Voices: We are all Marilyn Monroe – ‘Blonde’ proves it

Tell me truthfully: have you ever… felt like you had to dress in a certain way for work or for an event; worried about whether you were pretty/polished/groomed enough (delete as applicable); laid awake wondering if you drank too much or danced too chaotically – and beaten yourself up for doing so?

Have you ever… panicked your clothes were too short, too revealing or not revealing enough; silently berated yourself for laughing too loudly or for your voice being too shrill (or too quiet); regretted not speaking your mind or feeling unable to say “no”; or told yourself off for speaking it too publicly, too abrasively, too ferociously, too much?

Chances are, if you’ve felt any one of these things, you are likely a) a woman (though none of us are immune to “imposter syndrome”) and b) suffering from what has recently swum into public consciousness and been duly coined: the Marilyn Monroe effect.

The term has come to light thanks to the trailer for a new film about the Hollywood icon –Blonde, which is released on Netflix on 23 September, starring Ana De Armas. Fittingly, it lands some 60 years after the star’s death by a drugs overdose on 5 August 1962, and promises to give us an insight into the “inner world” of the woman whose platinum curls, doe eyes and billowing white dress have been rendered immortal and immediately recognisable, long after her death; whose likeness is framed by a thousand pop-art and graffiti displays; whose very name will forever be synonymous with sex and glamour and husky-voiced seduction.

According to author and self-confessed “hug mobster” Edie Weinstein, who invented the wording of the “Marilyn Monroe effect” and wrote about it here, it describes a certain “non-verbal communication of confidence”; the tendency or ability to step into the shoes of someone who can own a room – the uncanny knack of transforming “from the ordinary into the extraordinary”, when few (if any) of us are taught to ever see ourselves in that light.

Yet Monroe, aka Norma Jeane Mortenson, is said to have harboured many insecurities. Reading between the lines, I think “the Marilyn Monroe effect” means being able to blag it – or, perhaps, to “fake it until you make it”. And I believe we can all relate.

How? Well, as the trailer for Blonde tells us, “there is no Marilyn Monroe”. Instead, as De Armas reveals: “I can’t face doing another scene with Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn doesn’t exist. When I come out of my dressing room, I’m Norma Jeane. I’m still her when the camera’s rolling. Marilyn Monroe only exists on the screen.”

This, I think, is the crux of her appeal – and her relatability. Monroe is timelessly alluring, fascinating because she is both known and unknown; approachable yet unreachable, at once ever-present yet frustratingly opaque. She is a multi-faceted Hollywood icon, more famous than any of us would ever likely be (or want to be) – yet even now, we don’t know that much about her. We can only guess. But if what De Armas says about feeling her life is a “performance” feels familiar, then that’s probably because it is: for all of us.

What this new take on her life appears to offer (and we should remember it is a fictional biographic account of the star, based on this novel by Joyce Carol Oates) is familiarity – the rare chance to feel a certain kinship with celebrity. And why? Because we are all Marilyn Monroe, now.

Who of us hasn’t felt the emotions laid out for us in flashbulb-popping monochrome: the tragedy of having to “put on a brave face” and to go out there and face the world, even when we are sad and hurt and grieving? How many times have we had to “take a deep breath”, plaster on a smile, calm our nerves and do something that makes us feel sick and small and scared – but done it anyway? How many times have we told people we care about to “just do it”? How many times have we been told the same?

And while some fans are upset with the new film, accusing it of “exploiting” Monroe – “contacting Marilyn Monroe via ouija board to tell her that my take on the Blonde trailer is the only one with her best interests at heart”, one wrote – I think it can give us all a moment’s pause.

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It is a chance to reflect on the “idealised” view so many celebrities – and we ourselves – put out on screen, and consider that it doesn’t really matter whether that screen is Imax-sized or simply the shape of our iPhone 13, because we are all acting, all of the time. And the image we put out (or post, or blog about) on Instagram or Twitter – or on a massive billboard on a bus or the side of a building in Leicester Square – isn’t the real “us”. None of it is.

Not many of us – even those who ooze confidence or charisma, even those hallowed few who have whatever it takes to light up a room – feel that way, deep inside. We all feel like characters in our own curated movies.

And in Blonde, Monroe urges us to remember that the woman on screen is the same one who slips into bed each night, exhausted and afraid, that “being Marilyn” is an act; a persona, an identity thrust upon her as much as it is a choice for her to adopt her name.

We are all Marilyn Monroe. We should remember that.

Douglas Mateo

Douglas holds a position as a content writer at Neptune Pine. His academic qualifications in journalism and home science have offered her a wide base from which to line various topics. He has a proficiency in scripting articles related to the Health industry, including new findings, disease-related, or epidemic-related news. Apart from this, Douglas writes an independent blog and assists people in living healthy life.