More than 50 years after her death, Marilyn Monroe is still hailed as a positive role model by many women today. Monroe’s seductive eyes, half-open lips and famous “quotes” clutter Twitter, Pinterest and even people’s bodies. In today’s world of stick-thin models, Monroe is hailed as a “real” woman with real curves.
But what isn’t acknowledged is her life of drug abuse, submission and unfaithfulness. She was described by people she worked with as “shallow,” “ditzy” and “stupid.” She died of an alleged drug overdose at the age of 36. She reportedly had affairs with famous married men. In a world with strong, intelligent women leaders, Monroe should not be deemed a suitable role model.
She survived in the industry by relying almost exclusively on her sexuality. She wore extremely tight clothing, posed erotically, sent nude pictures to get media attention and constantly pursued male attention. She reduced herself to an object, chipping away at women’s image as intelligent, self-sufficient members of society.
The first time I watched a Marilyn Monroe movie, “The Seven Year Itch,” I was completely underwhelmed. After hearing all the hype about her, I was expecting an actual theatrical performance. Instead, she played a ditzy, shallow, submissive women who’s only desire was male attention.
According to Leo McKinstry in a Aug. 29, 2013 article published in the British Newspaper The Daily Mail, Monroe ” … almost always played the same shallow role, the ditzy helpless blonde craving masculine attention and protection. She had none of the impressive authority of other Hollywood actresses.”
That is not who women should desire to emulate in life.
According to accounts from people she worked with, Monroe was also highly emotionally unstable and self-centered. She frequently abused drugs and alcohol. She reportedly had an affair with President John F. Kennedy. None of these attributes are things women should be purposefully pursuing today.
Monroe’s weight and “real” woman curves are partially what has kept her relevant today. Her exact body size is debatable, but according to the official Marilyn Monroe website, she measurements were 37-23-36. She was 5 feet 5.5 inches tall, and weighed between 115-120 pounds. That puts her comfortably in the “normal” body mass category, and in a women’s size six or eight by today’s standards.
When compared to other famous actresses in the 1940s and 1950s, she wasn’t so different. She worked in a world where actresses weren’t stick thin. Famous actresses such as Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman and Rita Hayworth graced the silver screen weighing considerably more than the actresses of today. Monroe’s ability to thrive in the industry as a curvy woman is more indicative of the industry in the 1950s and 1960s, and less of her ability to stand as a testament against stick-thin actresses.
Monroe did face many challenges in life, from growing up in an orphanage to getting married and divorced by her 20th birthday. She faced challenges, and overcame them to some degree to reap wealth, fame and sex-symbol status. But she continued to be plagued by drug abuse, insecurities and unfaithfulness. There are many women today who have overcome great life challenges to become excellent leaders devoid of drug and alcohol use, unfaithfulness and promiscuity, like the 16-year-old education activist in Pakistan Malala Yousafzai.
Marilyn lived her life the way she did, with some admirable characteristics and many shortfalls. She should be respected as an individual, but not put on a pedestal as a role model for women today. Instead, women should look toward strong, independent, educated female leaders who stand for what they believe in. We’ve moved past being seen only as objects, and can make real, lasting contributions in the world.