Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

February 15, 2013

There is no ‘right’ size

— — With all of the negative messages young women are sent today about their bodies, weight and how they should look by the movies, it seems like the focus is less on “healthy” and more on “thin.”

There has been a considerable push for more full-figured women to appear on the silver screen. While the average American woman wears a size 14, the average Hollywood starlet wears around a size 4. So, there is no wonder the average American filmgoer enjoys seeing a fuller-figured actress on the screen such as Queen Latifah, Kate Winslet, Melissa McCarthy, or Octavia Spencer.

However, while the American public may be rejoicing upon seeing some more true-to-life figures on the screen, it appears film critics are not. In a recent review of the movie “Identity Thief,” a critic described actress Melissa McCarthy as “a female hippo,” “tractor-sized,” and “a humongous creep.” This is a good example of why it is so hard for larger women to break Hollywood’s size barrier. After all, it seems you can put on a great performance but the critics can’t see through your size to judge it like they would the performances of a lighter actress.

While most people know McCarthy from the show “Mike and Molly” or the movie “Bridesmaids,” I have been a fan since the “Gilmore Girls” days. One of the things I respected about that show was even though McCarthy wasn’t as thin as her on-screen counterparts, her weight was never something that was made fun of or ridiculed. While it seems that there is becoming more acceptance of normal-sized women in Hollywood, weight has been a decades-old issue in the film industry.

Plenty of people like to point out that famed actress Marilyn Monroe wore a size 12 or 14. While it is nice to think the buxom blonde represented a more full figured woman, the reality is this story is a myth. Even back then, not all women could match Marilyn Monroe’s seemingly perfect 35-inch bust, 22-inch waist and 35-inch hips. Not only have I personally seen some of the teeny-tiny outfits Monroe managed to squeeze into but many vintage fashion fans will tell you the way women’s clothing sizes are measured have changed since the 1950s and 1960s.

In the 1980s, our growing waistlines compounded by the desire to be as thin as those girls in the magazine made the fashion industry change how they sized clothing. These fashion mavens found out that if you decrease the size number on an outfit, women will feel thinner than they are and buy more clothes. Basically, if Marilyn Monroe went shopping for clothes today, she would be wearing a size 4 or 6 rather than a 12 or 14. Back then, a size 16 or 18 is what a size 8 is today. Most of her life, Monroe weighed somewhere between 115 and 120 pounds, giving her an approximate body mass index of 19.6, which is average today.

Some say this obsession with our weight goes back to childhood with the first fashion and beauty icon most girls have: a little doll named Barbie. I got my first Barbie when I was 3 and I like to think I don’t have body-image issues as a result. Then again, there were definitely more Raggedy Anne dolls strewn throughout our house than Barbies due to my mother’s own childhood obsession.

It is scary to think if Barbie were real she would 5-foot, nine-inches with a 39-inch bust, 18-inch waist, 33-inch hips, a BMI in the anorexic range, and size 3 shoe — not to mention she would have to walk on her tiptoes because her feet are deformed so they can fit perfectly into heels.

Coming from a family where women always seem to be struggling with their weights and sticking to diets and exercise routines, I know there is nothing wrong with being healthy. There is nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight if you are trying to do so to stay in shape and doing so responsibility. In fact, obesity is a problem people need to address so they can live longer and fuller lives.

However, it seems we are being told to go from one extreme to the other. Even if you diet, exercise and do the best you can to take care of your body, there is no way you will be able to make your body into the perfect ideal created through Photoshop, CGI and airbrushing.

The truth is, no one can be Marilyn Monroe or Barbie or the girl in the magazine. If we keep setting ideals for ourselves, all we are doing is setting ourselves up for failure. What we should do instead is set ourselves up to be healthy rather than setting ourselves up for the “perfect” weight, measurements, or dress size.

Somewhere between size zero and XXXL is a happy medium, and while that medium size may not be the same for everyone, the important thing is finding the right balance for yourself. There is no “right” size, only what’s right for you.

— Kate Coil is a reporter with the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.comꆱ

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