Why 36-24-36 is Bullshit…and the Title of Our Blog

Image: pincurlmag.com

Elle Says:

The title for this blog is – obviously – ironic.  In documenting our weight loss journeys, we want to discuss false ideals of body image and how they have affected our own weight struggles. In no way do we believe that the “ideal” woman has bust, waist, and hip measurements of 36-24-36.


Not even two of our most famous icons of beauty had those measurements.  Audrey Hepburn (love her), of classic-beauty, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and strange-accent fame, was a 31.5-22-31.  Tiny, yes, but she had her own weight issues; before she was famous and was working as a dancer after the war, she struggled with overeating.  Who knew?  Marilyn Monroe, on the other hand, of Kennedy, Playboy, and bombshell fame, was supposedly a 36-24-34.  Smaller than you thought still, huh?

Daniel Akst published an article* in the Summer 2005 Wilson Quarterly that investigated evolutionary and biological reasons why “Looks Do Matter.” In it, he cites Devendra Singh’s research, which finds that waist-to-hip ratio was more important than the numbers.  Despite Audrey and Marilyn’s different sizes, they each had the same waist-to-hip ratio: 0.7.

If 36-24-36 seems an impossible number to achieve, 0.7 is almost worse: we cannot change the ratio of our bodies on the skeletal level.  Yes, we may trim our waistline and add muscle to our glutes for a more hourglass shape, but in our fittest shape imaginable, the width of our hips is determined by genetics, and my mother’s small boobs got passed down the line. Which is, of course, where plastic surgery comes into play – the attempt to achieve a false standard.

But those numbers exist – and not just in our pop culture consciousness.  Claiming that these measurements represent an impossible ideal is nothing new; people have been saying it for years; Dove launched a famous “Real Beauty” campaign to challenge such notions.  What persists, however, is the ideal of uniformity. If the numbers no longer have as much meaning, we have not yet lost the desire to look the same, and everyone – from clothing manufacturers to magazines – seems to expect us to.

Just as those numbers do not represent female beauty, neither does uniformity. When I was fighting my mental battle with anorexia in high school, a beloved teacher called me aside to talk to me about my shrinking physique.  She held her arm out to mine: “Look at our wrists.  They’re bigger, and that’s OK.  There really is such a thing as big-boned.  Some people aren’t meant to be tiny.”  She was right.  Some women’s collarbones are delicate and look like the slightest pressure would cause them to snap; my clavicle looks like it would need a wrecking ball to fracture it.  Yes, there has been a recent uprising of beautiful plus-size models such as Kate Dillon or Crystal Renn, as well there should be.  Bravo, universe.  But let’s face it: my size 12 involves a lot more bumps, rolls, and cellulite than plus size models’ size 12.  They’re healthy, gorgeous, fit women and beautiful as-is, and I still need to work at it.  The number on the scale when they weigh themselves at a size 12 is probably significantly lower than the 200 lbs. I shoved into a size 12 pair of jeans.

A size, a number, a weight – none of it can be relegated to the term “normal” or “average” and especially not “ideal.”

So our blog, thirtysix24thirtysix.  This is what it says about us: we’re aware of the ideal, we’re not it, but we want to talk about it.  We’re also cheeky.


*”Looks Do Matter” by Daniel Akst.  A web version is available here.

“Television Viewers’ Ideal Body Proportions: The Case of the Curvaceously Thin Woman” by Kristen Harrison, published in Sex Roles 48.5-6 (2003): 255-264.  A web version is available here. An intriguing read; check it out.

“Life-size Barbie gets real women talking” by Lisa Marsh.  The doll that depicts what Barbie would like life is she were a real woman was actually created by a recovering anorexic, a fact that makes this image even more compelling.

