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There’s a dark history behind that beautiful engagement ring

You have been dating your partner for three years. Conversations about a future with each other have been brought up and discussed more times than you can count. You’ve only been looking at engagement rings every day for the past year. You live together, know each other’s family and friends, you even have a DOG together. But, one thing is missing. Where’s the ring? One day, you are out to dinner together, and you are sure this is it. They are talking about how much they love you, how much they care about you, and how they can’t wait to spend the rest of your lives together. This is it! This is the moment! They kneel down, they propose. 

You say yes, wailing with tears and trying to hide your ugly crying face. You pop out your hand, waiting for the cold feeling of a diamond-encrusted ring to slide up your ring finger. Except…the feeling never comes. Your wails stop. You open your eyes to see your partner gleaming back at you, diving back into their vodka sauce pasta.
Your partner looks at you, mouth full of pasta, and exclaims, “oh, you expected a ring, didn’t you?”

You nod, your mouth wide open and gaping. They let out a little chuckle and say, “you don’t really want one. Do you even know about the dark history behind engagement rings?” You shake your head.

This didn’t go as planned.

The fact of the matter is, for women and some minorities, engagement rings have a dark origin that many might not know about. What is supposed to symbolize the love between two souls might not be as simple as you think.

Engagement rings can be traced all the way back to Ancient Egypt, where circles symbolized eternity and couples exchanged circular reeds on their left ring finger. Similar to what we do today, they were placed on the left ring finger as it is believed there is a vein in the left finger that leads directly to the heart.

In Ancient Rome, this is where it gets a little dark as the marriage between a man and a woman was seen more as a business transaction between the husband and the wife’s father.

Only women were forced to wear rings, made of ivory and iron, to show their obedience to their husbands.

In other words, a woman wearing a ring was supposed to assert the husband’s dominance over other men and prove ownership to their wife. 

Trouble didn’t end when diamond rings were brought into the fold.

The Archduke Maximilian of Austria is said to have been the first person to have proposed with a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. Diamonds were only possible for noblemen and royalty to possess because of its value and limited accessibility.

Portrait of Mary of Burgundy next to a close up image of the first diamond engagement ring from the Archduke Maximilian of Austria
[Image Description: Portrait of Mary of Burgundy next to a close up image of the first diamond engagement ring from the Archduke Maximilian of Austria] Via Cape Town Diamond Museum
It wasn’t until the 1880s, when diamonds were discovered in South Africa, that the craze began.
The company De Beers Consolidated Mines quickly monopolized diamonds. They spread
 the message internationally that diamonds were a precious stone that only the most powerful and devoted men could afford and gain access to, making the market easily controllable from their end.

The world became power-hungry for diamonds, and the business has been corrupt ever since. 

The diamond industry exploited African Americans and forced them to mine precious gems in hazardous conditions. Minorities were exposed to extreme temperatures and many died from diseases they contracted underground or developed respiratory conditions as time went on.

As diamonds became more popular and South Africa went international with their ad campaigns, the conditions only became more grueling and cruel.

Diamonds are definitely not a girl’s best friend, but you know what is?

Resisting patriarchal ideals that tell women a man owns them.

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Celebrities Fashion Lookbook

Marilyn Monroe and fashion as a shield

“‘Do you want to see me become her?’ I didn’t know what she meant but I just said ‘Yes’ — and then I saw it. I don’t know how to explain what she did because it was so very subtle, but she turned something on within herself that was almost like magic. And suddenly cars were slowing, and people were turning their heads and stopping to stare. They were recognizing that this was Marilyn Monroe as if she pulled off a mask or something, even though a second ago nobody noticed her. I had never seen anything like it before.” – Amy Greene, wife of Marilyn’s personal photographer Milton Greene.

The name Marilyn Monroe immediately conjures a certain image – diamonds (a girl’s best friend!), white dress billowing over a subway grate, Andy Warhol’s pop art. All visuals that have become synonymous with the blonde bombshell, actress, singer, sex symbol, and the many other roles Marilyn has come to occupy in popular culture.

Confidence is a quality often associated with icons and tastemakers. To make an impact you must be unapologetic – Rihanna, Cher, Josephine Baker, Audrey Hepburn, and even Marilyn Monroe herself join these ranks. Despite the fact that her life was cut short, the fashion statements she made – immortalised in countless photos – are memorable, timeless, and recreated often, making her one of the most recognizable fashion icons ever.   

The archives of Marilyn’s own writing, however, paint a drastically different picture of the person she was underneath the bombshell. Plagued by crippling insecurity, the fear that the mental illness that had claimed her mother would come for her next, an absent father, a childhood spent between foster homes, betrayals from those closest to her, and a teenage marriage to escape the orphanage, she was a young woman trailed by her many demons. Her writing reveals someone who was terrified of disappointing the people around her – worlds away from the breezy, disarming confidence she projected on-camera.

She writes about a dream she had where her teacher, Lee Strasberg, cuts her open ‘and there is absolutely nothing there…. devoid of every human living feeling thing — the only thing that came out was so finely cut sawdust—like out of a raggedy ann doll.’

Monroe’s debilitating insecurity and complete lack of confidence left her entirely at the mercy of external opinions from husbands and co-stars. A member of the latter group, Don Murray, highlighted this paradox when he said, “For somebody who the camera loved, she was still terrified of going before the camera and broke out in a rash all over her body.”. 

He was right about the camera loving her, there’s absolutely no trace of insecurity in Marilyn Monroe, the persona that Norma Jean referred to in the third person, and could turn into at the drop of a hat. Marilyn Monroe was a vessel for Norma Jean’s own talent, a vessel she would often critique in the third person – “She wouldn’t do this. Marilyn would say that.”.

Marilyn Monroe was as much a part of Norma Jean, as Norma Jean was a part of Marilyn. Amy Greene’s anecdote about Marilyn “becoming” the larger than life force that persists to this day attributed the Marilyn effect to an inner force from within the woman herself. It wasn’t just about the clothes she wore but how she projected herself in them that would transform her into a timeless icon.

The image of Marilyn Monroe that persists today should be more than the one-dimensional figure of tragic fame. Her magnetism on-screen is a testament to the talent and skill that she never could recognize in herself, and the work she was able to produce despite her personal troubles leaves room to imagine how much she was capable of achieving if she had more faith in herself. 

Marilyn is a reminder of the transformative effects of confidence, and how much this one quality can alter our perceptions. Norma Jean felt she needed to become Marilyn Monroe to have the impact that she did, but would she still be the icon she is today if she hadn’t projected that particular persona, or that particular shield? 

Whether you think of Marilyn Monroe dripping in diamonds, performing the opening number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in red sequins, photographed on the beach in her final days, or as a writer who revealed her true self on the page, she wasn’t just a bundle of insecurities in beautiful clothes – she possessed all of the skill, talent, and depth she never thought herself capable of. 

Monroe is a fashion icon whose influence has inexplicably grown to make her a historical figure characterised by glamour and confidence. By sticking to this narrative, we reduce her legacy by only sharing the fragments of her story that were seen on camera. Her reality is a harsh indicator of how blinding insecurity can be, and her lasting legacy is a mark of the achievements she barely acknowledged.  

It is difficult enough to simply exist, let alone occupy the status of an icon, when you are your own worst enemy – and yet, the narrative that persists of Marilyn Monroe’s time in the spotlight might be her best performance of all.