Beauty's icons: who's the queen?

Winifred Hewitt-Wright

Winifred Hewitt-Wright
15th March 2019

From Audrey Hepburn to Marilyn Monroe, from Jackie Kennedy to Princess Diana and Grace Kelly, history has provided us with beauty inside and out.

The one thing that has not failed to escape my notice all my life is the media attention these women get and have got for their beauty alone, and I can’t help but think how much more there is to them, and beauty for that matter. I could spend all day talking about Diana’s wedding dress, Audrey’s demure pearl necklaces or Marilyn’s striking red lips, but haven’t we heard enough of those things?

After reading an article called ‘The Wardrobe of Rebellion: Five Items that Women have Worn for Change’, released by BBC News on International Women’s Day 2019[1], my view on this subject was only reinforced. Long beauty and fashion has been a way the media explores a woman’s political leaning, resistance to patriarchal structures and expression of personality and taste, but how about we actually hear from the women themselves? Perhaps when voice is absent and impossible, or when a high profile woman must keep political neutrality, an exploration of their beauty and choice of fashion is the only way to communicate their voice, for example, the Queen’s not-so-subtle choice of hat sporting the EU flag. When voices fail, beauty is a political statement, but when voices are ready and open to being heard, why do the media still perpetuate the silence of such voices? In Audrey Hepburn’s The Enchanted Tales, an audio book for children, she spoke these words, “The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It's the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows & the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years”[2]. Audrey’s belief surrounding beauty is quite frankly disrespected by the way we remember her, as simply a beauty icon with a demure sophistication, when it is her philanthropy when she grew older that should really be her legacy. How many photographs have you seen of Audrey in black and white, at no more than 30 years old? And, how many photographs have you seen of Audrey as an older woman helping children for UNICEF?

The prosthetic memories we have of these beauty icons of the past are fabricated with the sexist standards which repressed women back then and still do today. So much so, that it would be a surprise to her their words come out of their mouths, because a false history has frozen them into a still photograph. What makes these women beautiful is what is underneath, as Marilyn Monroe puts best, “beneath the makeup and behind the smile I am just a girl who wishes for the world”.

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