If Barbie was a real person. Totally realistic.
Image: today.msnbc.msn.com


108 responses to “Why 36-24-36 is Bullshit…and the Title of Our Blog

  1. The hottest thing as I made my way thru the teen years Was Playboy and the centerfolds. Some forty years later, not sure how much Mr. Hefner may have warped me, I’ve become distinctly aware that there are ideals and there is reality. Have you ever found a PERFECT circle? Ever had a PERFECT day? No? Well think back to Plato and his heaven of forms … the prototypical horse, palm tree, whatever. These things are not found in our lives; we just have them in our heads. Anyone looking for perfection … to find it, or worse, to be it … is on a fool’s errand. We are all just the way we are supposed to be at this moment. If it’s not healthy for you, change it, but don’t chase somebody else’s cooked up perfection.

  2. Loved the article. I would also add some content about need of control (etc.) in the context of eating disorders, but still it is good 🙂
    Congratulations on being freshly pressed!

  3. We have the awareness that there is no ‘perfect” size as such and that beauty is skin-deep but the obsession with weight loss and acquiring perfect shapes is still very much present and will always be.

  4. This blog was great! I’m currently blogging about 23 years old failed romance, and part of it has got to do with my confidence in myself, I think the media should filter some of the images of these women, or at lest make it clear that they are airbrushed…

  5. I love the juxtaposition of the V.S. models and the Dove models. I’ve seen it a few times, and think the Dove models are so beautiful and healthy. I. Think they look better than the others.

  6. a few years ago, i really wanted to have 36-24-36 size
    since a boy told me that i’m a little bit “fat” and some people were “disturbed” with my sexiness
    it influences me and the way i dressed up absolutely 😦
    i think i become a half-anorexia now, i’m so tired with these stupid rules
    so i pray to God and do u know what i got, hun?
    “you are not what people say, you are you”
    every woman is so beautiful when she acquiesce her real self
    you are beautiful just the way you are -brunomars 😀
    Let’s cheer your beauty, gals!

  7. those women in the victoria picture look like concentration camp survivors except for the shiny appearance probably from oils or something the others look more realistic, more woman need to stop obsessing about numbers and concentate on feeling good and healthy not what that dumb mirror says.

  8. One of the comment you made sparked my interest. You mentioned that their waist-to-hip ratio was 0.7. This number is surprisingly close to another number related to nature/beauty: 0.6180339. This is the golden ratio and has plenty of ties to nature/universe. I’m not saying that women should have a waist-to-hip ratio closer to that number. I like math and the coincidence is striking.

    • Hmmm Right now, I can think of:-Starting out by walking in place-Jumping jacks-jumping up and down-squats-pushupsand .-BUY A WORKOUT VIDEO!References : if you can.

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  10. Thank you for this post. I am a 36 – 31 – 46 and very prone to adding some weight especially in my hips. I am always on one dieting plan or the other and it drives me nuts.
    I really should just learn to love my body the way it is.
    Lagos, Nigeria

  11. I am a 36-24-36.
    I’m all natural and i’ve never dieted in my life.
    I simply eat when i’m hungry and only when i’m hungry which is about every 2 hours a day. I also horse ride once a week and walk lots.
    Anyone saying 36-24-36 is not possible without being unhealthy or possibly developing an eating disorder I will quite happily send you evidence.

    • We never said that 36-24-36 is an impossible body measurement. But it may not be physically feasible for some body types, like my own, which is partially why I developed an eating disorder trying to get there. All we mean to say is that those numbers shouldn’t be the IDEAL, and we actually extend our argument to say that there should be no one ideal at all.

      • Ich danke euch beiden h bsehcn. Euer Foto ist schon der Hammer, aber die Karte die ihr mir geschickt habt toppt alles. Das ist die beste Karte die ich jemals bekommen habe.Vielen vielen Dank daf r.

      • I had to read that paragraph of your post a few times to understand that you weren’t saying what Jennifer thought you were saying. Just saying.
        You might try making these points more clear in the future.

    • Amen Jennifer. I am a 36 24 35. My waist to hip ratio is exactly a .7. Ps the Victoria secret advertisement is about their bra that they named “body” because its so comfortable it feels like part of your body. It isn’t about loving your shape.

