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Oct 25

Marilyn Monroe, ultra-thin models, and my hopes for my daughter…

A few weeks ago, there was a picture going around Facebook, with a caption that read,

 ”F**k Society. This (with an arrow pointing to Marilyn Monroe) is more attractive than this (with an arrow pointing to an underweight girl in a bikini)”

This was this picture of Marilyn Monroe:

 

I was going to include a picture for the skinny girl too, but I ultimately decided against it.  We all know what she looked like.  She was runway-model slim.  You could see her ribs, and instead of curves she was all lines and angles and elbows.

I understand that the message is supposed to be a positive one.  It’s supposed to encourage us to accept our bodies, not to bow to societal pressures to chase some mythical or unhealthy ideal.  It’s supposed to remind us to appreciate the beauty of what is by some considered a “larger” woman.

And absolutely, Marilyn Monroe was beautiful.  Beautiful face, beautiful figure, beautiful smile.   That’s not in question.

But the element of comparison leaves me a little cold, as did the many comments of agreement, and those who took it a step further by calling the thin girl “disgusting,” “hideous,” and “ugly.”  Suddenly, a message of acceptance and love was turned on its head … and instead of embracing beauty in all shapes and sizes (which I’d truly like to believe was the original intent), people were banding together to bash those who are smaller.  And call me crazy, but isn’t it the height of hypocrisy to champion for the acceptance of one body type, while simultaneously lambasting another?

Now, I didn’t know the other girl in the picture any more than I knew Marilyn Monroe, but I can tell you this:

She could have been that thin simply because of genetics, in which case holding her up to Marilyn Monroe and saying she was the lesser of the two is just mean.  Or she could have been precluded from gaining weight due to some kind of illness, whether physical or otherwise, which would make the comparison not just mean but heartless too.  She could be a victim of her own self-hatred.  She could be breaking under the pressure that comes from so many people making judgments on outward appearances,  and she could be disappearing under an illusion of self-control.

Either way, I’m sad for that girl.  I’m sad about the state of our country’s body image in general.  And I’m sad that as a society our solution to the problem is just as bad as the problem itself.  Instead of declaring Marilyn attractive, and the thin girl unattractive, can we accept the inherent beauty in both?  Can we just aspire to be healthy?

Right now, my daughter is only three.  She still (rightly so) thinks her body is perfect and beautiful exactly the way it is.  I pray that that continues.

I hope that when she looks at herself and others, she doesn’t see skinny or large, curvy or athletic.  I hope that she never compares… not to each other, and not to herself.  I hope that when she looks in a mirror, she feels acceptance.  I hope that she still realizes that she was purposely and deliberately and uniquely created, and that she isn’t meant to look like Marilyn Monroe or the runway model or anyone but HER.

I hope that she is kind to herself, and kind to her body.  I hope that she eats good foods, and finds an exercise that she loves and does regularly….  not to look a certain way, or to fit into a certain size,  but to stay healthy and strong.

I hope that she respects and accepts others, no matter their size, shape, or age.   I hope that she loves them even when they can’t love themselves.

I hope that she embraces differences.

I hope that she realizes that our outer appearances are just that:  Just a shell.  And that beneath the curvy hips or the jutting hip bones, we’re all just … people.  And not all that different after all.


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  1. Vickie @Demand Euphoria

    YES! I was equally upset by the caption. Replacing one kind of hatred with another doesn’t help anyone. I know many people who are thin like that without trying, and they are beautiful too. Why can’t we accept ourselves (and subsequently, one another) without tearing anyone else down?

    1. jen

      “Why can’t we accept ourselves (and subsequently, one another) without tearing anyone else down?” Exactly!

  2. Tara Roddick

    As someone who has fought two different types of eating disorders and struggles EVERY day with my food decisions, I whole heartedly agree with this post. Everyone should be looked at as a unique individual, not compared to anyone else. I pray all of this for my daughter too. I never want her to fight the inner battles that I have had to. Thanks Jen.

    1. jen

      Tara, I went back and forth about how personal I wanted to make this post, and whether or not to include my own past food issues. Believe me when I say I absolutely understand where you are coming from!! I too hope that Tegan (and of course my boys too, but I know it is so much more common for girls) never have to fight those battles. Glad this spoke to you. {{{{Tara}}}}

  3. Alex Polikowsky

    Thank you Jen. I so agree with that. Well said!

    1. jen

      Thank you… and, you’re welcome :)

  4. Maria

    Thanks Jen for writing this. I am and have always been “that skinny girl”. I have had my share of put downs, catty remarks and all out mean comments about my naturally thin weight. After having 5 kids and remaining thin, other women and even men gasp and remark “how is it possible that you bIrthed those kids?” I’m not sure if some comments are meant as a compliment or put down, but saying to someone “I hate you, you’re so skinny” or “I can’t believe you look like that after having kids” is just wrong. I don’t judge others on their weight even if I do wish I had more meat on my bones. I found myself making excusses for my high matabolism and genitics, but why should I, so that someone can feel sorry for me or better for them selves? We do need to raise our girls to see themselves and others perfect just the way they are and not to judge. Thank you.

