It has been a slow crawl for the doll. In the 50s and even the 70s – the 60s were a tentative audition for today – a size 12, with hips and breasts, could make it on to a billboard or into a movie. Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Ava Gardner – all had flesh and interesting faces and imperfections. Russell’s eyebrows looked like draft excluders and Gardner had a cleft chin you could topple into. They looked like individuals. No more. Models and actresses are tiny now, and curiously similar, with every trace of fat melted off, every shadow painted out.
I’m sorry but she just wasn’t. From the recent auction of her dresses:
Sharing a rotating mirrored platform with Hedy Lamarr’s peacock gown from “Samson and Delilah” and Kim Novak’s rhinestone- fringed show dress from “Jeanne Eagels,” Monroe’s costume was displayed on a mannequin that had been carved down from a standard size 2 to accommodate the tiny waist. Even then, the zipper could not entirely close.
But that’s just one dress. Perhaps the star was having a skinny day. To check, you could look across the room and see that Monroe’s red-sequined show dress from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” was at least as petite, as were the saloon costume from “River of No Return” and the tropical “Heat Wave” outfit from “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
Half a Person
In fact, the average waist measurement of the four Monroe dresses was a mere 22 inches, according to Lisa Urban, the Hollywood consultant who dressed the mannequins and took measurements for me. Even Monroe’s bust was a modest 34 inches.
That’s not an anecdote. That’s data.
The other actresses’ costumes provided further context. “It’s like half a person,” marveled a visitor at the sight of Claudette Colbert’s gold-lame “Cleopatra” gown (waist 18 inches). “That waist is the size of my thigh,” said a tall, slim man, looking at Carole Lombard’s dress from “No Man of Her Own” (a slight exaggeration — it was 21 inches). Approaching Katharine Hepburn’s “Mary of Scotland” costumes, a plump woman declared with a mixture of envy and disgust, “Another skinny one.”
An American 2 is a British 6, a zero a 4.
It just ain’t true that Monroe was Sophie Dahl sized. Can we finally kill this one?