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What Dress Size Was Marilyn Monroe, Actually?

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Getty

In 1945, a 19-year-old Norma Jeane signed up with modeling agency Blue Book. The receptionist wrote down her measurements as 36-24-34, which at 5’5” and 118 pounds would be considered, by today’s BMI standards, a completely healthy, average size. But even then, the head of the company referred to her as "too plump, but in a beautiful way." Another note from the receptionist: "Size 12."

Marilyn Monroe's figure has been discussed almost as much since her death in 1962 as it was when she was stunning on screen and at parties during Hollywood's Golden Age. From the '50s hourglass ideal that she embodied to her enduring sex symbol status, the desire to channel Marilyn's look continues. And with that, a debate on her actual size comes up time and time again. "The myth that Marilyn would be considered near plus-size today has become a battle cry in the culture wars over female body image," NPR's Jessica Seigel has reported. "The truism that the world's sexiest woman would be fat by today's glamour standards has been repeated unattributed in hundreds of articles and books."

But part of the confusion—and the reason this myth perpetuates—stems from the fact that as retail fashion changes, clothing sizes change as well. Sizing during Marilyn's day was not the same as today's market sizing: A woman who wears a modern size 8 cannot shop for size 8 vintage clothing. The fit would be completely off.

When discussing vintage clothing sizes, we have to keep in mind that dresses and pants were cut slim because they were intended to be worn with structured bras and girdles, and more recent vanity sizing has skewed our notion of clothing and body sizes. The market for ready-to-wear women's clothing consistently changes, and with that, the standards for production.

Before World War II, women's clothing was mass-produced with the same sizing mindset as men's—the only measurement taken into account was the chest. While an assessment of the chest measurement can roughly deduce the proportions of the rest of the body for menswear, that obviously doesn't hold true for women. Following the war, more standard measurements were put in place for womenswear, and in the 1950s, a commercial standard was set. Women's clothing for off-the-rack production would range from 8 to 38 based first on bust, and then height, hips, and girth. There was no such thing as a sizes 0 through 6.

This sizing was standard through the early 1980s when it was withdrawn—companies noticed that appealing to one's vanity helped with sales (which still holds true today). The private standards organization ASTM International, which publishes annual updates for clothing manufactures, regularly accommodates for this size inflation. As the size and shape of the average American woman began to change, so did the vanity sizing aimed at soothing egos. While a size 8 was considered the smallest available in 1958 when the initial sizing standards were put into effect, an 8 corresponded to roughly a 31-24-33 body. By 2008, a size 8 had increased by five to six inches for each of those measurements. By 2011, the ASTM even had a standard size 00. 

Though Marilyn's weight and sizing obviously fluctuated over the course of her career, her standard measurements, according to her dressmaker, were roughly 35-22-35. This accounts for why her pant and dress sizes were often listed as an 8 and 12, respectively—a dress would also need to accommodate her bust, while pants could be sized smaller based on her slimmer hips. She is often cited as having been a size 16—and she was! Kind of. But only based on British vintage sizing (a U.K. size 16 was a rough equivalent to a U.S. size 12 in the '50s). But according to today's sizing guides—which is what people generally have in mind as a reference when discussing her measurements—Marilyn would be roughly a U.S. size 6 or 8. She'd likely need an 8 for her bust, but with forgiving fabric, a 4 or a 6 would easily fit her hips. And of course, her tiny waist would certainly need a belt. 

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What Happens When You Flush an Airplane Toilet?
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For millions of people, summer means an opportunity to hop on a plane and experience new and exciting sights, cultures, and food. It also means getting packed into a giant commercial aircraft and then wondering if you can make it to your next layover without submitting to the anxiety of using the onboard bathroom.

Roughly the size of an apartment pantry, these narrow facilities barely accommodate your outstretched knees; turbulence can make expelling waste a harrowing nightmare. Once you’ve successfully managed to complete the task and flush, what happens next?

Unlike our home toilets, planes can’t rely on water tanks to create passive suction to draw waste from the bowl. In addition to the expense of hauling hundreds of gallons of water, it’s impractical to leave standing water in an environment that shakes its contents like a snow globe. Originally, planes used an electronic pump system that moved waste along with a deodorizing liquid called Anotec. That method worked, but carrying the Anotec was undesirable for the same reasons as storing water: It raised fuel costs and added weight to the aircraft that could have been allocated for passengers. (Not surprisingly, airlines prefer to transport paying customers over blobs of poop.)

