The Marilyn Monroe size 16 myth: What size was she really by today’s standards?

Sure, beauty icon Marilyn Monroe had curves, but there is a pop culture myth, propped up by quotes from Roseanne Barr and Elizabeth Hurley, that she was much larger than she really was. It’s all a complicated misunderstanding.

The claim is that Marilyn was a size 16 (which people think of in today’s size standards.) While sometimes Marilyn did appear to have a fuller figure, she almost always looked tiny.

For instance, Chloe Marshall, who was the first size 16 girl to compete in Miss England, is a lovely representation of what a 16 size is today:

Here’s Marilyn Monroe at what was probably her heaviest:

Possibly a size 10 or 12 by today’s sizing, but the truth is during most of her career, Marilyn was more slim than this.

There’s a lot that goes into the confusion about Marilyn’s size and weight. The argument is that our perception of beauty as a society has changed to prefer waif-thin girls over 1950’s hourglass pinup shapes. What’s odd about that is the fact that our population as a whole has gotten much bigger since the 50s, and clothing manufacturers have actually changed the sizes to be more kind to our egos. Maybe at one point Marilyn did wear a size 16 dress, but it was probably more of what a size 12 is today.

Here are the quotes that really pumped up the Marilyn plump myth:

Roseanne Barr:

“I’m more sexy than Pamela Lee or whoever else they’ve got out there these days. Marilyn Monroe was a size 16. That says it all.”

Elizabeth Hurley:

“I’ve always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I’d kill myself if I was that fat…I went to see her clothes in the exhibition, and I wanted to take a tape measure and measure what her hips were. She was very big.”

That’s strange, because many others have also reported back from actually measuring an owning her clothes, and those reports paint a much different story than what Elizabeth Hurley is speculating about.

There’s are also Marilyn’s measurements from her dressmaker:

Height: 5 feet, 5½ inches

Weight: 118-140 pounds (Hollywood studios listed her between 115-120 lbs.)
Bust: 35-37 inches
Waist: 22-23 inches
Hips: 35-36 inches
Bra size: 36D

Hmm, so her waist never got above 23 inches, and her hips never got beyond 36.

When British Journalist Sara Buys actually tried on Marilyn Monroe’s clothes, here’s what she experienced:

Contrary to received wisdom, she was not a voluptuous size 16 – quite the opposite. While she was undeniably voluptuous – in possession of an ample bosom and a bottom that would look at home gyrating in a J-Lo video – for most of the early part of her career, she was a size 8 and even in her plumper stages, was no more than a 10. I can tell you this from experience because a few weeks ago, I tried to try on her clothes.

British sizes are also different from American sizes, as in they are less forgiving. A British size 8 is actually an American size 4, a 10 is a 6.

Daven Hiskey on the website notes that Marilyn’s infamous Seven Year Itch white dress was too small to fit on a size 2 mannequin. He also noted that many times her clothes were so tight she had to be sewn into them. Often she was wearing what would be considered now to be a size 2, when she probably would be more comfortable with a 4.

So why worry about all this? Because the truth behind myths matter, and in a society that’s full of body conscious young women it’s better to know that if you’re a size 16 you’re not going to look like Marilyn Monroe, because she was a size 4. It’s also important to know that Marilyn Monroe was not overweight in any way, and if your body does resemble hers, neither are you.

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    • seamstress

      Marilyn Monroe was not a size 16 or 14 or 12. she had a smaller upper body and little bit curvier bottom. she was a size 8 in todays standards in the us. so lets say marilyn monroe was alive today and strolled into the bebe store, she would wear small or medium tops and size 8 bottom.

      • Turbulentbeauty

        Actually she WAS a size 12 or 14 because that’s the sizes used back then. (She even says she is a size 12 in a movie). Retail sizes today are lower “vanity sizes” but if you check the patterns for sewing, they are still the same as back when Marilyn was around. McCall’s is a popular brand. If you check the back of a dress pattern you’ll see her bust and hips fit into the size 12. Her waist was much smaller, of course, because women used corsets or similar cinchers.

        • Statik

          I have similar measurements to marilyn (34-22-36) and I wear a size 10-12 in vintage clothing (waist allways needs to be taking in) and in modern clothing I wear everything from a 0-4 she regardless would have been quite small . Also marilyn Monroe never wore girdles or cincher or corsets aside from movie performances, she hated wearing underwear and bras and only had a few sets

    • Ashley

      Thank you, I don’t know how many women’s bubble I had to pop when they throw out that MM was a size 16 when trying to make them feel better about their size while they were trying to put down mine.. I’m 5’7, 115lbs and size a 2.

