Brainy Bombshells

What Marilyn Monroe Taught Me About Insecurity & Friendship

Annie dresses as Marilyn in Bus Stop

Just who do you think you are?

I’m not sure when the self-doubt first set in, but for the past several years, I have been all too aware of a festering, dormant anxiety. A feeling on the periphery of my consciousness. A sense of not being good enough. Of being a fraud.

Most days it lies beneath the surface, undetectable to anyone, including myself. Then, in a moment of vulnerability, it flares up, and once again I’m paralyzed by a series of pernicious questions.

Call it insecurity. Call it imposter syndrome. Call it…an opportunity?

I used to idolize women who were seemingly unaffected by failure and other people’s opinions. Those Joan Jett types who didn’t give a damn about their reputation.

But as much as I tried to thicken my skin with artificial callousness, I simply cared too much. I felt too much.

I was far too soft to be a hard-ass. And for many years, I considered this to be a flaw, a weakness to be overcome.

And then I discovered Marilyn Monroe.

Gentlemen Prefer (Dumb) Blondes

Of course, I had heard of the blonde bombshell. I had seen footage of her white dress fluttering teasingly above her waist and heard her breathy rendition of “Happy Birthday.” I had even seen a few of her films.

But after watching interviews and reading a few biographies about her life, I began to get a better picture of Marilyn’s personality.

She exuded a type of sugary softness. Warm and sweet.

Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop
Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop, 1956

Introspective and self-conscious.

Hollywood found her compliant persona and buxom good looks simply irresistible. After being seduced by the femme fatales of the 1940s, patriarchal America was anxious to trade in their Jezebels for the far less complicated dumb blonde. And of course, Marilyn would come to epitomize the trope as one of the most iconic sex symbols of the 20th century.

Marilyn, however, was largely unimpressed with the title. Her primary objective was to be taken seriously as a talented actress, not to be pigeon-holed as a vapid pinup. In fact, when a drama coach told her that he felt “sex vibrations” watching her perform, Marilyn responded angrily, “I want to be an artist…not a celluloid aphrodisiac.”

The notion that a woman could be both sensual and intelligent, vulnerable and strong did not fit the “feminine mystique” of the 1950s–the fantasy of the easily understood and eagerly submissive woman. So Marilyn, despite her deepest desires, was often forced to play the role of the two-dimensional sex pot. Her vulnerability was exploited as stupidity and sexual availability.

It was within this theatre of the absurd–no parents waiting in the wings; a script devoid of true love and acceptance–that Marilyn spent her few moments on the stage.

Is it any wonder that she felt insecure?

Something’s Gotta Give

I happen to believe that most people deal with insecurity at one time or another–it’s part of the human experience. For women, I think this insecurity is exacerbated by social expectations to have it all, be it all, and do it all with a smile and a perfect figure.

How are we supposed to scroll through Facebook, watch ads on TV, and read self-improvement blogs without feeling like we don’t measure up–as a wife, as a mom, as a daughter, as a boss, as an employee? We are constantly bombarded by messages insisting that we aren’t good enough.

Is it any wonder that we’re insecure?

Marilyn Monroe and Don Murray on the set of Bus Stop
Marilyn Monroe and Don Murray on the set of Bus Stop, 1956

But rather than seeing insecurity as yet another flaw to be corrected, I think it’s important to realize that insecurity doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.

The fact is, in a world filled with self-assured bigots, hateful dogma, and narcissistic violence, we need sensitive and slightly insecure people.

We need people who question their motivations.

We need people who care about how their actions affect others.

What we don’t need is to feel guilty about being insecure or deny its reality.

That’s when things get ugly.

Ignored insecurity metastasizes into hatefulness and jealousy. It’s crippling. Debilitating.

When we acknowledge our insecurity, however, we experience a type of uncomfortable crucible–a refining gauntlet that produces qualities like empathy and authenticity. We’re able to see each other, not as competitors, but as the beautiful, messy people that we are. We’re able to challenge the bullshit expectations that make us feel less than. We’re able to point out that we’re all much more capable than we give ourselves credit for. In effect, we’re able to inoculate ourselves from the damaging effects of self-doubt.

When Diamonds Are A Girl’s Only Friend

I wonder if Marilyn ever experienced this type of camaraderie. Based on my cursory research, I’m tempted to believe that friendship–true friendship–alluded her. I wonder if her life would have been different if her vulnerability wasn’t exploited. I wonder what would have happened if people saw the complex and enigmatic Norma Jeane Baker staring through those sleepy, hooded eyes.

I wonder.

Norma Jeane Baker
Norma Jeane Baker, 1947

Regardless, Marilyn seemed to understand that friendship was perhaps the best antidote to self-doubt, along with the rest of the world’s ills. In the last interview before her death, Marilyn pleaded (unsuccessfully) with the reporter to end his story like this:

“What I really want to say: That what the world really needs is a feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negros, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers.

Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe.”

I happen to think Marilyn was on to something. Despite the temptation to deny our insecurity and pursue invulnerability, the only way we won’t ultimately succumb to self-doubt is if we forge authentic relationships–relationships where we acknowledge and address our insecurity.

For, while diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, they sure as hell can’t be her only one.


Get the Look: Bus Stop Getup

Annie sitting on ground

Blouse: Handmade (similar)

Skirt: Vixen by Micheline Pitt

Shoes: BCBGeneration 

I was so excited to recreate Marilyn’s iconic look in Bus Stop. I purchased the blouse online and took it to a local seamstress to have it modified and altered to best mimic the one Marilyn wore. The pencil skirt is brand spanking new from Vixen, Micheline Pitt’s emerging clothing line. I ADORE it. It’s fitted without being restrictive, and the best part: it doesn’t lose its shape by the end of the day. The fit is spot-on; for reference, my measurements are 36-25-36, and I took a size small.

 

  • Karishma Reddy

    Well said about insecurity!

  • Robert Brown

    Very well written piece. In the Facebook era, it seems like we all can experience a little of what Marilyn Monroe may have had to endure.

    I think insecurity can be good, unless it becomes disabling. Many times Marilyn supposedly was hiding in her trailer on set (not sleeping / lazing away the hours) because of her insecurity.

    It doesn’t sound like she had very many cheerleaders helping her get through this.

    Was she more fragile than everyone else, or did she have much more flaw-seeking (often jealous) attention drawn to her? I’m thinking it could have been a combination, but definitely the latter.

    Some of what people say about her, just absolutely seems untrue, and most likely due to jealousy. Sad.