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Back When Thin Wasn’t In: 8 Vintage Weight Gain Ads

By Meredith Carroll |

Marilyn Monroe

Yes, Marilyn, by today's standards you are considered a plus-size woman

Imagine a time being a size 12 didn’t make you plus-size? When being called “zaftig” was a compliment? When spilling out of your jeans meant you had sex appeal?

Hard to imagine right? And yet. There was a time.

Take a look at these vintage weight GAIN ads (courtesy of after the jump and imagine living during that time. It must have been nice, right? Sigh.


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Imagine a World In Which Being Curvy Meant Being Sexy

As If It’s Hard to Gain Weight? Ha!

Just ask me for tips. I’ve got loads of ‘em.


Marilyn Monroe image via

All other images courtesy of

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About Meredith Carroll


Meredith Carroll

Meredith C. Carroll is an award-winning columnist and writer based in Aspen, Colorado. She can be found regularly on the Op-Ed page of The Denver Post. From 2005-2012 her other column, "Meredith Pro Tem" ran in several newspapers, as well as occasionally on The Huffington Post since 2009. Read more about her (or don’t, whatever) at her website. Read bio and latest posts → Read Meredith's latest posts →

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37 thoughts on “Back When Thin Wasn’t In: 8 Vintage Weight Gain Ads

  1. BlackOrchid says:

    Uh, Marilyn Monroe was really really tiny.

    By today’s standards.

  2. Meredith Carroll says:

    @Blackorchid — I’ve read she was around a size 12.

  3. Suzie says:

    A size 12 isn’t what it used to be! It is bigger now that it used to be. Even clothes I had in the 80/90s that were say 10s are smaller than the 10s they make now. The clothing companies are making things bigger to fit bigger people. Everyone is fatter. It’s disgusting. These ads were probably from a time when food was scarce or more expensive than now. You’re right, with cheap food, fake food with all sorts of weird chemicals, readily available around the clock, it’s no challenge to gain 5 lbs in a week nowadays. (I think I may have done this last week….eek!)

  4. BlackOrchid says:

    You guys never buy vintage clothing, do you?

    lol the sizing has changed A LOT

    I’m (honestly) 110 pounds and only 5 foot 4 – and I often have to wear a size 10 or 12 from my local vintage boutique. People in the 50s and 60s were much, much tinier – not just weight – height and bone.

  5. jess says: Some Like it Hot! Marilyn was not tiny. I wish I lived in these times. As a true size 8, even my size is considered “bigger”.

  6. Sarah says:

    she had ups and downs in her weight, but she would never be considered tiny by today’s standards. She wouldn’t be considered big either…

    From what I can see her dress sizes woudl have ranged from a 4 to an 8 in today’s sizes, and was around 5’5… No way she would have made it in today’s Hollywood without being considered large.

  7. BlackOrchid says:

    I’ve seen her actual costumes at the Smithsonian, from films including Some Like it Hot.

    They’re tiny!

    It’s a total myth that MM was somehow zaftig. She was curvy (boobage) but still very small.

    BTW Grace Kelly was frighteningly small. Her costumes must be seen to be believed.

  8. sarahh says:

    Sizes really have changed a lot. The women in the ads look like they might be a size 6 or 8 in today’s sizing, and they all have incredibly tiny waists. So what they’re really advertising is that you should have round hips and larger breasts, and a small waist – or actual curves and a little bit of padding and roundness instead of aiming for overweight. They’re hardly “spilling out of their jeans,” or “fat.” Think, going from a size 0 to a 6 in today’s sizing, not a size 6 to a size 12. A size 12 in today’s sizes would have looked decidedly large a few decades ago.

  9. Joanna says:

    Yes, Marilyn was a size 12 — which is a size 6 by today’s standards. Wedding dresses often use “old” sizing, and mine was a 12, wheras I am a size 6 in street clothes.