      Not that being bigger than me is bad but what they were saying was false.

      • Turbulentbeauty

        Yea they are just ignorant of how sizing works in retail today. Dress patterns today still use the system from Marilyn’s and she’s a 12-14. Compared to modern sizes that is like a 4-6.

    • Nathan

      I’m tired of obese women trying to call themselves “curvy” and using women like MM who was actually curvy to justify their obesity. I’m also tired of strawman arguments about size 0 models who look like skeletons. Just because a woman who looks like a skeleton isn’t attractive doesn’t mean that being fat is better. There is something in between.

      • girl101

        I completely agree with you!

        • Alisha

          EXACTLY! I’m 5’2 and have always been on the small size… ppl “teased” me for years saying how skinny I was and that I needed to eat.. I put on tons of muscle and hit my highest of 119 lb @ 4’9. That is the biggest I’ve ever been.. now that I’m not very active I stay under 105 lb :/ so the names have returned. Thankfully I am now married and he liked me even when I was toned and saw me change lol. But being FAT is not okay just like starving urself is not okay. I am also top heavy so i don’t get picked on much anymore but I shouldn’t have to be fat to be considered a woman. Puh.. ppl and their excuses to justify being lazy. You either love yourself or don’t.. trying to compare yourself to someone else *especially someone from a much different era* will not validate anything.

      • Angelgirl2013

        Absolutely! Like me, I am petite but healthy weight and not tio smakl!! Healthy and happy!! :)

    • Brittany

      Of course Elizabeth Hurley thinks MM was huge, she is super skinny!
      I have never heard of MM being a size 16, only an 8. I have no clue how anyone could ever think she was a size 16. She has always looked thin to me.

      • Turbulentbeauty

        In a movie Marilyn says she is a size 12. Her dressmaker provided her measurements and they ranged a size 12-14. That IS thin since the equivalent to modern retail sizes is 4-6. The size 16 is probably at the end of her career, which is a 8 today. People just get confused because they don’t understand that you have to look at pattern making sizes to see what sizes were like in the 1950’s.

        • Minerva, the Wise

          Actually, Marilyn was thinner as she aged, due to drug abuse, depression and stress. In her last photo shoot, she was still beautiful, but quite thin, and sad-looking.
          All that you say about size numbers shrinking through the years is absolutely true. When I weighed 99 pounds in the early sixties, I wore an off-the-rack 8, which was the smallest woman’s size available to me. As I gained weight through the years, I wore, in order, junior 5, junior 3, women’s 4, (2’s not available) for decades. Now size 6 at 155 lb. So, size 8=99 lb, 6=155 lb, over 50 years.
          There’s no good way to compare then and now. For crying out loud, Claudette Colbert, who was tiny, was famous in the thirties for being “the perfect 10,” in other words, the perfect size at the time.
          This is so crazy…

    • Heather

      I’m 5’7 and 180 pounds, I am a size 14. I don’t see where they think being a size 16,18,22, or whatever is bad. who are we to judge anyone? Size doesn’t matter, the person inside is what matters.

    • whoa

      Elizabeth Hurley should feel ashamed of herself for saying what she did. To come out and say “i’d kill myself…” in a time where there are people killing themselves for not fitting in to the “norms” that people put out there is awful. She is a prime example of what is wrong with many women today.
      I think Marilyn was gorgeous and had a great figure, but people like Roseanne need to stop using her as an example because they aren’t curvy they are overweight or obese. There is a huge difference and it seems that too many girls use it as an excuse these days.

      • uh

        umm how is it an excuse? what does it matter to you if they’re overweight or obese? i’m tired of people saying others can’t label their body as they wish. there is a huge difference between caring about their health (obesity can cause other problems) and just being a judgmental ahole.

        • whoa

          there is a huge difference in being curvy and healthy as someone who is obese and not healthy. When you seem women who are just overall large using the term “curvy” to make their size acceptable then it is too much. I am not saying acceptable as in for vanity purposes I mean the fact that it is unhealthy. Attaching curvy to your description isn’t going to make all the extra weight any healthier, but there are women out there that believe saying they are curvy makes their size perfectly fine.

        • kirbyu

          because, and this may shock you, words have meanings. it’s what makes symbolic representation work. wanting to label oneself with a term that is more flattering, that does not actually describe you breaks the system. example: over weight and obese woman referring to themselves as “curvy” ruins the word curvy for women who are, in fact curvy. because people begin to associate being fat with the word. see how that works?

