Does Christina Hendricks have a body women should aspire to?

Christina Hendricks on the set of Mad Men Series 4 has just begun in the US

Christina Hendricks, who plays sassy secretary Joan Harris in television drama Mad Men, has been identified as the woman with a body others should healthily aspire to. But how realistic is it for women to look like her ?

She's the unlikely star of Mad Men, the foxy secretary who sashays through the offices of advertising agency Sterling Cooper as if she runs it.

And if it was today, and not the 1960s, then maybe she would.

Her hips are probably the most hypnotic on television, and now Christina Hendricks, who plays Joan Harris (nee Holloway), and is reportedly a size 14, has had her body officially endorsed by the British government.

"Christina Hendricks is absolutely fabulous," says Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone, who held up Hendricks' outline as an ideal shape for women.

Highlighting the "overexposure" of skinny models and the impact they have on body image among young people, Ms Featherstone went on: "We need more of these role models. There is such a sensation when there is a curvy role model. It shouldn't be so unusual."

So what makes Hendricks' figure distinctive, and how attainable is it?

In many ways, the character revolutionised perceptions of beauty on television screens, says the Los Angeles Times television critic, Mary McNamara.

"When Joan first showed up on American TV, she turned the beauty ideal on its ear, reminding everyone that generous curves were once considered sexy, and that pre-Twiggy, women's clothing was designed to accommodate and enhance ample breasts and hips and thighs.

"Marilyn Monroe often wore a size 12 and very thin women wore padded bras and often had to shop in the boys department to find clothes. Hendricks is, of course, gorgeous by any era's standards and shows no signs of succumbing to the traditional pressure to slim down."

Unlike actresses America Ferrara (who plays Ugly Betty) and Britain's Kate Winslet, Ms Hendricks has kept her full figure, adds McNamara, who last week reviewed Mad Men Series 4.

That figure is reportedly in possession of dimensions around 36-32-36 - although some reports suggest 38-32-38 - and her breasts variously described as a C or D cup.

That kind of body requires a lot of exercise and healthy eating to maintain, says Deanne Jade, a psychologist at the National Centre for Eating Disorders.

"Usually in the real world, the bigger breast goes along with a bigger tummy, wider waist or protruding abdomen.

'Stop objectifying us'

"I would prefer women not to be appraised as objects of appearance but rather on what they are able to do, but given the spread of BMI and weight [issues], having a realistic image of size 14 is at least more appropriate"

Professor Janet Treasure, expert in body image, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London

"So it's unusual to have someone with these curves. Therefore to get a figure like that, you would have to work hard or be naturally well-endowed."

While she agrees with the minister that role models need to be a fuller and more realistic shape, Ms Jade says women with eating disorders will always seek out images of the thinnest women to confirm their own distorted view of how they look. And magazines they read are full of stereotyping images that link "thin" with "success".

"It's an interesting soundbite but it takes more than that to change the messages that are going out."

Wedding dress corset Corsetry: One way to an hour-glass figure

Identifying any particular body shape as the ideal one is fraught with difficulty and can just add to female anxiety, says Shade Adeoye, who is researching female perceptions of body image for a PhD at Leicester University.

She says Hendricks has a much more realistic figure than many models, but women looking to match it will end up falling short.

"I would say they will be almost 100% disappointed, because her level of upkeep will be far higher than for a normal person. The kind of money you need to spend - on the gym, cosmetics or even new breasts - is far beyond a normal person working nine to five.

"There is a possibility of getting this body by exercise and being careful what you eat - some people have ideal bodies without having surgery - but it requires a big investment in time and money. It's a full-time job in itself."

What makes Joan special?

"Joan is a wonderful character: strong, funny, sexually alluring but also - as fans of the show will know - admirable. In Matthew Weiner's world, she was on the one hand the ideal office manager: capable, assertive and sexy, and then was revealed to be just as insecure as the rest of the characters, desperate to get married and acquire some kind of status. She ran the office with a rod of iron, fairly unsupportive of Peggy's proto-feminist determination to rise in the hierarchy. But she was also shown ultimately not to be her new husband's passive victim"

Tim Teeman, The Times US correspondent

Given her popularity as a character, can we expect to see a proliferation of Joan-shaped women on television? There are some signs, says Ms McNamara.

