Marilyn Monroe and triple zero sized women

Hannah Betts is all worried over triple zero sizes appearing in the shops:

Chillingly, a US size 000 measures up to a UK size 0, five sizes smaller than a UK size 10, itself on the smallish side in a culture in which the average British woman is a size 16, and the public’s ideal physique a size 12 (according to YouGov). A US size zero measures 25 inches around the waist; a triple zero, a meagre 23 inches.

It can be difficult to visualise the bodies behind such unvital statistics. My eight-year-old nephew, so lean that he can fit into his baby pyjamas, has a waist of 23.5 inches; his lithe nine-year-old sister, measures 24 inches. The girths of these adult women are smaller, despite their being significantly taller, in a way that seems hardly possible. The average triple zero poster girl stands at 5ft 7in. To be so narrow-framed at this scale is to be emaciated.

A petite therapist friend puts matters into perspective. “I am the smallest person in the world and my childlike waist is about 28 inches,” she says. “I have bought UK size 6 clothes from Topshop’s petite range, which is horrifyingly too small, making me wonder if they require ribs to be removed, or whether it is actual children who wear them. I am truly shocked.”

Hmm. Perhaps a little perspective?

In fact, the average waist measurement of the four Monroe dresses was a mere 22 inches, according to Lisa Urban, the Hollywood consultant who dressed the mannequins and took measurements for me. Even Monroe’s bust was a modest 34 inches.

That’s not an anecdote. That’s data.

The other actresses’ costumes provided further context. “It’s like half a person,” marveled a visitor at the sight of Claudette Colbert’s gold-lame “Cleopatra” gown (waist 18 inches). “That waist is the size of my thigh,” said a tall, slim man, looking at Carole Lombard’s dress from “No Man of Her Own” (a slight exaggeration — it was 21 inches). Approaching Katharine Hepburn’s “Mary of Scotland” costumes, a plump woman declared with a mixture of envy and disgust, “Another skinny one.”

The pattern she noticed was real. At my request, Urban took waist measurements on garments worn by 16 different stars, from Mary Pickford in 1929 (20 inches) to Barbra Streisand in 1969 (24 inches). The thickest waist she found was Mae West’s 26 inches in “Myra Breckinridge,” when the actress was 77 years old.

31 thoughts on “Marilyn Monroe and triple zero sized women”

  1. In fact, the average waist measurement of the four Monroe dresses was a mere 22 inches, according to Lisa Urban, the Hollywood consultant who dressed the mannequins and took measurements for me.

    And those who point to her more rotund figure in Some Like It Hot may have missed the fact that she was heavily pregnant during the filming.

  2. “I am the smallest person in the world and my childlike waist is about 28 inches”.
    I’m a fairly normal sized chap and my waist size was 30″ till I was into my 30s, not much bigger.
    Maybe she is confusing her waist size and her IQ?

  3. Alex,

    “I am the smallest person in the world…”

    Confusing “the world” with “my social set”, more likely.

    I’m six foot, and my waist was 28 around age 20. I had no idea at the time that I was an emaciated freak.

  4. The size problem we have in the UK is that a frightening proportion of people are overweight, and not just a little bit overweight. Lardarses everywhere, with women the worst offenders.

  5. Shape responds to diet beginning in utero. My Edwardian grandmother had a nineteen inch waist after her first child without looking starved or wearing a corset: her greatgranddaughters were in junior school when they exceeded that. Similar gene pool.

  6. bloke (not) in spain

    “I’m a fairly normal sized chap and my waist size was 30″ till I was into my 30s, ”

    Haven’t a clue what it is now but the bottom waist size in mens’ trousers’ range used to be 28″. And the manufacturing size ratios used to be 2-4-4-2 through to 36″ That’s for the early 70s rag trade. I seem to remember a womens’ size 10 was 32-22-34 with similar ratio up to 16.
    If they were making it, someone must have been buying it. Maybe it was a different species of humanity, back then.

  7. The last time I had occasion to know a woman’s measurements for personal reasons, she was 32-24-34. Slim but not by any measure emaciated. Also not a skinny teen either; 33 years old. On somebody “petite”, a 28 inch waist is “big”.

  8. TheJollyGreenMan

    I have to shop online as the shops do not cater for big portly guys aka fat old farts!

    With the easy access of buying clothes on the internet who can be bothered about what they stock in the shops?