    • Dre

      Sizes have grown commercially over the years. I wear a size 8 if I go shopping at, say, GAP. But if I get measured and get something tailored? I’m a 12. There’s a difference.

      • Turbulentbeauty

        That means you’re about Marilyn’s size! The sizes used by a dress maker are the same system from back in Marilyn’s day.

    • Courtney

      Elizabeth Hurley’s comments DISGUSTED me! What a bitchy back handed compliment! Just because she started her comment saying she thinks MM “looked fabulous” but then says she’d “kill herself if she was ever that fat”!?! Elizabeth Hurley is piece of shhhhh! I’m seriously PISSED at Hurley!

      • Jo

        stay jealous, fatty. Liz has more talent and beauty in her whole (fit) body than the most overrated attention whoring homewrecker of all time had in her whole body.

        • Serena

          You are a bitch. What are you like a size 2? Marilyn Monroe was a great woman of all time, hence the fact that she is famous and your not. No one is jealous of a skinny, rude woman like Elizabeth. Get over yourself hun!!!

        • Tbird

          Have you seen Liz these days? Barf

        • EllaSilverYeah!

          As a very small woman who your useless and brain dead insults can’t touch, you’re just on Liz’s side because she’s old. You’re probably old too. And this is what bitter old bags of wrinkles do. Choose to aide with other old mean womenwomen and automatically hate anybody who looks like they could still make babies. Pathetic reptile…

          • EllaSilverYeah!

            So I apologize. My phone has a mind of its own and I can’t make edits from mobile. I hope the wicked witch doesn’t get so confused from the typos that she feeds me a poison apple.

      • wll777

        I thought Elizabeth Hurley was hot until she made that comment about MM. Now I see her as another barely talented Hollywood witch who is so insecure about her looks that she has to be catty to another woman who she thinks is prettier, even if that woman is dead!

    • Serena

      I love Marilyn Monroe’s body and whatever her size is she is still curvy not skinny. I hate that models today represent and practically promote anorexia. I mean who’s idea of beauty was it to make a size 0,2 or 4 the best size. I rather be curvy and have a body. We as women are suppose to be curvy!!! Not skinny sticks. So to people who hate on bigger women and think bad things of Marilyn Monroe go screw yourselves!!!!!!!

      • Alisha

        It’s easier to carry tons of clothes for shows if the models are roughly the same body type. If they have to switch or replace ladies it’s easier too. Ditto for photo shoots etc, if you go higher in size the body types vary much more… And not all 0-4 are sticks… some of us have natural D’s. :)

      • Kathy

        not all women are the same so not all women are supposed to be curvy like you say. i’m naturally a size two and don’t starve myself i sometimes eat more than some people. I’ve been skinny all of my life and it’s just the way i am. the only way i can look bigger is by gaining muscle because food doesn’t really make me gain fat, it actually speeds up my metabolism making maintaining my weight at 98-105. i have a curvy body everything proportionate. c cup, medium size panties so not all women have to be curvy. some are thin, some are curvy, and some are big. that’s how God made us, you know.

        • kathy

          * moderately curvy

      • obviously

        Marilyn Monroe was skinny and curvy, and not all 0s to 4 are just sticks, to have curves depends on your waist, bust and hip measurements. Most women aren’t curvy today as waist lines are bigger, making women look square, not curvy. Models do not promote anorexia, it’s your own view of it all that can make you think such, I grew up with the mags too and not once did I feel I had to be skinnier, its how your parents raise you too, people can stop blaming naturally skinny women for anorexia. I have binge eating disorder, now do i blame every thing that has food in it for my disorder?

      • Grazio Beegirl

        Women aren’t always suppose to be curvy, there are few people who were born to be skinny (genetically). “Real women have vagina” so if you ask people to screw themselves for hating on bigger people, go screw yourself too as it goes the same way on hating skinny people. We do have feeling, so don’t put others down just to make u feel better about your “CURVY”. Women comes in different sizes and they’re all pretty!

      • Michelle Mulch

        Well that’s kind of mean thing to say to women who are naturally skinny “sticks”. Some women don’t have large breasts are hips and are just straight up and down. How is hating on that body type any different from hating on a fat person?

      • Turbulentbeauty

        I understand what you’re saying, but this article just revealed Marilyn was actually a size 2 or 4, just not as tall as current models.

