I know why you do it, because I used to do it, too. I used to style my hair in the famous short, bouncy curls that framed my face. I had a poster of her in my first three apartments, and thought that each one was just a little more artsy than the last. I even bought a white halter dress that was much too similar to her famous one, and wore it without a trace of irony (I cringe at the photos now). I imagined that she and I were connected on some spiritual level, and that we understood each other. In the Mad Men scene where Joan mourns her death and Roger doesn’t understand, I got it. For me, Marilyn had always been a woman too full of life and beauty for the world she inhabited, maybe born a generation too early, maybe to the wrong family. She represented me.
But as I grew up — as I, like Marilyn, bounced from arm to arm and looked for love in powerful, handsome men who would never really give it to me — I began to realize how wrong I was to idolize her. I realized that the beauty and tragedy of her life were only allowed to be so because we caught glimpses, and not the full person. When you’re actually living a life of failed romances and painstakingly perfected physical beauty, there is very little glamour in it.
I don’t know if she is a “good” or “bad” person, only that she is someone we have chosen to idolize for deeply wrong reasons. Her world was one built on fantasy and elaborate, Photoshop-esque makeup routines. She died young, in large part, because of her deep sadness. We, as a world, projected so much onto her — how in the world was she going to age gracefully, when we were determined to see her as a sun-kissed, dewey young Juliet, constantly in search for her Romeo? I think of the young women who, like myself, imagine that there was something special and magical in her that they should emulate, and it saddens me. Because we will never look like her (because even she didn’t look like her, without the styling), the world will be much less tolerant of our flaws.
We post quotes of hers, we hang pictures of her, we watch her films and swoon with how wonderful it all looks. But we know, though we can never know her, that there was a large part of that that was constructed and sold. Marilyn had to be a product, and her search for happiness — though we may feel it echoes our own — was a doomed one. The world told her that her job was to be beautiful and desirable and never too complicated, and in the quotes of hers that get shared around Facebook thousands of times a day, we see that she was complicated. But her photos never were. Her movies never were. Her smiling, luscious lips as they blew a kiss never were. And that is the part of her we have chosen to see, even if we know the story ends so sadly.
Young women deserve more than Marilyn Monroe. We deserve to be whole, and flawed, and not transformed (through both surgery and extensive makeup routines) into something we are not. We deserve more than tumultuous relationships that we believe are magical because they are complicated. We deserve to be seen for who we are, not what the world wants us to be. Marilyn will be remembered because of her deep, seemingly effortless charm. But young women should realize just how much of her was never allowed to be, because it would have messed up the picture.