"One hopes that the very obvious proof that women who weigh more than 98lbs [44.5kg] can be sexy will translate beyond the Joan character, and I think we're seeing a little of that with shows like Drop Dead Diva, Huge and the upcoming Mike and Molly.

"But none of those characters is treated with the same kind of bombshell reverence that Mad Men creator Matt Weiner clearly has for Joan."

A selection of your comments appears below

As a naturally very thin and (very) small breasted woman, I find it rather hurtful when articles refer to me as being less than 'normal' and suggesting that I am not a 'real' woman. Women from the 'real world' come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes which should be celebrated and no woman, if healthy, should be criticised or made to feel ashamed of their shape whatever that may be.

Heather Black, London

While I think Hendricks has a wonderful figure, it's not what I'd aspire to. There are many types of beautiful bodies. Why can't women simply be allowed to be happy with the shapes we have?

Vera Hannford, Charleston, South Carolina

I don't think any woman should be held up as a role model for the ideal look. We are each individual. Some of us are naturally skinny, others not. Some have large breasts, some not. I think the main message is that you should love yourself and your body no matter your height, weight, body shape and size. Exercising and eating well is good advice however, the media often gives contradictory messages as to what food is healthy and how much exercise is necessary. So remember beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And it's ok to be you, you are a unique individual.

Wendy Lynch, Ilford, Essex

The whole concept of "an ideal shape for women" is insulting, aggravating, and absurd. It has led to so many very young American women undergoing plastic surgery, falling prey to eating disorders and depression, and a host of other negative effects. I understand that men are visual,but there are also as many opinions of sexy among those visual guys as there are women's body types. Having twin 22-year-old daughters, I see how this all affects them and it enrages me that my gorgeous, healthy daughters both feel they fail in some physical way. Women need to take back their self-esteem, and exude the air: "I am the best, healthiest, most beautiful me that my genetics and my effort allow. If you don't like it, take a walk!"

Maureen, Mount Kisco, NY

As a 19 year old, its thought that generally, I would aspire to be a stick thin size 6 with tiny boobs and, as often goes with this celebrity look, no discernible use in the world. But the bodies I have always looked up to are those of Miss Hendricks, Marilyn Monroe and Kate Winslet - women who, yes, work (or worked) at looking fabulous, but did it for health, rather than to make their bones show and their stomachs to go concave. Everyone has hang ups about their bodies, it's a natural thing, but nowadays we take them to the extreme, when we just don't need to. Yes, I have pale flabby thighs, a belly that needs toning and a diet that a caveman would be ashamed of, but I'm happy with my body, simply because, despite what any women's magazine or TV show will tell you, we come in all different shapes and sizes. And if a 19 year old girl, surrounded by young, tanned bodies and a weekly fashion magazine addiction can say that, surely anyone can.

Em Parsons, Wiltshire

I resent the constant highlighting of 'body issues'. As a naturally small woman (5'5'', 8st, 34AA) I am almost constantly told there is something wrong with me. Whether it's people assuming I've starved myself to look like the 'size zero' supposed ideal, or feeling like a freak because I have to use chinese websites to find pretty bras as it's rare to find one in my size that's not designed for 12 yr olds. Please can we all just shut up and accept that healthy people CAN come in all shapes and sizes. As long as ANY form is being held up as the ideal someone will feel ugly.

J Smith, London

Is Christine Hendricks nursing or has she had implants? If not, her ideal shape is an abnormality and cannot be considered normal. Should we aspire to abnormality? Each body stores excess calories in its own particular pattern - some deposit fat on the hips or thighs while other body shapes prefer the abdomen, - or under the chin and so on. She is a very a-typical woman to have such a perfectly crafted, or rather sculpted body. She doesn't even have love handles, or a small roll of fat around the waist. It seems her boobs are her body's favoured storage area.

Justine Touma, Beirut

Lady Astor was known for saying, "You can never be too rich or too thin." Lady Astor was known for her wit, not her wisdom. She was wrong, on both counts.

Alec Bruyns, Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada

While it's nice to see the stereotype image of women debunked, spare a thought for us poor males whose whole body image focus is the size of our dangly bits. I'd like to see more promotion of individualism and less promotion of the so called ideal shape/size as proscribed by the so called fashionistas.

Tom, South Shields, Tyne and Wear

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