This is the most well-known picture of Audrey Hepburn.
I don't think it looks very much like her, except for the eyes. I don't know if it's because she barely ever made that face, or if that cigarette holder seemed too fancy for her or if the photo has been tampered with. Probably a combination thereof. This photo is the symbol of the dehumanization and misconstruction Audrey has gone through in the last 20 years. And she hasn't been the only one.
Icons are unreal images created from individuals who embodied an abstract ideal, an element or a sentiment. Audrey Hepburn embodied elegance. Marilyn Monroe embodied sex. Lucille Ball embodied laughter. But, since no human being is single-faceted, these women obviously have other sides to their personalities and their lives. However, those sides are more often than not, overlooked in favor of the preservation of the iconic image. This is the problem that I'm here to discuss.
This post will be mostly focused on Audrey, because I've already written about Marilyn and because despite Lucy's enormous fanbase and undoubted iconic status, she has not been completely stripped of the best part of her like Audrey has.
The pictures you saw above are of what these women embody. The pictures below are of who they were.
|Lucille: shy, laughing, serious and nervous.|
|Norma Jeane Baker, an innocent child catapulted into adulthood and stardom|
|Audrey with the children to whom she dedicated her life and to whom she left most of her earthly posessions|
Then why is this the only legacy she seems to have left?
What I find is that lately Audrey divides opinions: Half the people out there (mostly teenage girls and misinformed fashion-lovers) say they love her with all their hearts and cry every year on January 20th, but simply because of her contribution to fashion, glamour and elegance. Audrey was, indeed, a very beautiful, very elegant, and very well-carried woman, but trust me, this is the least important thing about her. Her legacy should be the difference she made in the lives of all the children she helped, of the Audrey Hepburn's Children's Fund, of what she represented in the life of her own kids, the courage with which she faced down cancer, in how hard she fought for love and how much she cherished it when she had it.
|This is actually surprisingly well-colorized!|
The other half seems to resent her because she is so famous for "no reason". She was not the strongest of actresses, not nearly the strongest of singers, hence the constant criticism of her allegedly undeserved fame. But Audrey is more than worthy of the fame she has and her example could do the world a lot of good if only it was as world-renowned as her fashion sense.
Audrey was my first favorite actress and I still have three pictures of her in my bedroom to remind me to be compassionate and kind to those who weren't as fortunate as I was. This is the legacy she left me.
Now, I don't want y'all to confuse embodiment with typecasting. Typecasting is an actor focusing, voluntarily or otherwise, in a certain type of character. Many actors were typecast without having their personalities erased, namely Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn and many others. Embodiment, or the making of icons, obligatorily pertains to a dehumanization, an oblivion of one's personality in favor of preserving an image that if not unreal, is shallow at best. Lucille Ball is thought of as a goofy, sweet, child-like persona, when her reality was very far off. Katharine Hepburn is known as a very private, independent and proud actress, who happened to usually play powerful and/or intimidating women. Her typecast didn't erase her personality, it helped perpetualize it.
What a shame that so many amazing human beings who had so much to offer have been stripped of some of their quality in favor of a shallow and deceptive image. I urge you fans to join me in attempting to keep their reality alive and try to fight against these unrealistic stereotypes.