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.
“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.