she is easily the most famous sex symbol of the 20th century – and, in fact, she can arguably be called the first sex symbol of the 20th century. before madonna, blondie and cyndi lauper made being blonde fierce, she spearheaded the platinum blonde movement with a turned-out, voluminous ‘do that is so quickly associated with her, no one else could ever wear it better. professional impersonators use her look to this day, countless movies have been made about her, her face still appears on clothing and accessories (unfortunately); there are at least a handful of girls dressed up in her famous white dress and a blonde wig every year on halloween. as if we could get any more obsessed with her, 2012 has seen a spike in our infatuation with the one and only marilyn monroe.
marilyn via 53deluxe.com
listen to marilyn’s diamonds are a girl’s best friend, from gentlemen prefer blondes, while you read! xx
the idea for this piece actually came to me one day while catching up with an old friend from high school, who was obsessed with marilyn. she had posters all over her room, all of her movies, the prototypical marilyn halloween costume, marilyn accessories and t-shirts – obsession is probably an understatement. i’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for miss monroe but i never really understood why. she was beautiful, definitely, and her image had this vintage feel to it that was always of interest for me, but aside from that, i didn’t know a lot about her. and lately, she’s been popping up everywhere. seriously, everywhere. she passed away in 1962, yet her image continues to gather more and more popularity despite that fact. i mean, no, that’s not news in and of itself, but she’s one of the few late celebrities who continues to grace magazine covers many years after her death (alongside princess diana and john lennon and a few others). she’s a pretty notable celebrity though, when you really think about it – marilyn was one of those stars who changed the way that female celebrities, sexuality and feminism (brace yourselves) were perceived, and related to one another.
marilyn is famous for her status as a sex symbol – a blonde, curvy, bombshell of a woman, but she started out as just the girl next door. nee norma jeane mortensen, she was an apple-cheeked brunette, and by the time her career as first a model and later, a movie star, began, she was already once divorced. she began as a factory girl and was discovered by blue book modeling. from there, she ditched norma jeane in favour of a name with more sex appeal. changes to her look came after, when she had her overbite fixed, her hair dyed golden blonde and cartilage taken out of her nose. all in working towards the so-called american dream. this was actually pretty surprising for me – i only recently discovered that she had completely turned her image around to simply become what people would have loved. the 50s were not so far away from today as we think.
i’m not saying that sex symbols didn’t exist in the 50s and 60s, but marilyn was one of the first to do it in a way that had everyone wanting a piece of her – from directors, to men, to the adoring public, marilyn was a heartthrob, a heartbreaker and a sweetheart. part of her charm was her fragile naiveté that made it clear that norma jeane was still in there somewhere. she had a famous (infamous) relationship with baseball player joe dimaggio (wherein the couple’s only wish was to become a simple all-american family, but sadly, ended due to the stress dimaggio felt from marilyn’s stardom). sounds very familiar (hello, every celebrity relationship in existence ever).
image via coverups.com
marilyn starred in countless classics, picking up award noms along the way – eventually these films went on to be classics. the definition of classics. but marilyn was inherently special because she held a ton of power as a woman (get it gurl!). she started her own productions company, forced 20th century fox to sign a contract with her company that emphasized her right to make pretty much any decision she wanted. pretty gutsy for a girl. marilyn lived her life that way – she basically did whatever the f she wanted and got away with it. she taught women that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, that gentlemen prefer blondes and that women can be just as successful as men (she was one of the highest paid film actresses of her time). basically, she didn’t play.
all this being said, you’re probably wondering where exactly this article is going but i really had to do a little background info to ensure we’re all on the same page. what is it exactly that has us all wanting more and more and more marilyn, even half a century after her death? i’ve started watching smash, a tv series with debra messing and anjelica houston (and no one else worth mentioning)…it’s basically glee but about broadway (don’t judge me) and they start making a musical about the life and times of marilyn monroe. and i have to say, despite it being super cheese, the bits about marilyn are actually super interesting. not only was she a sex symbol, but she made it totally okay to be a sex symbol. she gave power to the female figure – just because the male gaze (apologies, lit majors) exists, doesn’t mean it has to be a bad thing. she used it in whatever way she wanted, often to get exactly what she wanted. it was never an exchange of sex for power (affairs with JFK, among others, are all speculations) but an exchange of sexuality for power. she was made to project a certain image, and damn did she ever do it well. even today, marilyn represents a kind of sexuality that doesn’t even exist anymore. the kind of overt display of grotesque sexuality that we know in today’s celebs doesn’t hold a candle to the kind of sexuality that marilyn represented and still represents. she kept her clothes on – it was all in the power of her voice and her mannerisms. a thin voice full of lingering bedroom-osity, the way her lips didn’t quite move, the way she carried herself – she sold marilyn as sexy, not sex. and isn’t that kind of a revelation?
what’s very little known about marilyn is that she was incredibly insecure. she had crippling stage fright and, in her diary, admits to being sexually repulsed by most men and feeling very alone for most of her life. i think it definitely makes it all the more fucked up that hollywood changed her image to show absolutely none of this – she was definitely a talented actress, she had the entire world fooled. perhaps this is what makes her so intriguing, her image was so incredibly too-good-to-be-true.
image via vanityfair.com
even MAC is releasing a marilyn inspired line of cosmetics including eyeliners and the obvious statement red lipsticks. which is cool, but i mean…it’s incredibly “done”. black eyeliner and red lipstick is a staple of every girl’s make up bag, the only new image here is marilyn. the fact that her image, so many years later, is still capable of being a huge selling point, reveals just how much power she has (present tense baby). the fact that she still periodically graces magazine covers is interesting too; i did a piece on the death of print, and the fact of the matter is, that featuring a celebrity, though deceased, like marilyn, just sells more magazines. people never tire of looking into her deep dark past (most recently, printed editions of her private diary, letters and poems). granted, this isn’t just the marilyn effect, but the dead celeb effect, as michael jackson and heath ledger’s post mortum mag covers have had the same effect. could this be the reason we keep going back to marilyn, then? would interest in marilyn have fizzled out had she lived to the ripe old age of 80 or 90 something? is it because she’s dead that her image has remained so pristinely pedestal-ed in our minds?
marilyn movies also became a huge “thing” this year. michelle williams got an 2012 oscar nod for her portrayal of monroe in my week with marilyn. charlotte sullivan played marilyn in the 2011 film, the kennedys. over the years, there has been over 20 representations of marilyn in film and TV. crazy right? i can’t think of another star that’s had so much re-production? there’s also been emulative photoshoots (notably from our favourite trash celeb lindsay lohan) of monroe, all because obviously that’s what’s going to sell. there is seldom another celebrity who has that much selling power, 50 years after her death.
image via truthquake.com
i’m kind of realizing that this article didn’t really go anywhere, but hey, if you made it this far, you found it at least somewhat interesting. what i tried to get at here was the way society falls into traps like loving a celebrity, obsession, infatuation, and the powers that fame holds over the rest of the world. rather, looking behind the power that fame holds to investigate what power fame holds over the famous? or something? i don’t think i actually know anymore. what i do know is that the marilyn effect has a genuine power over us (well, maybe us girls) and we don’t ever seem to question it, it never seems to not be okay. do we just need someone to look up to? is it really that bad in the end, at all? idolizing is inherently a good thing, isn’t it – unless, like in this case, the media uses that against us and we’re none the wiser? or something? thoughts?!