  12. Hi there. I think you’re doing great work with body image issues. I want to provide my opinion on one thing, however. Dr. Singh was concerned with evolutionary psychology. The idea is that a waist-hip ratio of 0.7 indicates to a potential mate the ideal hormone levels for health and fertility. Yes, that’s primarily genetically determined. That’s the point; an organism seeks to recombine its genes with other genes of the highest possible quality. In that sense, there is very much an “ideal” and it is 0.7. And you’re absolutely right that a great many women cannot attain it. You’re also right that women with different body types should not strive for it or be made to feel inadequate. Diversity is integral to populations, and there are lots of other indicators of genetic fitness.

  13. 36 24 36 is far from unobtainable, I enjoy how you are trying to promote a positive body image for women. However, by telling people that one “type of woman” is not attainable or “skinny shaming” you are only feeding into more negative body image hype.

    I am 38 bust, 25 waist, 36 hips. Before my second child and my 30’s I had a 25 inch waist. I am 5’8″ 135lbs currently, and am aiming for my pre baby #2 24″ waist. I am 32 years old.

    Also, no Victoria’s Secret model would have a hip size of 36″ the average vikki secret is 5’9″ + and under 120lbs. In fact a skim of the web and you can see your average vikki model is 34″ 22-23″ 34″ and 5’9″ and above. 😀 http://thevsangelz.com/measurements-and-description I also want to point out most of these models start at the age of 15, therefore they are not fully developed. Heidi Klum was a 34 22 34 when she started as a teen and is now a mother of four children and 37 26 37. 😀

  14. Response to the dove vs Victoria secret picture, that I assume you agree with: so only women on the dove campaign and others who look like that deserve to love their bodies, same with the 36-24-36, only women who don’t have the “societal ideal” are allowed to love their bodies. Ok, I think I’m starting to understand this whole Body “positivity” movement.

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  17. Women born before 1960 had to walk a lot more than women born after 1985. They walked or rode bicycle. They didn’t have automatic dish washers and few had clothes dryers. They did more manual labor which burned up calories, and caused them to have a high, natural metabolism. That is why when you watch older movies the women have small waist lines.

    The ones born after 85 had less manual labor, less walking and more fat in their diets. More sugar too. Look around, you see a lot of women in the late 20′ early 30′ who are almost straight down from the armpits to the hips.

    • Hate to break this to you but as a moderately lazy girl I had a fast metabolism (and the classic hip waist ratio) for most of my life, barely putting on weight. Chores? Pagh. I am now menopausal, far more active than I ever was (exercise and chores) and 14 pounds heavier with no way to shift them unless a whole meal is skipped. Which was never my thing…

  18. i have a 36-24-36 figure and let me tell you that shit is impossible to maintain. by the end of the day its more 36-26-36. and the two 36’s come from my shoulders and lower ass. bc no one has GIANT FUCKING ANIME TITTIES that taper down to a 24 inch waist. its really not possible for a lot of girls and i get that but im also not looking like ><. so ya the media needs to take their idea of a 36-24-36 body and shove it.

  19. I understand that everyone wants to be love and accepted and obsessing over being ideal can easily become unhealthy. The issue is that not everyone is ideal or perfect…but some people are. The ideal body proportions on a women arent something most women will find mutable and isn’t the sort of thing that implies anything about your character for not being born in such a way. The hard truth however is that attraction is hardwired into our genetics and a desirable ideal really does exist within our minds and those who possess the ideal are treated far better in many aspects of life. This is why beautiful and ugly people coincide on the same planet. I think its important to remember these beauty ideals are derived from the opposite gender, aka its men who find hourglass figures attractive and thats why highly regarded models tend to have measurements close to the ideal.

  20. Is the first 36 digit for shoulder or bust?
    If it’s for bust then I don’t have that, but if it’s for shoulders, I have a 36inch shoulder width, 24inch waist and 36inch hips… Just want someone to know I exists

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