    1. jen

      You’re welcome. :) It really is amazing how cruel people can be to those who are very thin, and how they think it’s okay!! I have been that girl as well, and the comments really hurt.

  5. shell

    It’s very misleading when Monroe is held up as an example of how beauty ideals have supposedly changed so much & how they supposedly used to be “healthier” and/or more attainable….

    1. The female sex symbols of today are NOT runway models. The average person will tell you they find those very tall, very thin women (or I should say “girls”, as the average runway model’s career is over by age 20) unattractive. While *I* think naturally rail thin women have their own charm, they are NOT held as an ideal outside of the fashion industry.
    So who are the female sex symbols of today? Scarlett Johanssen, Salma Hayek, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and Monica Belucci are often cited by men & women alike as female beauty ideals. They are all slender, but also curvy & far from thin. Most of them hover around a size 6 dress size, which is actually LARGER than what Monroe would’ve worn throughout her career (using modern sizing).

    2. Monroe’s hip measurements would put her at about size 4 nowadays. Her waist was extremely tiny, like size 0 tiny, but her bust quite large in comparison to the rest of her.
    Height: 5’5.5″
    Weight: 118-140 lbs
    Bust: 35-37 ”
    Waist: 22-23″
    Hips: 35-36″
    Bra size: 36D

    Clothing sizes were different back then; no way was she a modern size 14. The often cited photo of her in the white bathing suit is at a bad angle which distorts her size. Look at other photos from the same shoot – she looks about 1-2 sizes smaller because they are straight shots which don’t warp her shape. She was also at her largest then. Look at photos of her throughout her career – she is rather thin in most of them, albeit still impossibly curvy. Monroe also wore a girdle, which no doubt gave her that tiny 23″ waist (although she likely still had a small waist without it). How many women could attain a body like that? How many could have a 36D bust with a 23″ waist without surgery or use of girdles? Basically, she was a slender woman with huge boobs. Not too different from today’s ideal, is it? Her body is as unusual & unattainable as thin, tall model types. There is no comfort in an image like hers, as it’s unrealistic for most of us also.

    3. Monroe was not healthy. She did not take care of her body. Read up on her. She is no standard for a healthy body. She may have been beautiful, but it was not due to healthiness.

  6. rhea

    Very nice post, one of the few which doesn’t degrade the skinny ones because “they are the trend today idea” jealous concept. I really love this part “And call me crazy, but isn’t it the height of hypocrisy to champion for the acceptance of one body type, while simultaneously lambasting another?”. They think it’s acceptance if they praise all the voluptuous ladies and degrade the other. I am not skinny but I think it’s senseless to diss on skinny ladies, especially those that are naturally skinny. Shell has said a very informative comment especially no. 1. I really agree with these, why are they comparing skinny models to Marilyn Monroe? Why not Kim or Beyonce who are not skinny as Marilyn as people may thought? What’s the point? With no. 2, yeah her waist is way too tiny compared to her bust and hips sizes. I guess corset really works wonders back then. And no.3, Agreed. How people can say that Monroe is healthy if her death was due to drug abuse. Seriously, skinny haters? What’s healthy with using prohibited drugs?

  7. Jes

    Jen,
    Great post, just wanted to share a little bout my princess. We are a Christian family of homeschoolers, who are timidly beginning to embrace more unschoolish ways. I grew up being called “short stuff” and was always on the thin side, my dh has always carried more weight than he would like and is considered “overweight/obese” by medical charts and standards. My dd has a build more similar to her dad than to me. BUT she is amazingly comfortable in her skin. When asked what feature (if any) she would change, she cites her mildly crooked teeth. When trying on clothes, instead of the typical “ugh, I am so fat” that most women think, she confidently blames the cut of the clothing. Only 15 years old, yet wise beyond her (shoot, sometimes beyond MY) years! Have no fear for your little princess… we encouraged Caite from little bitty that she was beautiful inside and out and she believes us! Keep up the excellent job -loving the blog.

  8. Chris

    Very well put! Beauty is illusory – and Ashley Judd just defined the terms perfectly on Daily Beast. Miss Representation has asked people to take a month off from magazines and media with degrading and derogatory stereotypes of women. Our children are constantly bombarded with this; it’s so subtle sometimes we forget to notice.  My daughter went to Duke, and the amount of body dysmorphia and eating disorders on campus was unbelievable.

  9. Molly

    This is so powerful. Thank you.

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