Marilyn Monroe is the icon of the century; a movie extraordinaire and a Hollywood seductress Marilyn still turns heads half a century later. Beyond Marilyn’s role as a sex symbol, Marilyn had fallen from grace and used illegal drugs as a gateway out of her living hell in 1962. Marilyn was more than just a ‘two-penny actress’ who played the ‘typical dumb blonde role’, Marilyn was a canvas, a canvas that would self-destruct in her final years. Marilyn rose and then abruptly fell from grace, as the struggle to overcome her demons became too much to ignore. At the age of 36 Marilyn took her own life and left behind a haunting reminder of the woman she once was…Norma Jeane.
Before She Was Marilyn
Every icon has a past and Marilyn was no exception. Born into a broken home Marilyn was taken into care, after it became clear that Marilyn’s mother Gladys was suffering from severe mental health issues. Eventually Gladys was put into a mental health institution while Marilyn sought to escape the fragments of her broken childhood. Marilyn saw that there was only one way to escape her destitution and in 1942 at the age of 16, she married her childhood sweetheart Jimmy Dougherty. Norma’s marriage to Jimmy was short-lived and in 1946 they divorced after Norma had signed her first movie contract. Breaking free from societal constraints, Norma rejected the assumption that poverty equaled desolation and used her traumatic experiences to shape her role as ‘icon of the century’. Norma’s transition from broken child to dependent wife right through to budding starlet documented the progression of the ‘rising star’ and became a threshold for Norma to hold onto.
A Sex Symbol
For many Marilyn is a ‘sex symbol’ whose natural beauty and curvaceous figure made many men and women in awe of her. With her lustrous blonde locks, wide blue eyes and plump lips, Marilyn personified high-glamour; a must have asset to propel her career forward. Marilyn played up to the role, exaggerating the definition of her lips with bright red lipgloss, fluttering false lashes and winged eyeliner that enhanced her sex symbol status. But what if I told you that Marilyn Monroe was not a sex symbol, that she took on a new identity, a new image to escape the shackles of her past life? What if I told you that her ‘sex symbol status’ was a facade, to disguise her own insecurities about her sexuality, her figure and her past life as Norma Jeanne? Marilyn was never truly Marilyn but Norma, who used the glamorous image associated with a movie star to erase the memories of her fragmented past.
By questioning her identity as a ‘sex symbol’ we doubt everything about her. Who was the real Marilyn? Did she purposely set up her identity as a ‘maneater’ to erase her past or was she a sexual object, a product of patriarchy who was conditioned into selling her body for media consumption because ‘sex sells’? No one will ever know but there is one thing that we know for sure, Marilyn was not the confident actress that she liked to portray nor was she a ‘stereotypical dumb blonde’ who giggled her way through life.
The Real Marilyn
The real Marilyn was an intellectual thinker, an artist, and a visionary who used her beauty as a weapon against patriarchy. Not many people know this but Marilyn was fiercely intelligent and saw knowledge as a portal to discovering herself as a person. Through knowledge Marilyn saw the rose-tinted world through different eyes. Although Marilyn dropped out of school at the age of 15 that did not affect her determination to succeed and it was largely through her love of books and words that she survived to tell the tale.
Marilyn had an unhealthy obsession with body image, where her body became an outlet for exploitation, rape and even a source of constant paranoia. Marilyn had been raped as a child and was left with a vivid fear of intimacy and until the last years of her life was unable to orgasm, due to fear of giving herself completely to a man. A damaged soul Marilyn let the past consume her but it does not mean that she was not brave. In the face of adversity Marilyn put two fingers up to the industry that exploited her and showed the world a new Marilyn, Marilyn the Sensitive.
Marilyn The Sensitive
Marilyn the Sensitive read Ulysses, theorized with Albert Einstein and was a staunch feminist. Marilyn had three marriages, allegedly had flings with women and rejected societies treatment of women. As Marilyn famously said “Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition”, a clear reference to her own career. Marilyn rejected that women had to be stereotyped into the 50’s housewife persona and many often interpreted the roles Marilyn chose as a true representation of Marilyn’s real life character. Marilyn was bold yet infinitely sensitive too. The gusto, the glamour and the sex appeal none of that was real, it was nothing more than just a literary fantasy. Marilyn saw life as a roller coaster full of ups and downs but her sensitivity got the better of her and before long the demons had consumed her.
Fallen But Not Forgotten
At the age of 36 it was reported that Marilyn Monroe had committed suicide after a lengthy battle with her inner demons. Through death Marilyn had the solace that was never afforded to her during her lifetime. In death Marilyn became a message, a warning to those who enter the movie industry. In the industry corruption and exploitation is served with daily relish, where women are objectified by the male gaze to satisfy their need to control and be masters of society. Marilyn saw death as her only escape and fell to the lure of illegal drugs. Another life abruptly ended, another rising star cut short, Marilyn fell and became scattered ashes, a lingering reminder of what she once was.
So which Marilyn do you see? The broken child, the dependent wife, the rising starlet or the fallen woman?