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Actress/Estee Lauder spokesmodel Elizabeth Hurley was recently named "Babe of the Century'' in some poll. This apparently caused her to lose her senses, because she went on to gratuitously dump on Marilyn Monroe — who's hardly in a position to defend herself. Hurley says that the screen legend was overweight, peaking at a dress size of 16. "I've always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I'd kill myself if I was that fat,'' Hurley told Allure magazine in an amazingly tactless moment ... "I went to see her clothes in the exhibition, and I wanted to take a tape measure and measure what her hips were. (laughter) She was very big."
[Phoenix Gazette, 1996]
"I'm more sexy than Pamela Lee or whoever else they've got out [in Hollywood] these days. Marilyn Monroe was a Size 16. That says it all." — Roseanne.
Origins: The fascination with this "fact" about Marilyn Monroe's dress size is not its literal truthfulness per se, but the implication it carries: that our standards of feminine pulchritude have become so extreme that the woman who has been idolized as the world's premier sex symbol for half a century would be considered "chunky" or even "fat" by modern standards. (Conversely, some of today's celebrities seem to be fond of invoking the "fact" that Marilyn wore a size 16 dress as a means of asserting that they themselves are, if not thin, in better shape than the renowned Marilyn Monroe was.) Marilyn may (at times) have been a little heavier than today's ultra-svelte models, but the notion that she was "fat" (even by today's standards) is based on misinformation or misunderstanding.
Part of the misconception over Marilyn's dress size is caused by the fact women's dress sizing has changed over the years (i.e., today's size 10 dress is smaller than the size 10 dress of fifty years ago), so what might have been labeled a "size 16" dress in Marilyn Monroe's era can't be directly compared with today's size 16 dress. Also, many women have difficulty finding dresses that fit all portions of their frames comfortably, and therefore a woman with a proportionally larger bust, waist, or hip measurement might have to buy a larger-sized dress to accommodate that one measurement, but that dress wouldn't necessarily be reflective of her overall size. As well, it's difficult to accurately size the clothing Marilyn wore from her film costumes because most of that wardrobe was specifically tailored to fit her particular figure and was designed to showcase her body, not to provide the covering typical of standard clothing.
In 2009, fashion features editor Sara Buys had an opportunity to try on some items from a collection of Marilyn Monroe’s costumes and clothes and reported:
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.
Last updated: 13 April 2009
Banvard, Kris. "Meee-Ow!"
The Columbus Dispatch. 3 January 2000 (p. C2).
Buys, Sara. "Was Marilyn Monroe a Size 16?"
The [London] Times. 11 April 2009.
Riese, Randall and Neal Hitchens. The Unabridged Marilyn: Her Life from A to Z
Congdon & Weed Corgi Books, 1987. ISBN 0-552-99308-5.
Sighart, Mary Ann. "Mary Ann Sighart Rebels Against the Model Body."
The [London] Times. 9 April 1994.
Thomas, Barbara. "Lopez Defines Sensuality, Without Being Razor Thin."