  9. bloke (not) in spain

    You’re quoting what was a standard size 12. I’ve a feeling the manufacturing ratios were 2-3-4-2. That’s for a frock company targeting the boutique & catalogue market, so late teens to 30s & s12 = 25% of that customer base.

    Maybe it’s different now. Racks are bigger – either natural or augmented – & the trade does bugger about with half sizes So 12s magically become 10s, 10s become 8s & girls buy labels make them slimmer.

  10. Coincidentally I was just reading H. Allen Smith’s report of his conversation with Dorothy Lamour’s husband:

    “My wife has a special girdle for wearing onstage. It’s about half the size of her ordinary girdle, and twice as unyielding. I have to help her pull it on before we even get to the zippers. You should see that act. There we stand, Dottie pulling upwards at the front, and me behind her, jerking her off her feet.”

    So perhaps the reported waist sizes of these sylphs were not entirely due to nature, but also to art. And I like the reference to an ‘ordinary’ girdle. Does anyone wear girdles in ‘ordinary’ circumstances any more?

  11. So Much for Subtlety

    Fat people may not be unhealthy, but they are aesthetically displeasing. Britain does not have a problem with thin people. In America Black and Hispanic women are more likely to report themselves happy with their bodies. They are also more likely to be obese.

    I would suggest this article is part of the problem. We need more fat shaming not less. Although if I said that in public it looks like I would be fired in the US. True though.

  12. I can never understand this. My wife is approx 6ft tall and size 12, and could still fit into her wedding dress if she wanted, seventeen years on. Yet she eats like a horse, and I don’t mean hay.

    My young teenage daughters are both verging on 6ft tall and skinny as well. We’re already getting the odd remark about whether they’re on diets or have some sort of eating disorder – to which my response is, If by ‘eating disorder’ you mean ‘eat like marauding locusts’ then yes, they do.

    I kid you not, they eat more than I do.

    Some people are just naturally slim. Some fat people don’t like that.

  13. My wife’s waist is 27″, and she thinks she’s a bit podgy. Though as she’s now nearing 8st, having been nearly 13st a few years ago, I think she’s in the habit of being a bit over-critical.

    I know she’s worn costume corsets that have taken her down to about 22″ waist, and says they’re quite comfortable (and give you very good posture, apparently).

  14. I was browsing M&S the other day, and noticed they didn’t sell a single pair of trousers under 32in around the waist. Not one.

  15. @ bloke (not) in spain
    “Haven’t a clue what it is now but the bottom waist size in mens’ trousers’ range used to be 28″.”
    Yes – so I had get my suits made to measure – and I had decent stomach muscles. Casual trousers: I was directed to the boys’ department.

  16. SMFS: “We need more fat shaming not less. “

    Check out what happened when Mr Richman, of ‘Man v Food’ fame, tried it. The results weren’t pretty. For him.

  17. In the immortal words of Rab C Nesbitt:

    Doctor: I’ve the same waist size now as when I was 18

    Rab: so’ve ah, ah’ve allus bin a fat bastard

  18. I think the perception of widespread obesity is interesting. I have no working kitchen at the moment (plaster is drying today) so went to a cafe for lunch, typical working class bacon egg and chips type place. It was busy, and I checked out the weights of everyone in there; range of ages, ethnicities, both sexes. Other than some older people with a bit of a tummy- normal older podginess- the only genuinely fat person who came in was a lesbian.

    I really don’t think there are as many fat people as we’re told there are.

  19. @IanB

    I think it depends where you are. Down our way (Cotswolds) there are almost no fat people under the age of (say 30).

    Go to Coventry, as I did the other week, and they all seem enormous.

  20. @ Ian B
    working class cafe – maybe they burned off the excess calories by working.
    There are a lot of fat people around – far more than when I was young; some of them are horrifyingly obese. When I was at Prep school there was just one fat boy in my class and the Head Master periodically ribbed him about watching TV after school when the rest of us were playing soccer. I *know* that I am overweight (by about 20% relative to my optimum, thanks to a sedentary working life and never having got properly fit again after tearing a hamstring) but many people think I am thin because the comparison base is so overweight.
    Now there are, as there always have been, some people who are naturally bigger and fatter (called endomorphs), but I continually see fat people who should be mesomorphs – and occasionally fat ecotomorphs.