  10. skelly says:

    I second what Sarahh said. I think this article might be misunderstanding what they mean by ‘skinny’. Look at the add comparing the ‘skinny’ girl to the ‘curvy’ girl. Their arms are exactly the same size, one is just flat chested and narrow. Despite what most of us are force-fed, I think curves by the standards shown in these adds are still generally considered ideal. Perhaps not much in the media, but in every day life for sure. I’m 5’8” and even post baby I weigh maybe 110 and I get TONS of ‘too skinny’ comments. Despite what we’re all told, trust me, being built like twiggy doesn’t necessarily mean no more self consciousness over your figure and tons of compliments left and right. Sizing definitely varies by clothing line and time period. I wear a 00-2 at stores like old navy but when I shop at a higher end store or vintage it goes up to the 2-6 range. I think it has to do with brands assumptions about their target markets. Stores like walmart have me shopping in the kids section in my 20′s (for me and my daughter!) because of the assumption that the income range that shops at walmart must be overweight. Which is quite sad, really. To be honest if I were a 1950′s gal I’d probably be lapping up these curvy supplements like a champ :)

  11. Lilmouse says:

    I think actresses and models in vintage photos look a little zaftig to us now because we’re used to the Photoshop standard. These women were thin. This is what thin women look like when they’re not photoshopped into oblivion.

  12. Clara says:

    I think they was just telling them they was to skinny and wanted them to gain weight because they didn’t like boney woman back then=]

  13. mama b says:

    Skinny was considered unhealthy then. Plus these women were real women and not lipo’d and plastic surgery zombies. Yes the sizes were WAY different by today’s standards. I have a vintage size 14 swimsuit I found that is small, like a 6 or something. I still think these ads are fabulous, these all look like real women, not some drugged out junkies.

  14. Taz says:

    right now i’m a giant pregnant person, but before that i was a modern day 2/4 and a vintage 10 or even 12 is about the same as that. also i think that a lot of girls and women still hope for that tiny waist and big breasts and butt!

  15. CW says:

    My grandma was 117 lbs. at 5’9″ in her teens and twenties and was considered way too thin back in the day. If she were young today she’d probably be a model with her lean frame and striking facial features. I can remember her saying when the whole Kate Moss “waif” look was in that she couldn’t believe what was considered unattractive back when she was young was considered the height of fashion now.

    I considered wearing her wedding gown but even though I was 100 lbs. at the time, I was still too big to fit into it (I’m only 5′ 2″).

  16. Trina says:

    Marilyn was a 36D and had 36″ hips…but a 23″ waist. So she was curvy but not skinny nor was she fat…but in today’s society those curves would have still been considered big. However those ads seem to want curves to land specifically in the boob area…so even back then, men and women were obsessed with the size of women’s breasts! :)

  17. Alicia says:

    Plus in “Some Like It Hot”, Monroe is wearing skin tight clothing, so of course it accentuates her curves, making her look “big” to our eyes.

  18. laurena noela says:

    I think that “skinny” is a euphemism for “flat-chested” in these ads.

  19. katie says:

    i agree the person tho wrote this doesnt seem to understand sizing back then and skinny meant flat chested

  20. Liz says:

    Every woman is beautiful. No matter what shape you are there is 15 men within a 5mi radius who wanna “hit that”. Women are beautiful without the desire of men, though beauty is designed for attracting a mate. A number doesnt make you fate or thin, its entirely up to how confident YOU are. Take it from a dominatrix, You are not over/underweight unless You say so.
    I agree sizes expand and contract, I have a size 14 dress made in 1956 that measures to the average size 12 today. Food was not scarce back then, exercise and work is scarce today.

  21. jazzymay says:

    apparently i was dropped in the wrong decade.

  22. aimee says:

    LIZ you are right. At just about any size (I am an 18 now, have been everything from 8 up), I find there is no shortage of willing men if you are smiling, confident, and can project a sexy vibe. As Katherine Hepburn (I think) said, back in the day, “the average man is more interested in a woman who is interested in him then he is in a woman with beautiful legs.”

  23. Charlotte Harlott says:

    Number one, Marilyn Monroe would not be considered “plus-size” by today’s standards. I find that really strange when articles make that claim. If she was a size 12 back then, it’s only because clothing sizing was different. A size 12 in the 50′s is like a size 8 today. Go to a vintage clothing store and you’ll see. A size 12 has a very tiny waist. Secondly, I don’t believe a size 12 today is considered “plus-size”. Most stores and brands consider plus-size 16 and up. Oh, and NONE of the women in those ads are “plus-size” by any era’s standards! They are all quite thin!!

  24. Jennifer says:

    Alas I was born in the wrong era, but hey at least I get to do more than cleaning when I choose not to do it for a day that is. And my husband has given up on the idea of dinner actually being ready when he gets home unless it’s pizza hut LOL

  25. Olga says:

    How about we judge a woman based on her CONFIDENCE and not the size of the clothes, “fat” or “skinny”? And how about we change ourselves for ourselves, not to please society?

