Sunday, 12 August 2012

50 Shades of Beauty

Hello there, my pals and gals!
I hope this doesn't turn into a rant. What I'm gonna talk about here today is terribly important to me. I'm not going to bore you with the details of the story right now, but if you all must know, I had fairly serious body image problems when I was 15. In fact, the Hepburns, first Audrey, then Katharine, played a really large role in my recovery. But, that's a story for maybe another time.
Lucille Ball, standing tall at 5'7.5''

Now, if you don't think self-esteem (internal and external!) is important, that's because you have never questioned yours. In that case, congratulations, but feeling good about yourself is probably one of the most crucial things in life. Confidence is essential to success in no matter what one chooses to do. In our teenage years, our external images play a very large role in determining the strength of our self-esteem and I can't think of a worse time to be a teenager than the time we are at right now. With media portraying extreme thinness, trying to fit beauty into a box of overrated, outdated standards, girls (and boys!) feel the need to change themselves to fit that box. This is a reflection of a male-dominated media and a highly sexualized society. "Girls, be perfect size zero barbie dolls or else you are worth nothing."

Throughout history, we've always longed to identify with successful, famous, admired people. We even, in general, admire those more similar to us. It's comfortable and reassuring to see that we have something in common with those loved by millions. The problem is when we can't compare to that ideal, so we try to change it into our own reality. The best example of this? The "Marilyn Monroe was a size 16" conundrum. In a society that worships thinness, to know that a woman that practically personified beauty was a size 16 would shut a lot of inconvenient mouths. But, here's the truth, ladies: She wasn't.

Marilyn was not a size sixteen. Marilyn had a body type considered almost perfect. She looked like an hourglass, perfect proportion between her hips and her bust, a narrow waist and strong shapely legs. Marilyn was as close to a greek goddess as they come. Do you look like that? Good, I don't either. And that's okay. A huge part of my recovery was to realize that I'm not perfect. I never will be anyone else but me and I'll only hurt myself to compare. There are all kinds of people out there and that's what makes the world fascinating. Marilyn was not a size sixteen, but if you are, all the power to you. You are beautiful too.

Here's where Old Hollywood comes in: The women who made it big in that era came in all shapes and sizes. It wasn't the five-foot-nine-a-hundred-and-ten-pounds cliche we see every damn day in our televisions. It's an ideal that has been around for as long as I've been in this world and, frankly, I'm sick of it. This post will be a celebration of all the beautiful women in Old Hollywood. Each one in their very own way.

Did you know that Humphrey Bogart had to stand on a box to kiss Ingrid Bergman on Casablanca? The Swedish actress was 5'9.5'' and wore heels. Ingie was one of the tallest women of her day's Hollywood, and her height is well above-average for a woman. Today, however, she would not be anywhere near the tallest in media and her weight was definitely higher than the average "star" of the current day. In fact, only Audrey Hepburn,  the skinniest Old Hollywood star I can think of, would be at home in today's modeling world and only a select few would be successful in the skinny-only media.

Jane Russell with her 38-inch bust
While today assymetry is viewed as imperfection and usually corrected with doctoring or aesthetic medicine, back then it was celebrated (as it damn well should be). Comes to mind the example of Jane Russell, with a bust far larger than her hips. She wore plunging sweetheart necklines to attract attention to that gorgeous feature of hers. She was proud of her body the way it was and she made sure to flaunt it.

Another delightful "disproportion" that I've always appreciated on the women of the past was the pear-shaped beauties. Since the first Great War, when things like this became a preoccupation in medicine, it is known that pear-shaped women, women with hips larger than the bust, are over 75% of the world's population. And, while in today's media they represent less than 20%, women in Classic Film reflected perfectly the actual numbers of the society of the time. I'm a pear shape myself and that was one huge insecurity in my life. I'm not gonna lie, finding out I had Ava Gardner's 37-inch hip measurement made me feel a whole lot better and see a lot of things I was failing to see before. Over 70% of Old Hollywood stars are pear-shaped. Notorious examples were Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall, Olivia de Havilland, Deborah Kerr and Virginia Mayo.

Lauren Bacall, with her killer legs and full hips
Yes, celebrities back in the good old days were a million times more relatable. There were all kinds of women, with flaws that were embraced and not "fixed" by artificial methods. These methods, mind you, did not even exist half the time. Another great example is that of Barbra Streisand. When she came along, an excellent actress with one of the best voices in the history of musical theater, she was asked to have nose surgery. It revolts me how such an otherworldly talented performer had a physical feature regarded as crucial for her success. Considering that Streisand thankfully refused to have the procedure and she became a smashing hit for decades, no, her nose was not an obstacle and her talent spoke louder.

What disgusts me is that the immortalization of these stars also makes them liable to today's extremely judgmental media and society. I always want to die when I hear people speak of another Barbara's nose. Because hers was so distinctive, I've heard the current day media say it stood in the way of Barbara Stanwyck's beauty. To think Stany wasn't beautiful strikes me as madness. 

Missy disproving the madness
Don't forget: Media today is out to get all of us. What we see today is no more than an invented reality, choreographed to make our own appear grey and sad. But, trust me, reality can be so much better than what they say. Difference is fascinating, stimulating, indispensable! Chances are you will never see yourself represented on current TV or cinema. Neither will I. These are not normal women. That is not reality. That is not beautiful. You and I and them up there, we are the beautiful ones. We are the real ones. Be proud of being made of flesh and bone and not scalpels and Photoshop. 

Beauty is not a number. Beauty is not a pattern. Beauty is something to be found, not created.
The lesson here girls, is: Be comfortable with your own skin. You deserve to. Change whatever you like, but don't confuse self-improvement with self-reinventing. If you think you're a little on the chubby side, go on a diet. If you think you're a little on the skinny side, go for the gain. But don't do it for other people. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful, as long as if it's on your own terms. You will never look like any of the women up there. Neither will I and neither will anyone but them. Because inside each one of us, there are chromosomes that combined beautifully and differently creating this big hot mess we call the world today. Thank God.

So long,


P.S. Vive la difference! 


  1. I find it very amazing that you know what you want from life at such a young age. I also, think you are very beautiful young lady, that will grow into a very beautiful intelligent woman..

    What I think is beautiful, is living a healthy lifestyle..

    1. What a lovely comment! Thank you so much! I agree a thousand percent: Health always!

  2. Classic Hollywood stars were more real, because they were all different from each other, and every one of them had their beauty. Like Betty Grable or Cyd Charisse with their awesome legs. Natalie and Rianna wrote about this recently and I think it's a topic that never gets old.
    I'm sorry to hear that you've had problems with your image :(

    1. It really doesn't get old. It's so important and the media today seems to make it worse by the second. Oh, Cyd Charisse's legs! I'll never forget her on Singing in the Rain putting that head on Gene Kelly's head with her foot! So sexy! Lauren Bacall always says that stars today are too anorexic-looking and I agree. Aw darling, I'm so thankful for your sympathy! I really am all better now and an advocate to real beauty!!

  3. This is a wonderful post and one most women, regardless of age, need to read. I'm sharing this on Facebook and Twitter. :)

    1. Wow thanks for the contribution! That's awfully nice of you :) but I do agree: every woman needs to know that!

  4. Great post! I noticed you've already been nominated, but I've nominated you for the Leibster Award! Check out my link here:

  5. Fabulous! This was so great, Marcela! And to heck with the people who dislike Stany's nose. They can all go die - I love her nose.

    1. Right? It was hers and that was all that mattered! Thanks Nat! :)