  21. Bloke no longer in Austria

    I personally think that this is an evolutionary thing and will take a few generations to work out. By that I mean, only since the 1950s have we seen this confluence in the West: virtually unlimited cheap food supply (especially sugars and fats which were always in short supply), preponderance of sedentary office jobs and mass long-term unemployment.

    In height as well as girth, we are a race of giants compared to Britons of 60 or 70 years ago. I was talking about this the other day to a German friend and mentioned that my uncle was a Guardsman serving in Berlin and he was drafted in to the regiment simply because he was ( still is ) over 6ft which in the 1940s was a distinct exception.

    I also noticed this in Japan a few years back. Young Japanese men have discovered meat: they eat burgers and steaks and drink beer. I kept on running into teenagers who were as tall as me ( 5’11”), but their mums and dads were much smaller. I also have a Japanese lady friend in her 40’s who buys clothes in the children’s department of M&S when in the UK.

    As for Marilyn, it depends on when you catch her, as her weight and shape changed a lot over the years, depending on her circumstances, but she was 5’5″ and at her “fighting weight” she was 35-22-35 a “D” cup and about 8 1/2 stones. I guess it was the waist that accentuated her hips and boobs.

  22. What is viewed as the optimum body shape has changed many times over the generations. However, interestingly enough, the waist/hips ratio has remained fairly constant, around 0.6 or thereabouts I believe. We’re simply programmed to love those child bearing hips…

  23. I would like to point out that “waist” as in where your trousers hang is not “waist” as in thinnest part of midrif. So if you are 30 inch waist (trousers) you might easily be 28 at thin point.

  24. So Much for Subtlety

    ABC – “What is viewed as the optimum body shape has changed many times over the generations. However, interestingly enough, the waist/hips ratio has remained fairly constant, around 0.6 or thereabouts I believe. We’re simply programmed to love those child bearing hips…”

    I think it is a great comfort to feminists and other ugly women to think that optimum body shape has changed many times over the generations. But I doubt it. We have a small number of fatty f*cking outliers like Rubens, but basically, if you look at the representations of women in Western Art, what was sexy then, is still pretty damn sexy today. The Greeks did like women with fatter ar$es, which may be related to their sexual preferences, but not that much. It is unlikely any woman pretty enough to be painted by a famous artist would not be pretty enough to get on the front cover of a men’s magazine today.

    Which is all very interesting, but to please Matt, I will now give this a racial spin. Because you can see how lame the feminist argument is by the fact that Lenny Henry likes fat chicks. No seriously – I am actually going to make this argument. Africans certainly have a preference for the larger woman. So do African-Americans. So do British people of Caribbean origin. Despite being subjected to a dominant hegemony of Western cultural Imperialism – very thoroughly in the case of Blacks in the Western hemisphere – for hundreds of years.

    Genetic? I can’t see how that would work. But almost unchangeable? Absolutely. Men are what they are, and they want what they want. You can’t change them by bullying, berating and browbeating them. Nor by trying to impose alien cultural values. I find that some what positive as thoughts go.

    (Although it just may be that many Black men are stuck with the women White men don’t like. Which may explain who Lenny is with now as opposed to then, when he was not famous and rich. But as this does not help my argument, I am going to ignore it completely)

  25. @ johnny bonk
    Good point.
    However that depends on whether you choose to wear a belt.
    The extreme case is when I was 20 I was asked/drafted to play in a cricket match so I thought I could buy a pair if white jeans that could be used later instead of white flannels I should never use again. So I tried – I eventually found a pair that would go over my knees with a 34″ waist (“that is the new slimfit sir” – I had previously believed “slimfit” meant me). During the match one of the opposition’s supporters lent mea tie because I had not

  26. [continued] realised that my hips were less than 34″
    Both teams were from sports clubs with muscles (unlike some catwalk models) so Ms Betts is asking that the minimum waist size for idle females be greater than for active men.

  27. Actually women’s shapes are changing. Used to be that the differential between waist and hips was 12″, 20 years ago it was 10″ and now it is trending towards 8″. It may be the shunning of whalebone or even the increased athleticism of some but the trend is towards a less curvy figure.

  28. bloke (not) in spain

    Interesting Wiki article on: which this stupid bint would have done well to read before emoting.

    It’s a sad reflection on female journalism, so much of their output is almost totally fact-free rant. Yet, despite copious evidence to the contrary, they gripe about being under-represented in the media.

  29. In the early 1970s as a 6 foot tall boy in his late teens I had a waist of 23 inches. I was skinny but many of us were then.

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