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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