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.

Gender & Identity Life

Going to the movies means more to me than you’d think

I’ve been in love with the movies ever since I can remember. When I was little, I’d memorize my favorite films and act them out in my living room. Even at that young age, I understood that film transported me from my little world in the suburbs of Long Island to somewhere new and exciting. I relished seeing into different worlds, meeting different kinds of characters and pretending to be someone I wasn’t. It was a fun and welcome distraction from being bullied at school or struggling to find my place among my siblings. But it was also something else: the precursor to self-realization.

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the movies. I enjoy sitting alone in the darkness of the theater and being overwhelmed by the images and sounds on the screen. What I’m finding, though, is that every film makes me cry. Whether it’s a comedy or a serious historical drama, I am moved beyond words by what I see up there on that big screen.

Part of it is that film helps me confront certain real-world issues that I don’t have to face in my day-to-day. Because cinema is universal, it has the power to make us see beyond our own circumstances and recognize how small our individual worlds really are. I’m often moved by stories that seem far removed from my own and inspired by characters imbued with sheer strength and iron will.

More than that, though, I’m moved by how I see myself in these films regardless of their subject matter. Tears flow from my eyes when I encounter characters whose bravery trumps my own, whose love for people goes beyond anything I feel I’m capable of giving and whose inner beauty I fear could never be my own. In so many movie characters, I find what I know I am not or have yet to become. I see hints of the person I used to be and wonder how I strayed so far from what I know I can be. But, sometimes, I see the people I know and love in these characters.

To put it more simply: as I’ve gotten older, movies have become less a distraction from real life and more a reflection of what life actually is. Film, like life itself, is short and ever-changing.  It’s a call to arms for those of us who sometimes don’t understand our own strength or value as human beings; it provides a way to see ourselves for all the good and bad we’re capable of harboring deep within us.

On a grander scale, film has always been a reflection of the time and setting in which it was made. For example, you can look back at Depression-era pictures and see that American audiences preferred the glitz and glamor of the silver screen to the austerity of their everyday lives. And Film Noirs of the 40s offered audiences an outlet for wartime anxiety.  In total, film is a mirror image of the people sitting in the theater. The images projected onto those big screens are all of us. We look at them, they look at us and, for a brief moment in time, we are one and the same.

I feel this on a deeply emotional level whenever I watch a film, especially if that film happens to be a favorite of mine. If you’ve never thought about how your favorite film reflects your inner self, I urge you to consider what truths you might find there. 

Movies Pop Culture

Epic Bible movies connect me more to my faith than going to church

Bible epics have always been a favorite of mine.

From the 4-hour Moses fest that is 1956’s The Ten Commandments to the animated Moses musical that is Dreamworks’ The Prince of Egypt. My love for the genre never came into contact with my faith, i.e. while my attitude towards religion changed and is constantly doing so, how I feel in regards to Bible stories has pretty much remained the same.

When the first Ben-Hur trailer dropped, my level of excitement was unnecessary.

Thoughts of the whether or not the Michael Bay-zation of an ‘epic tale or the Christ’ was shameful or if a remake would just desecrate the ‘holy ground’ the original stood didn’t really cross my mind. My first thoughts concerned how totally epic the trailer looked and Jack Huston’s face and chariots.

After watching the trailer an embarrassing number of times, I finally got around to taking some time to think about what was being put before me.

Over the past few years, there has been an influx of mainstream films taking on the realization of the Bible. And when I say ‘Bible story,’ I don’t mean movies like God’s Not Dead or Miracles from Heaven. Those films act as more of a persuasive essay dealing with the topic of faith. A Bible epic to me is a story taken directly or built around stories taken from the Bible. So something like Ben-Hur or Noah, or a little mainstream, but still within the scope of Hollywood, Risen or Last Days in the Desert.

These movies are like a sort of comeback from the days of Old Hollywood.

So, I’m finally giving Ben-Hur thought beyond simple aesthetic pleasure.

The Bay-zation of the 1959 classic isn’t surprising. When Ben-Hur came out in 1959, it was closely following the trends of the day. Epic films reigned supreme with the larger-than-life stars, insane production value and conventional narratives. Today, action-packed is what the people want. For as much as the public complains about Michael Bay, his films continue to make big bucks.


Ben-Hur like many modern blockbuster Bible epics before it, sticks to the equation. It gives the people a very attractive leading man, a story the will create lots of feelings (the typical breaking and then reunification to the familial unit) and for good measure, there’s Morgan Freeman who never fails to please. Noah had Russell Crowe, Emma Watson and visuals meant to mystify and Exodus: Gods & Kings did about the same thing, except it was Christian Bale.

And like Bay films, diversity remains a major problem.

For example, how the actor portraying Ramses, Joel Edgerton, is a white dude who got a bit of a tan. But if the films failed to make money, the studios would stop making them. I think the appeal of a Bible story, or a story derived from most religious texts from throughout the ages, comes from the uniqueness of the tale being told. Religious texts teach lessons through story and while the lessons are more or less universal through most religions, the stories themselves are complex, nuanced and above all interesting.

Whatever your faith is, it’s hard to deny that hearing another religion’s tales can be fascinating. And when they’re put on the big screen, the possibilities are even more engrossing and awe-inspiring. Personally, I would love to see this trend continue, but maybe studios could branch out to other religions. Growing up, going to church rarely made me feel connected to my faith, but every time I saw The Prince of Egypt, I was seriously moved.

A deeper understanding was created within me and if these films included other texts, people’s understanding of a religion outside of themselves could be enhanced.