Does Christina Hendricks have a body women should aspire to?

Christina Hendricks on the set of Mad Men
Image caption 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.

"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."

Image caption 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."

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."

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