This weekend I spent my time in a classroom at the Guardian learning all about how to appreciate film. In this class, it was mentioned by a rather beardy, cynical film journalist that Marilyn Monroe probably wouldn’t be seen as such a big deal nowadays. Why? He said that her fame was down to what was fashionable at the time, and by 2011 standards, she wouldn't be held up on such a high pedestal.
By “fashionable”, he was obviously talking about much discussed curvy figure, which was a much coveted thing back in Marilyn’s day. Her extreme hourglass figure was then a thing of beauty, and we all know that in 2011, the beauty standards and expectations of what a woman’s body should look like have greatly changed.
What struck me, however, was that the journalist then went on to say that while we may have Christina Hendricks, she’s only popular because her character represents what was fashionable in the past. As in we accept her only because she the perfect example of what was "fashionable" in the ‘60s.
Do we really only accept Christina Hendricks curves because she plays Joan Holloway on Mad Men? Do we really only welcome her curves within the constrains of the 1960s?
In a word, no.
When men and women fawn over Hendricks’s curves they don’t quantify it by saying, “in the ‘60s” or that she’s sexy for someone “back then”. I'm not sure if you're noticed, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Christina Hendricks is considered sexy and fashionable now. Unless, of course, all of those erections and wide-ons she's caused are simply phantom boners that have traveled forward in time on some sort of Sex Appeal TARDIS. Or something.
Before Mad Men, the only praise of curvier women was coming from the occasional Dove ad or a questionnaire in Cosmo where men were quoted saying things like: “I love a woman with some meat on her bones”. Whatever the hell that means. But Joan Holloway’s voluptuous wiggle is broadcast on one of the most popular and critically acclaimed shows on television, and serves as reminder that, hey, women who are bigger than Cheryl Cole and Jennifer Aniston combined can be sexy as hell.
Mad Men, albeit inadvertently, has worked as a perfect gateway to get a curvier woman like Hendricks in the public eye again. She’s a ginger, curvy, busty, sexy, Glamazon Woman who is sexy as both a 1960s Joan Holloway, and a 2011 Christina Hendricks. It’s the representation of a curvy woman who is perceived as being sexually attractive by other men (and women) on TV that is so important. I don't think that it's not fashionable to be curvy nowadays, it's just simply not represented in the media enough. We need to be balancing and diversifying how women are depicted, not making everyone thinner, lighter, blonder.
I actually do think Marilyn Monroe would still capture the attention and fantasies of the public if given the same chance to be on TV as Hendricks, simply because she would stand out.
Christina Hendricks is, obviously, more than her body, just as Marilyn Monroe was. However, Hendricks’s body is so important because it’s reminding the world that women don’t just look one way. She oozes the same confidence with her body that Marilyn did, and she stands out for it - and being proud of your body will never go out of fashion.