It’s the 1950’s and Marilyn Monroe
is everywhere; her shockingly blonde hair, signature red pout, and fabulously curvy figure graced magazines, theatres, and countless fantasies, leaving a lasting impression on the world for decades to come. Epitomizing the ideal figure, Marilyn quickly became the sex symbol we know today, for her sheer beauty and wistful persona. Respected at the time for having the “perfect” body type, Marilyn’s figure was desired by women and drooled over by men. Unlike the weight-loss advertisements today, some ads in the 1950’s sold something we never see in the 21st century- weight- GAIN remedies, featuring curvy women like Marilyn; so what happened?
Fast forward sixty years and every magazine you see features a stick-thin model or actress, framed by the words “So and So’s Diet Secret” or “20 Ways to Get Bikini Ready!” Turn on the news or check the internet, and articles reading “Raven’s Cheerleader Gains 2 Pounds, Loses Spot at Super Bowl,” and “Anorexic Cover Girl Dies in her Sleep” dominate the headlines. Clearly much has changed for the worse since the days of Marilyn’s reign. Somehow, in the fifty years since her passing, the ideal woman has become thinner and thinner each decade, creating an issue in the modeling industry that has just recently taken center stage in the news.
Discussion about weight in the modeling industry has reached an all-time high, forcing a debate about the dangers of dramatic weight-loss, the ideal figure, and representation of the “average” women. Seeing as the average American woman is a size 12, the models forced to fit into a size 0 or 2 are completely unrepresentative of their audience, yet they’re warping the minds of those healthy enough to weigh more than them. Young girls and adults alike frequently struggle with self-esteem, and the models they’re seeing encourage those issues, as they give the illusion of an ideal body – but it’s just that, an illusion.
While the women chosen to represent high-fashion and beauty by advertisers and designers are generally thin, that doesn’t necessarily mean that in the “real world,” the same image is seen as more attractive. Despite popular belief as spread by the media, men steadily identify curvier women as more attractive than the thin fashion models appearing on the covers of Vogue and Elle. Many studies found that women consistently believed men preferred women 10-15 pounds lighter than they actually reported. This finding reveals many things, the first of which being that curvy women are still seen as more desirable, as they were in the 1950’s, indicating the media is what has changed, not the mindset. In addition, it shows how powerful popular media is in influencing the minds of those affected by it, so much so that eating disorders are on the rise, especially in vulnerable teenage girls. Luckily, in the past couple of years, these concerns have been voiced loud and clear, and designers are being forced to listen, and changing their policies because of it.
While it’s still absurd that “plus-size models” are generally between a size 6 and 18 (remember the average American woman is a size 12), these models have been gaining representation in the world of fashion. Having been on the receiving end of the social backlash from favoring rail-thin seemingly anorexic models, many changes are being made to ensure equal representation for all body types. Most recently, Britain’s Plus-Size
Fashion Weekend praised curvier models in their two-day long show, following in the footsteps of New York’s Full-Figured Fashion week, which is in its fifth year.
Individual designers have also hopped on the bandwagon, just as recently as September; Ralph Lauren introduced their first plus-sized model, a size 12, 6’2” beauty from Australia. And somewhat ahead of Ralph Lauren is French designer, Jean Paul Gaultier, who has been using full- figured models on the runway to represent his fashion line, designed specifically for fabulous, curvy women!
Seeing as many models tell horror stories of crash diets, laxative use, and extreme exercising, the re-introduction of plus-sized fashion models to the industry would bode well for both models and their audience alike. In a world full of varying shapes and sizes, equal representation for all body types should be a priority, and with any luck, in the coming years, this issue will get the attention it deserves, and necessary changes will be made to ensure equality.
Addressing the warped image of beauty that has been created through the media hopefully will lead to an adjusted image of physical beauty as more of a flexible image, based on personal-preference, rather than an unhealthy illusion.