What About Norma Jeane?

By Jenn Schleich / Published on POSHGLAM.com

Marilyn Monroe’s beauty, which encapsulates the idea of sultry Hollywood glamour, has been oft-described as timeless. It must be true—2015 is turning out to be a big year for Monroe. Quite a feat, considering she’s been haunting fashion, beauty and entertainment for going on 53 years. Yet here she is, gracing the inside pages of Cosmo’s April issue for Big Sexy Hair’s newest ad campaign, just months after she was appointed Max Factor’s new “global ambassador” . Sexy Hair and Max Factor aren’t the first brands to call on Monroe to primp their public image and they won’t be the last; MAC and Chanel have previously boosted their marketing campaigns with the help of her fame. Then there’s Star Magazine’s Special Investigation April cover emblazoned with Marilyn’s face and 200 of the FBI’s darkest and most mysterious photos and documents on the long-deceased Hollywood celeb. Of course Star itself might have missed the boat on this one, didn’t the FBI take the wraps off Monroe’s famous communist file way back in 2012? The feature speaks to our culture’s ongoing obsession with uncovering the nitty gritty damning details about those whom we elevate to stardom.

The irony of all this recent media frenzy over Monroe is not lost on us; still in 2015 society is striving to impose its beauty ideals on the long-admired woman and Max Factor’s hands are the grimiest of them all. Aside from Max Factor’s glaringly inaccurate statement that Max Factor Jr. was the guiding force behind Marilyn Monroe’s transformation from the young brunette Norma Jeane into the blonde bombshell Monroe we’ve come to know and love, the company has been busy trying to squeeze Monroe (quite literally) into our contemporary structures of beauty and fashion.

Max Factor has taken their own spin on the star’s classic look for their advertising campaign. If you haven’t yet spotted Max Factor’s Monroe lookalike she definitely has the blue eyes, blonde hair and bold lips down packed, but there’s more than a couple sizes between model Candice Swanepoel and authentic curvy Marilyn Monroe. Max Factor has appropriated Monroe’s image so smoothly most people haven’t even noticed the degree to which it’s been re-imagined (delete: curves) to suit our millennial ideologies and then re-distributed to the public as commercialized “reality”.

As biographer Sarah Churchwell puts it, “Norma Jeane was not changed by someone else into the glamorous movie star Marilyn Monroe… she was always an extremely beautiful girl.” The truth is quite simply that Marilyn “was not created by makeup, in any sense: cosmetics were not sufficient to create Marilyn Monroe, and neither were other people… no one except Marilyn Monroe created Marilyn Monroe, and in 2015 it’s past time for us to give credit to the woman who earned it.”

Makeup isn’t the be-all-end-all of sex appeal. Just as Churchwell and Monroe herself point out, makeup didn’t make Monroe Hollywood’s “It Girl”, her attitude and persona did. Attraction and charisma don’t start in the mirror, but in the way you carry and express yourself.

Perhaps Max Factor ought to reconsider imposing itself on history. We live in an era of constant and considerable awareness of our behaviors, our social constructions, our cultural values and our innumerable failures to validate women regardless of shape, size or hair color (thanks for that social media). Somehow all our self-reflection isn’t enough, we’re still allowing, and even supporting, global corporations to run amok all over realism and real beauty. At the very least it’s a shame that we still fail to recognize the injustice that was perpetrated on Marilyn Monroe by her contemporaries (and now ours). All that work, including weekly hair bleachings and a harrowing exercise routine, and how much more beautiful was she? Not any more beautiful at all—simply someone else’s idea of beauty.

The Max Factor campaign isn’t the first to pick at Monroe’s long-admired looks. The minor plastic surgery she had performed on her nose and chin (let’s emphasize minor! 1950s plastic surgery is not in the league of today’s skilled carvers), has caused plenty of excitement in the media in recent years. The only person who should care about Marilyn Monroe’s chin implant is Marilyn herself, who was subjected to the critical prying public eye. She was once quoted as saying, “I want to grow old without facelifts… I want to have the courage to be loyal to the face I’ve made.” The face she made and no one else. Every beautifying effort that Monroe took was about her one all-encompassing goal: to be somebody in the eyes of the world. “I live to succeed, not to please you or anyone else.”

Why are we even trying to disparage her iconic beauty or impose our 2015 standards on her 1950s lifestyle? As Monroe herself said, “Beneath the makeup and behind the smile I am just a girl who wishes for the world.”


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