Sunday, 1 July 2012

Audrey Hepburn: Icon

by Isabelle Byrne

Audrey Hepburn
(source: wiki commons)
Audrey Hepburn is arguably one of the best role models and most iconic figures from the last hundred years. She instills the most admirable traits that we should all strive to achieve. I find it interesting that instead of remembering someone for their determination through tough times to get what they wanted, and their use of their fame to help people that they had no real need to, we remember people for their scandals; their flaws are what keep us interested. The reason we dwell on this kind of celebrity is a method of self protection – we don’t want to see how good people can be, as this reminds us of our flaws. So instead we look to people and pity them for not being more like us, elevating our own self esteem.

Marilyn Monroe graffiti, Berlin Wall
(Wiki Commons)

 Audrey Hepburn, whenever brought up in conversation is often compared to Marilyn Monroe. Although these two had polar opposite personalities. In my opinion, Marilyn, for the most part had a flawed character: she was selfish, hurtful and didn’t embrace the fortunes that were given to her. Yet the majority of the public will look at her and admire her. Yes – she had a dream, she was beautiful, she mixed with interesting and influential people BUT she spent her life isolated. Her achievements were undermined by her actions and lifestyle. Although she was respected by many people, as she came from a broken home - her father beat her up and she was troubled from a young age.

I would maintain that Audrey had an equally tough upbringing, having her father abandon her at the age of 6. Her mother also never showed her any sense of caring as she thought that this would be a ‘waste of time’. Audrey wanted to be a prima ballerina, but upon being told by her ballet teacher that she would never be good enough, she adapted her dream and moved on, she didn’t dwell on her misfortunes, instead saw them as a door to new possibilities. Therefore Audrey could be respected in the same way. Marilyn on the other hand spent most of her life fixating on minutia – she never thought of the big picture. Her notoriety came from her relationship with Kennedy and her untimely suicide, but does that make her more important than someone who spent most of her adult life devoted to the work of UNICEF?

Audrey was born in Belgium on the 4th May 1929, in an area that would become central during the Second World War. She was malnourished (partly why she was later so petite) and her father abandoned her, as I have said, at the tender age of 10. And yet she managed to become one of the world’s biggest stars.

Because of her background Audrey made sure that she never took her achievements for granted – she worked hard; never turned up late; was professional and this is best exemplified not only in her acting but the way in which she lived her life, the values she held and her integrity. Upon having her sons, she stopped her acting career to focus on being a mother (something which actresses these days don’t seem to be doing – Charlize Theron is a perfect example of this after returning to her work 4 weeks after giving birth). Once her children had grown up, she felt she was too old to start acting again and so instead using her notoriety, went on to help those who were less fortunate then herself. She dedicated her life to UNICEF and in doing so exhausted herself. Her son once turned to her and asked her to slow down, but she turned back saying “Children walk 5 miles to get water every day, why should I rest when they don’t get to?” It was this kind of character that sets her apart from other celebrities at the time and even now.

Admittedly Marilyn is iconic, and her image will be remembered in history, but it would be hard to dispute that Audrey, did not have a fashion sense that infiltrates our modern world. Audrey’s iconic scene in front of Tiffany’s in New York, cigarette in one hand, bagel in the other, in a black dress, white gloves and diamonds draped all over her head, in the film Breakfast At Tiffany’s will always be a beautiful moment in film and fashion. This is another of Audrey’s films in which we see a classic fairytale stand the test of time, being as relevant and poignant when it was made as it is now. The message of the film being, follow your heart no matter what your head says.

Now its safe to say that I adore Audrey and so have a tainted picture of Marilyn, but I do have pictures of both on my walls. They both inspire me, for different reasons, but Audrey inspires me for the right reasons. So the next time you find yourself admiring a celebrity, ask yourself, “Are they inspiring me to be a better version of myself through their values and the way in which they live their life or to become a parody of them and their lives?”

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