The other day, I saw a photo of Marilyn Monroe with the following caption: “Proof that millions of men can adore you, even when your thighs touch.”. It’s a touching sentiment, one that is much needed in a society that thinks beauty is measured by the size of a woman’s waist. Still, there is a little nagging thought in the back of my mind: would Marilyn Monroe have been considered “beautiful” in today’s society? In other words, do we consider her beautiful because of how she was viewed in her time, or because she actually truly is amazingly gorgeous?

I’ve never been a skinny girl, so I can appreciate the plight of girls today growing up in a world where skinny is beautiful, curvy is ugly and disgusting, and guys will only love you if you wear skimpy clothes and tons of makeup. Women are socially forbidden to have hips, shoulders, or actual breasts (if you don’t believe me, go to Victoria’s Secret and compare design variety for a 36C vs a 38DD). Most models are a stunning size 2, and plus size models are usually anything above a 10. What’s scary is, there are plus size models out there that are smaller than I am. And the worst part is that it is hardly a fair cross section of women today.

I remember one day going to the mall with my mom and lamenting the fact that I couldn’t find any cute clothes in my size. The first thought that went through my head was, “I’m too fat to wear cute clothes.” Thankfully, my mom (aka “The Voice of Reason”) stepped in and pointed out the truth: the reason the stores didn’t have cute clothes in my size wasn’t because they weren’t made for me, but because those were the sizes to be sold out first. Because those sizes are more “average” than the smaller sizes. Contrary to what you find on the runways, the average woman isn’t a size 2 or 4, she is more likely a 10 or 12. But how sad is it that, rather than realize that fact at the start, my first thought was that my size 12 was “too fat?”

There is a flip side, one that is scarcely recognized but is no less dangerous. There are plenty of beautiful women out there who are naturally just that skinny. Being a size 2 may be unrealistic for many women, but it doesn’t automatically mean that she is anorexic or unhealthy. These women face just as much scrutiny as bigger girls do. They may feel more pressured to stay at that size, or they may feel pressured to gain weight. As much as the fashion industry promotes tiny waists, it’s bound to create an extreme reaction in the opposite direction. Those naturally small women may face backlash from those opposed to the modeling industry, accused of creating false standards of beauty when, in reality, that is who they are. They are guilty of nothing except being themselves, and society lashes out in anger because they fit into a stereotype that has been deemed unacceptable.

As a society, we need to be less focused on defining beauty by numbers and more on the soul of a woman. A girl isn’t beautiful because she is a size 2, she is beautiful because she a unique creation. A girl isn’t beautiful because she wears revealing clothing and massive quantities of makeup, she is beautiful because she has an inner light. When we spend time building women up, giving them self confidence, and teaching them that beauty comes from simply being, then there won’t be “plus size models” vs “too skinny models,” there will simply be women being beautiful, just for being them.