Marilyn Monroe is celebrated for many things – her looks, her physique, her breathy voice. She’s praised for her “size 14” frame and idolized as the epitome of beauty.
And she is gorgeous. But she’s also much more than that.
Many don’t know much about a woman – born Norma Jeane Mortenson, and also known as Norma Jeane Baker – who is actually pretty inspiring. Despite her carefully-constructed Hollywood persona, Marilyn was anything but a vapid, stupid blonde. She was smart and funny and deep and very much brunette. (Not that it matters, as hair color has literally no impact on someone’s intellect.)
Here are some reasons I admire Marilyn Monroe.
1. She overcame a difficult childhood. It’s not easy, nor is it always possible, but Marilyn was able to overcome her rough beginnings. The difficulties for Marilyn began early. Her mother, coping with mental disability, gave Marilyn up for adoption, leaving her to bounce from foster home to foster home. She was sexually abused on many occasions and was raped by the time she was eleven. At 15, she dropped out of school and, desperate to escape life as an orphan, she married her boyfriend, Jimmy Doughtery. It wasn’t a perfect life, but she made it out.
2. She went after her dreams. Soon after she married, Marilyn was “discovered” by a photographer while her husband was away working; she immediately knew she wanted to seek out more opportunities—particularly in acting. She did what she needed to in order to make that happen: in the same year, she had filed for divorce, changed her name, dyed her hair blond, and starred in a film. She’d been reborn.
3. She was unashamed about her need for love. After a difficult childhood, Marilyn clung to this new lifestyle, which made her feel liked and loved, something she’d always yearned for.
4. She took her career seriously. Marilyn didn’t just want fame; she wanted to be taken seriously as an actress. So she studied with some of the biggest acting coaches of the time and even went to the actors’ studio to strengthen her craft. It paid off; she began to gain popularity among filmmakers and with audiences.
5. She fought for what she believed in. Even after her spike in popularity, Marilyn was still typecast in the “vapid, cutesy” roles, many of which she won awards for. She could have given up, acquiescing to a life of prestige, but instead she fought, hard, with studio executives to hire her for the roles she wanted. Indeed, in some of her films, writers that liked her would include witty one-liners that gave her characters a better dimension—a sly acknowledgment that Marilyn was more than just a pretty girl. To provide the intellectual fulfillment she wasn’t getting from her acting career, Marilyn kept a diary, penned poems, and wrote. (The documents were published as a “book, Fragments,” in 2010.)
6. She sought help, in a time when therapy was frowned upon. Marilyn suffered severe performance anxiety, the highest form of stage fright that would make her physically ill and unable to work sometimes. She dealt with a number of insecurities, involving not only her craft but also her body. Marilyn badly wanted children and she suffered miscarriages which greatly affected her depression. She coped with her depression through regular visits with a psychologist (despite the fact that going to a therapist in those times was looked down on).
7. She never gave up. Marilyn faced adversity throughout her career. She was underpaid — in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” she made a meager $18,000 to Jane Russell’s $100,000. On top of that, Marilyn’s appearance was frequently used against her. Many told her she wouldn’t be anything without her body, while in the same breath arguing that because she used her body to garner popularity amongst men she wouldn’t amount to a serious actress. (Sadly, this still takes place today.) Later in her life, while filming “The Seven Year Itch,” Marilyn dealt with a return of performance anxiety and she could not sleep (she was prescribed sleeping pills to cope). In 1962, she was dismissed from “Something’s Got to Give” due to illness. Even as Marilyn’s ailments increased, she pushed forward in her acting career.
8. She advocated for equal rights. Her final interview ended with: “What I really want to say: That what the world really needs is a real feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers. Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe.”
9. She was the kind of woman we can all learn from. Marilyn Monroe was forward thinking, smart, loving, sexy, and talented. She was all of these things—not a beautiful fool.