Several days on now, it seems people still cannot stop talking about Kim Kardashian wearing Marilyn Monroe’s dress to the Met Gala this week.
The petite reality star and mogul donned Monroe’s famous ‘Happy birthday Mr President’ dress, last worn in 1962, after going to quite extreme lengths to fit into the gown.
Yes, for decades people had believed Monroe was some sort of bigger-bodied, plus-sized icon, but in actuality, Kardashian – a very petite human, even with her internet-breaking behind – had to drop 16lbs just to get the dress on .
Isn’t society a mess?
A choice was clearly made a long time ago to highlight bodies like the late Monroe’s as the plus-size ambition, and sideline legit bigger-bodied role models, suggesting Monroe was the ideal we needed to aspire to in the plus-size world (like we had to aspire to a celebrity body in the first place, that is), leaving valid plus-size queens and kings feeling pretty damn misrepresented.
Because if that is plus-size, then what the hell are we?
The fact Kardashian had to resort to such drastic measures in order to fit into Monroe’s dress is wild in its own right, but shows we need to drop the dangerous comparison of bodies like Monroe’s to today’s standards – and, you know, while we’re at it, the general obsession with size comparison in pop culture.
Over the years I’ve read countless mentions of Monroe being plus-size despite her measurements – purportedly 36-24-34, the equivalent of a modern-day UK size 6 to 8 – having been widely available all this time, with more and more articles and experts shutting down the idea she was bigger bodied.
Some have tried to justify labeling her as such by suggesting it’s by 1950s standards, and that she’d wear what is now a size 14 (which many may class as plus-size, despite the average size of women in the UK being a 16 ).
But even Kardashian herself was shocked at how small Monroe was, remarking to Vogue ‘I always thought she was extremely curvy,’ when up close and personal with the late star’s figure-hugging gown.
Look, I’m not saying Monroe wasn’t a captivating beauty (because, for the cheap seats at the back, size and beauty are not mutually exclusive – I know, weird, right?), but let’s not claim she represents anything other than the kind of body ‘preferred’ in popular culture today. Especially when she was evidently a lot smaller than Kardashian, who arguably possesses one of the most fawned-over bodies in the world.
Monroe was not a ‘bigger woman’, she was most definitely not ‘plus-sized’ and when Kardashian has to go to shocking lengths in order to fit into a gown worn by her, which, in itself, threatens to encourage harmful behaviors around weight and disordered eating, then we really need to nip this horrendous fetishisation in the bud.
Why does it matter if people think Monroe would have been larger than she is? Good question.
Firstly, looking to someone like Monroe as a plus-sized icon today means amazing role models who are bigger-bodied and leading an example of body image confidence so many of us are yearning for are being sidelined.
This contributes further to the lack of body diversity in pop culture, which means straight-sized celebrities are touted as plus-size, which contributes further to the lack of body diversity…you get the picture.
Yes, I know, there is a whole other article around the toxicity of Kardashian explaining the extreme step-by-step of how she fit into a dress she wore for only a few minutes, as well as about the wider issue around sizing in the fashion industry, but I have a word count I need to be aiming for here.
Kardashian clearly wanted to create conversation when she wore that dress on the red carpet this week and while it may not be the conversation she had in mind, I can only hope it can push toward real change about how we perceive celebrity body image and the harmful comparisons that need to stop.
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