Monday, June 17, 2013

Vintage Icons: Audrey and Marilyn

Growing up, I saw the world of vintage beauty divided into two camps.  For me the question was, are you an Audrey, or are you a Marilyn?
As a teenager, you are so in-between that you tend to feel as if you are not who you really are yet, and furthermore, you can decide who it is you are going to be as if you are building yourself from the ground up.  I saw Audrey Hepburn in all of her tall, thin, regal glory, and I thought that I could will myself into being just like her, if only I had the self-control.  Of course, I could never force myself to be tall, but thin seemed like a choice, and I tortured myself for years to be as close to that ideal as I could.  Sadly, of course, I had missed the point entirely. 

Audrey Hepburn was extremely thin, no question, and it is hard to argue that that thinness didn’t add to her particular and special beauty.  But what I didn’t understand then was that Audrey’s true beauty really lay in her uniqueness, and in trying to copy her, you become less and less like her.  Audrey wasn’t a collection of perfection.  On the contrary, her physical beauty came from her so called imperfections.  She had big ears, big feet, and she even had an unusual nose.   She was painfully thin and very small chested.  Her eyebrows were, let’s face it, huge.  And yet, all together she was perfection.  In that way, to truly emulate Audrey would be to embrace your own uniqueness and be as you as possible, because Audrey was only ever Audrey.  She wasn’t trying to be anyone else.  That quality, along with her beautiful spirit, her grace and her amazing elegance, are what truly made her the beauty icon she is to this day, and I think those are traits worth emulating.    
Then there is Marilyn.  I never really appreciated Marilyn Monroe until I was a grown woman who had finally accepted that my body wanted to be curvy, and no amount of self-torture was ever going to change that.  Marilyn is seen as the sex kitten, and of course that was one aspect of her persona, but what I really like about her in movies like How to Marry a Millionaire or Some Like It Hot is her vulnerability mixed with the contradiction of her seemingly complete comfort in her own skin.  For me though, Marilyn’s true beauty comes out so much more in still photographs than on film.  The camera just loved her, and there are endless photos of her smiling and happy, and not covering up or hiding the way so many of us tend to do when the camera is out.  For a woman who had so much personal pain, she seemed to shine from the inside when she was being photographed. 

 There is an endless debate about Marilyn Monroe’s figure.  Was she a waifish perfect representation of the unattainable trim hourglass, or was she a plus sized beauty, happily flaunting her bodacious curves? 
The truth is, while Marilyn was never what most sane people would consider “plus sized” (a term that I hate, buy the way), she did in fact  fluctuate 20 or more pounds during her all too short life.  You can find statistics that claim she weighed 118 to over 140, and probably both are true. 
Marilyn wasn’t an icon for female beauty and empowerment because she had a 24 inch waist or because she was a plus sized beauty.  Marilyn was, and continues to be, and icon because she was a real living breathing beautiful woman, who owned her beauty and reveled in it, no matter what size she was.  Thin or thick, Marilyn never seemed shy or ashamed of showing off her beautiful body and always looked happy and proud, and I just love that quality.  That is something I truly want to embrace in myself as well, no matter what size I am. 
So now I am grown up and I don’t need icons in the same way that I did when I was young.  I can’t be and Audrey or a Marilyn because I am a Nicole.  But I don’t need to be just like them to appreciate the beauty lessons that they left behind.  I still love Audrey’s effortless style and Marilyn’s unapologetic curves.  In truth, what really made these woman lasting figures of iconic beauty was their seeming understanding of what made them beautiful and special and unique, and their own abilities to embrace those qualities in themselves rather than hiding them or letting someone else tell them how to be beautiful. 
Just imagine how many Audrey’s or Marilyn’s are out there today, too afraid to shine because someone told them that that their nose was too big or their bodies were too curvy.  Just think of what beautiful qualities you could be hiding because you have let someone else dictate what should be deemed beautiful or acceptable to like in yourself.  Always be your own icon, because no one will ever be as good at being you as you are.  Don’t hide your inner light for anybody because the things you may be hiding are part of what makes you your own unique kind of perfection. 

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