  26. Jenny says:

    Coming from a woman who didn’t really get her curves until her mid-twenties (after having three kids), ads like these would just cause the “skinny and scrawny” girls to have the same issues for having no curves, as many girls do today for having “too many” curves. We need to teach young girls, and guys alike, that God has made you, and you are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. God doesn’t make anything that’s worth-less. Don’t get your value from others or even from within (emotions change like the wind); your value comes from the Lord. He alone provides true self-esteem and purpose. (Psalm 139)

  27. sadie says:

    to the person who commented that marilyn monroe was tiny, actually she wasn’t. i don’t think she was very tall, but by today’s modelling standards she would’ve been considered plus sized. elizabeth taylor would have been too.

  28. Liz says:

    I am 5′ 2 and a size 10. What’s sad was on a dare once when I was about 21 but looked 16,babyface and my friends dared me to go to a modeling agency, I did and they said, well you have this while Marilyn thing going for ya, lose another 30lbs and we’re talk just make sure its not in the chest. Sad really sad. Now I kinda laugh. Because no one can seem to agree on her size any way, but she was who cares about her weight size 6/8/10/12 etc. she is goregous , I am pretty and I bet all of you are regardless of size, because it’s just number. and it’s a fad. One day thin is in and the next curvy.because they are both beautiful and so is anything in between or bigger.
    and with that that said where can I go to get one of the posters? I love antique positive message and off the wall the things, In fact I collect them. Thank you,

  29. Michelle says:

    This topic has been discussed at length for a few decades now. I agree with those people who said that clothing manufacturers have changed sizes but it is definitely true that not all sizes are the same. I have worn size 7 jeans that fit comfortably but tried on a size 11 pair that were a little snug. Talk about a confidence buster. Then there are times when a size 7 is loose but a size 8 or 9 is snug. Confusing. I believe that curvy women were more attractive (and still are) to men because curves are way more interesting and sexier to feel than straight bones. For the record, I am 5’1″ and although I am far from being small and petite, I am also not obese or grossly overweight.

  30. V says:

    Firstly, Marilyn Monroe was nowhere near plus size and would not be considered so today. She was 5’5″ tall, weighed around 120 pounds, and her measurements were: 35 inch bust; 22 inch waist (approximately 2-3 inches less than the average American woman in the 1950s and 12 inches less than average today); and 35 inch hips, with a bra size of 36D. There’s no standardized sizing today, but a 22 inch waist usually translates to a size 0 jean in America. When her famous white dress worn in The Seven Year Itch was being auctioned off, the dress was put on a size 2 mannequin and still could not zip up all the way. Secondly, the women in those ads are still thin, they just have noticeable breasts and hips. None of them would have fat hanging out of their jeans.

  31. Teresa says:

    It’s true. I’m 5-2, 100 pounds and currently wear a size 0. My mother’s dresses from the 60s are size 6 and they are too small for me. I’m a 60s size 8. That makes Marilyn’s ’50s size 12 a current size 4.

  32. Wendy says:

    I agree that sizing is different. My husband and I watched a tv show one time that was saying some clothing designers will say a pair of women’s pants are a size 4 on the tag inside, but in reality, the pants are a size 6. It’s supposed to make women feel better about themselves by thinking they can fit into a smaller size.
    I’ve never been able to afford the price tag of vintage clothing to know how they fit, but I have to agree that size varies from era to era. I find it nice to know it wasn’t only women being told to gain weight back then. The ad for the skinny men makes it obvious women liked a man to look muscular back then the same way women do today.
    Gotta say, I’d love to be a size 0 or 2 or 00 as some of you have said you are. I’m 5’4 and weigh 133 lbs. I’ve had two boys and being almost 41 doesn’t help my metabolism either. However, I exercise at least 3-4 times a week. I have pants from ages ago that are size 6 by LEVIS and then have some by MUDD that are size 11. Some by Old Navy size 6, and some pants by unknown designers size 8. I have no idea what my TRUE size is. I am just thankful my, what I consider, big ass can fit into the clothing I own. And, I’d like to add that earlier in the year, I weighed 142 lbs. I haven’t changed eating habits, but exercise more. Wonder if the women and men of Marilyn’s time did any weight exercises to gain muscle and lose fat?

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  34. male chauvinist pig says:

    The fashion industry dictates what “beauty” is for women. Problem is that it’s run by gay men, thus the female norm is now expected to be shaped like 10 year old boys.

    Real men like curves, not stick creatures. Just like nature intended.

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