Beginning in the 1980s, planes used a pneumatic vacuum to suck liquids and solids down and away from the fixture. Once you hit the flush button, a valve at the bottom of the toilet opens, allowing the vacuum to siphon the contents out. (A nonstick coating similar to Teflon reduces the odds of any residue.) It travels to a storage tank near the back of the plane at high speeds, ready for ground crews to drain it once the airplane lands. The tank is then flushed out using a disinfectant.

If you’re also curious about timing your bathroom visit to avoid people waiting in line while you void, flight attendants say the best time to go is right after the captain turns off the seat belt sign and before drink service begins.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Why is Friday the 13th Considered Unlucky?
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Today, people around the globe will feel uneasy about getting out of bed, leaving their homes, or going about their normal daily routines, all because of a superstition. These unfortunate folks suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia, a common neurosis familiar to us all: the fear of Friday the 13th. But just where did this superstitious association come from, and how did it catch on?

The truth is that no one is absolutely sure where the idea that Friday the 13th is unlucky originated. Donald Dossey, the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, suspects the fear can be traced back to a Norse myth about 12 gods who had a dinner at Valhalla—the fabled hall where legendary Norse heroes feasted for eternity after they died—that was interrupted by a 13th guest, the evil and mischievous god Loki.

According to legend, Loki tricked Höðr (the blind god of winter and son of Odin, the supreme god in Norse mythology) into shooting his brother Baldr (the benevolent god of summer who was also a son of Odin) with a magical spear tipped with mistletoe—the only substance that could defeat him. Thus the number 13 was branded as unlucky because of the ominous period of mourning following the loss of such powerful gods by this unwanted 13th guest.

For whatever reason, among many cultures, the number 12 emerged throughout history as a "complete" number: There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 Gods of Olympus, 12 sons of Odin, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 Jyotirlingas or Hindu shrines where Shiva is worshipped, 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, and 12 tribes of Israel. In Christianity, Jesus was betrayed by one of his 12 Apostles—Judas—who was the 13th guest to arrive for the Last Supper. Surpassing the number 12 ostensibly unbalances the ideal nature of things; because it is seen as irregular and disrespectful of a sense of perfection, the number 13 bears the stigma of misfortune and bad luck we know today.

WHY FRIDAY?

Friday joins in the mix mostly because all of the early accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion agree that it took place on Friday—the standard day for crucifixions in Rome. As Chaucer noted in The Canterbury Tales, "And on a Friday fell all this mischance." Yet perpetuating Friday as an unlucky day in America came from the late 19th-century American tradition of holding all executions on Fridays; Friday the 13th became the unluckiest of days simply because it combined two distinct superstitions into one. According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary of Superstitions, the first reference to Friday the 13th itself wasn’t until 1913. (So despite actually occurring on Friday, October 13, 1307, the popular notion that the Friday the 13th stigma comes from the date on which the famed order of the Knights Templar were wiped out by King Philip of France is just a coincidence.)

The repercussions of these phobias reverberated through American culture, particularly in the 20th century. Most skyscrapers and hotels lack a 13th floor, which specifically comes from the tendency in the early 1900s for buildings in New York City to omit the unlucky number (though the Empire State Building has a 13th floor). Some street addresses also skip from 12 to 14, while airports may skip the 13th gate. Allegedly, the popular Friday the 13th films were so-named just to cash in on this menacing date recognition, not because the filmmakers actually believed the date to be unlucky.

So, is Friday the 13th actually unlucky? Despite centuries of superstitious behavior, it largely seems like psychological mumbo jumbo. One 1993 study seemed to reveal that, statistically speaking, Friday the 13th is unlucky, but the study's authors told LiveScience that though the data was accurate, "the paper was just a bit of fun and not to be taken seriously." Other studies have shown no correlation between things like increased accidents or injuries and Friday the 13th.

And Friday the 13th isn't a big deal in other cultures, which have their own unlucky days: Greeks and Spanish-speaking countries consider Tuesday the 13th to be the unluckiest day, while Italians steer clear of Friday the 17th. So today, try to rest a little easy—Friday the 13th may not be so unlucky after all.

Additional Source: 13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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