Idealization: Beauty vs. Merit

In our culture there has been this constant interest in the lives of film actresses. We dig into their relationships, their friendships, and their beauty routines, but what a lot of people overlook is the good work that they do for society. This is especially apparent with classic actresses that we have put on pedestals for their beauty and grace. When we think of Audrey Hepburn, we think of that black dress and hat from Breakfast At Tiffany’s. When we think of Marilyn Monroe, we picture her attempt to hold down that white dress. With Katharine Hepburn we think thin, tall, and feathered hair. It is not popular knowledge that these women used their elevated platforms to do amazing work outside of the film world. Why, in a world where we want to know every last detail about a celebrity woman’s personal life, do we remember women in film for their beauty instead of their philanthropy and feminist impact?

Part of the problem is that we as a society believe that in order to be like these ladies, we must encapsulate their aesthetic instead of their tenacity. If someone wears a fit and flare dress with pearls, we think Lucille Ball, but if we think empowered television producer, she does not come to mind. One of the reasons for this is because it is not well known that Lucille Ball was one of the first woman television producers and that she worked extremely hard to get her show I Love Lucy on air.  Even so, we can easily find a makeup tutorial to teach us how to look like her. It’s not a negative thing to want to use fashion to feel connected to a celebrity, but it becomes a problem when that is the only thing that connects us to our idols.

Another part of the problem is that people want drama. So when we label a woman as a sex icon and then see her in the same place as a public official, it gets posted as an affair. There is very little evidence that point towards Marilyn Monroe having any type of affair with any Kennedy, but since she was known for her looks instead of her political enlightenment, an affair is the most believable reason as to why she would converse with a political figure. If people paid attention to how outspoken she was when it came to current affairs, then maybe the narrative would be different. If you search, you will find a number of interviews that include Marilyn standing up for groups that were being racially persecuted, but those aspects of her public life were overtaken by her beauty and sex appeal and therefore we primarily relate her to an unlikely affair.

Education is the best way to counteract this. When you put on flowy pants, do not consider yourself to be like Katharine Hepburn because you look like her. Consider yourself to be like her because she refused to be forced into a skirt to fit society’s idea of femininity. You can appreciate that Audrey Hepburn brought beauty to the screen, but idolize her because she spent the majority of her celebrity life working with UNICEF.

With women gaining this idol status today, do not let their beauty overpower the real reasons why you should love them. Selena Gomez works with UNICEF. Reese Witherspoon created her own production company so that women would have a stronger voice in film. Angelina Jolie created a foundation to help eradicate rural poverty, protect natural resources, and conserve wildlife. Mindy Kaling is the first female Indian showrunner. Meryl Streep funds a screenwriting lab for women over 40. These women are beautiful and it is fun to admire their looks, but it is important to remember that their contributions to the world are so much bigger than what they look like.

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