beautiful. While the culture during the time that she lived did not berate her body, it did still reduce her to a sex object not an actual beautiful person. I think that is the root of the problem. Our society has twisted this even further with the media and their distorted image of what is beautiful. I was just reading in a pregnancy magazine that when stars are photographed for the cover, they work out harder for weeks before, have a team of stylists and specialists work on them, and THOSE covers are still airbrushed. Pregnancy…the time when you think you can let that crazy stick-thin image go just a little, but we’re still obsessed with presenting and striving for perfect. Nobody takes notice of the perfect little life inside…just how she looks and how she plans on fitting back into her -2 sized jeans after baby.

    My hope is that there will be sort of a backlash…kind of like with the food industry…that people will just get sick of seeing such unrealistic images and begin to crave something real. You can catch glimpses of it here and there. I often think I’m beyond it, but then I catch myself in line at the grocery store thinking, “Why can’t I have a body like that?” I hope to teach my girls and boys, for heaven’s sake, that the dignity and beauty of a person is more than the sum of her body parts or her percentage of body fat…that her dignity lies in that fact that she was created in the image of God. It’s going to be a tough lesson given the visual bombardment we face every day, but I hope to learn it as I teach it. Retrain my mind, train my children, influence their friends and hopefully have a ripple effect. Like most core issues, I think it has to start with the family. The media will respond to whatever will make money.

    Is there a blog or blog carnival dedicated to nurturing real beauty…a waif-free website perhaps? 🙂 I literally think we need to literally retrain our brains as to what is, “beautiful.” Even just reading some of the comments here on how we are inspired by seeing this beautiful image.

    Hmm…here I go again…I could go on and on, but I need to rest my slightly pudgy, pregnant body… 🙂 Thanks for this post!

  11. I suppose I totally disagree with Melissa (no offense!!!) above. Consider when women like Monroe (and Jane Mansfield, etc.) were considered beautiful: the 50’s, and into the 60’s. What happened then? The Sexual Revolution, and Feminism. If I had to blame anyone for the radical shift in how feminine beauty is defined, it would be the feminists — in other words, ladies, we did this to ourselves. And it makes sense: as feminism gained more power, women were more able to define for themselves what their own beauty was. And I know (for myself) that the times I most carefully apply my makeup, and try to look well put-together, is when I’m going to a meeting full of women. We often are most “into” what we look like, b/c we tend to compare ourselves to other women. Competitive beauty.

    Men back then get a lot of flack for reducing women to sexual objects, but I find this to be just as true today as then. And I do think there’s a difference between viewing women as sexual objects, and appreciating their beauty. It is possible to look at the feminine form, and not just think of sex — God made women’s bodies to be beautiful. A lot of that beauty is found in the parts that are, um, distinctively female. Modern feminism demands that women downplay that femininity, and the coinciding physical parts that show it. Just my opinion, but I do think it’s true.

    1. Women have struggled with body image for a long time. Someone had it right up there in one of the comments that said that MM was objectified.

      Even though she was actually very intelligent and an extremely talented actress, she is reduced to the sexy blond bombshell singing to the President and the titillating image of the blowing skirt revealing her legs. It was this sexualization and objectification that Feminism fought AGAINST. Yes, I agree that we do it to ourselves – or we let it be done to ourselves – but we can thank Feminism for allowing me to be an architect, for my friend to be a doctor etc. beyond our body parts.

      Our hearts are sinful and so the problems will continue. Whether thin or curvy, we can have a poor image of ourselves and men can objectify us. And yes, we can be hardest on each other.

  12. I’ve always felt like I preferred the days my mother was growing up and seeing this picture just solidifies that thought. It is so sad how much the image of a womanly body has changed!

  13. I went shopping yesterday and had to buy shorts that were three sizes smaller than I “normally” wear. I want to say right off – I HAVEN’T LOST ANY WEIGHT. The issue is that the store, I believe, purposefully sizes things much smaller to make you feel like you’re tiny, which is apparently the ideal.

    I sort of felt sick.

    I am not thrilled with how I look every day but hey, this is how I look. I wish we could just all be happy with ourselves.

  14. LOVE this post. I’ve thought this same thing before seeing pictures of her. And once I saw an exhibit of old Hollywood memorabilia, and I walked up to one of her green gowns on a dress form and I was stunned. I would have swam in that dress! I am a 2 or a 4 (seasonally – ha!) and that dress was easily a 12.

    I’m 43, and I think it is much more diverse than when I was in high school and in my 20’s when everyone absolutely had to be stick thin. The bias is clearly still toward super skinny, especially for white women. Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce are gorgeous and get away with all those curves – it’s accepted. And Queen Latifh is a Cover Girl and she’s stunningly beautiful (and not skinny). You do still see pretty heavy criticism of too-skinny types like Kate Moss.

    But overall, thin is always in. I’m not sure we will ever get rid of it. (sigh)

  15. Yeah it’s really sad that our society has gone from a healthy perception of what’s “sexy” to a very unhealthy one. I’m a high school teacher and I’ve sat in class numerous days listening to my girls agonize about how hard it is to feel ok about the size they are if they don’t look like the girls in the magazines (stick thin). It’s really sad. I desperately want them to be ok with who God made them to be and stop searching for that in the media and it’s really hard. To add to that I just found out we’re having a little girl beauty pageant in our community. I was not exactly happy about it. But you just hope that women keep pouring into young girls to help them reach a healthy mentality and that healthy moms keep teaching their daughters to look to Christ for their identity. Thanks for writing about this.

  16. It’s especially ironic when you look at a Victoria’s Secret swimsuit or bra catalog! Good grief! They have GIGANTIC boobs popping out at you with their each ripple of their ribs evident. So…apparently they DON’T eat and all have plastic surgery. I love this photo of Marilyn, yet it saddens me that our culture expects us to look anorexic with DDs.

  17. It is so funny that you shared this picture and this insight, not more than a week ago my 6th period class of 8th graders spurned a two day continuous conversation about body image. They were finishing up a unit on bullying; some were reading the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, in the book the main character talks about having a size 10 pair of jeans. One of my male students didn’t have a point of reference so he asked a girl sitting in front of him, “Is a size ten big?” The girl responded that a size 10 is fat. He proceeded to fill out a character trait sheet circling the word fat. I had this pivotal “teachable” moment where I was trying to get them to rethink the idea of “what is healthy?” The next day I came back to that same class and continued the conversation, and this time brought in the idea of Marilyn Monroe. The girl that said a size ten was fat has posters in her room of Marilyn. Needless to say I think this photo would be brilliant to share with my kids tomorrow, yet again to remind them of our talk. The kids these days with their skinny jeans don’t understand that just because they are literally squeezing their way into a size 3 doesn’t make them an actual size 3!

  18. WOW… I just emailed this to several friends, and we have made a pact to embrace our inner Marilyn… thank you for this!

  19. I saw this picture on another website and she compared Monroe to a current model and wow…what a difference. You are right that she would be ridiculed by today’s standards for her weight, yet she was much admired by her curves back then. I miss those days! and feel sad for our daughters who must live to such horrible standards that the media place upon them nowadays.

  20. This is what real women look like. It is not natural for women to be naturally stick thin in my opinion. Women were put on this earth to bear children, not that every woman must have children, but I believe that having a full figure is how we were meant to be. I have had two children and while I am not having a love affair with my belly bulge, I am not ashamed of my size or weight. Marylin has always been an idol of mine for being considered on of the most sexy women to have ever lived despite her size.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close this search box.