    • Lolli Hara

      I dislike it when obese , overweight woman call themselves “curvy”. I thought that term was reserved for people like MM and Beyonce etc . MM is “curvy” – not weighing 190 while being 5’5. After the hijacked term curvy where does that leave hourglass girls like me who aren’t fat but aren’t “willowy”.

      I mean girls who shape relatively close to MM’s size. Small waist, wide hips and a sizable chest. I’m a size 3-4 with natural very high C’s. I ain’t skinny. I’m no where near fat. I’m curvy……………

      .Plus I’m a photographer and the photo of beautiful of MM in her white one piece is taken very low and close to her legs with the lense. The perspective will make the closest thing to the camera large, like her legs and hips. So even in that photo, her hips are much tinier than that.

      • AaliyahAurora

        Also, Marilyn was pregnant when those one piece photos were taken.

    • alex

      Im only 7 lbs overweight and losing. I have a great and rarely seen hourglass figure. I measure 37-27.5-39.5. Ive already had quite a few men tell me id be their dream girl. Im a size 8 on top 10 on bottom. If i went down one more size my body would be just like marylins.

      • cest moi

        I’m 5’8 …our measurements are similar. i’m 37-28-40, and a size 10. I’m completely satisfied with my size. I’m curvy but defined where i need to be. Not everyone wants to be a size 2 and people need to understand that.
        That being said, these big ass women need to quit saying they’re curvy when they wear a size 20. and measure 40-50-45.

        • She Rock

          AM British! Cheese! Size! 118lbs

    • lol people nowadays. why are these people talking about marilyn monroe’s dead body? perhaps you guys can measure her bones in her burial. please. leave the lady alone. let her rest in peace. no matter what her body size was, she’s still THE marilyn monroe. I repeat, “Marilyn Monroe,”

    • stop calling fat curvy

      Stop calling yourself curvy….fat is not curvy… rolls are not curvy… curves, by their very definition, require a slim waste, a bust and an ass…hence curves. sponge bob squarepants isnt curvy.

    • kim

      I for one am a 16. A 38 D Bra and do have a waist. it may not be super small but you can tell what’s what. And I am curvey. A smaller figured woman can be curvy also. So its pretty much about the butt . Waist. And breast that give you curves. So don’t hate on people who are proud of what they have. I say own it!

    • Kaitlynn

      I love Marilyn Monroe, and people like shut the hell up about what certain size you have to be in order to be beautiful. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. and yea I do agree with people being over weight shouldn’t call themselves curvy, I also say you should not make others feel like shit just because they are not your idea of being perfect, we was created to be different not the same. Everyone grow up and accept not everyone is the same, you all putting others down is like the biggest reason ever for suicide!!!!!!

    • Regi

      In the bottom picture, MM is not a size 4. She looks like a 12/14, though photos do lie. She still looks great! (My favorite picture of her, I think.) However, my daughter is a size 2, with a 25-in waist. Sometimes, she looks too skinny to me, and her arms, legs and total lack of anything in the rear attest to the fact that she is not at all fat. I think MM is pretty, and I value the fact that others thought of her as being smart and that she was often caught with a book in her hands.

      Personally, I had a 25-in waist, but this baby has always had back…and top.

      • Turbulentbeauty

        Keep in mind Marilyn was only 5’5″ so when she was at her thinnest (12) that’s a size 4 today, and the photo you reference is her as a size 10 (16). To compare, check out McCall’s misses patterns for dresses and you’ll see her measurements from her dressmaker fell into the 12-14 range. You can then check your own measurements to get an idea of how differently sizes are today from retailers- it’s called “vanity sizing.”

    • Stella Jester

      Elizabeth hurley you are too bloody ugly to be talking shit about Marilyn

    • Liz

      Who is Elizabeth Hurley??

    • Lucia

      I should celebrate! I am a 2-4 :) Yeeha!!

    • Lucia

      Truth is size is just a number.. what matters is how you feel about yourself. Some size 2 girls feel they are overweight and need to diet and some size 10 girls feel comfortable in their skin. It is all in your head. What matters is be healthy s that we could live long and enjoy life!

    • nikki

      I am 5’6″ and 167 and look way thinner than mm in the picture. I have a hard time believing she was 120 lbs. I looked half her size or thinner at that weight. I was 90 lbs after having a child and looked thinner than most woman who were 90 lbs. Its all about where your weight goes.

    • Bastet

      There’s no way her waist is 23″ in that white sun bathing outfit. At leaast 30″-32″. It’s kinda obvious really.