Friday, May 17, 2013

Icons Are People Too

 I started this post writing about icons and celebrities and the people we place on a pedestal, but recent events found me veering down a slightly different path.

There was a lot going on when I was growing up in the 1960s. During those tumultuous years there were many individuals I related to. And a lot I did not. Over the years icons – specifically women icons, since that is the tribe I relate to most – became famous stars one day and, almost as quickly, faded away. Some I admired, a few I aspired to be, and some I criticized or derided.

We – the little girls and boys growing up in the 1950s and 60s - were influenced by the hour-glass voluptuousness of Marilyn Monroe on one hand and a waif-like, anorexic model named Twiggy on the other. In between was the long, sleek aristocratic look of Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961), and Jackie Kennedy, America’s answer to gene pool royalty.

Monroe, featured in the first Playboy Magazine, December 1953, died in 1962 before America’s social and cultural fabric unraveled. Yet the iconic blonde bombshell still captivates us. And there were other sex symbols: Ursula Andress, sex kitten in the 1962 James Bond movie Dr. No, Raquel Welch, Brigitte Bardot…

Not to be too presumptuous, and unable to speak for every woman growing up during the era, then there was me. I realized early on I was never going to have the body or be any of these women.

I was not tall, or thin, or small-busted, or long-legged, or blonde, or rich. I was never going to be a model (too short), actress (no talent), musician or singer (tone deaf), or First Lady (?).

Each generation has their own unreasonable expectations thrust upon them, whether tall, skinny models (apparently always in vogue), voluptuous sex kittens or blemish-free, toned celebrities splashed across publications such as People and Us - large photos of forever-young women, their latest significant other, and their cute kids outfitted in the latest must-have designer outfits for tots.

And so it is with humbleness and appreciation when an icon/celebrity shows us her humanity, not by walking through minefields or donating scads of money to charities, but by admitting she received disheartening medical information and had a tough decision to make, and made the best of a very difficult situation.

She displayed her humanity, fragileness and mortality.

I was never a Brangelina fan. I watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith on TV and thought it was a silly movie. The only time I read celebrity magazines is in doctors’ waiting rooms. I do not follow and do not care about the Kardashians or whoever else is in the gossip column headlines.

I must admit, however, I enjoy reading about the shenanigans of our elected officials and, whether serial marriages (Newt Gingrich, for example) or adulterous escapades (such as Mark Sanford and his Appalachian Trail Argentinian adventure), they are great fun on the one hand, and a sad commentary on our politicians and Americans’ ultimate acceptance of their philandering.

But I am getting way off today’s focus.

I want to thank Angelina Jolie for reminding us that even the people society places on pedestals, splashes across sleek magazine pages and TV screens, constantly tweet about, the celebrities paparazzi harass, are ultimately real human beings like you and me.  

And sometimes they have problems too.

Not everyone may have made the decision Angelina did, but I salute her for being so brave, confronting her dragon and attempting to slay it, and for her honesty.

Many of us may not have the resources to make a similar decision and follow the same medical path. But hopefully her experience raises awareness of the personal medical struggles many people confront. Only they do not make headlines. Yet they are brave stars too.


  1. I enjoyed reading your post. I have been away from my computer and any TV since Friday a week ago as we traveled to Tennessee to see our daughter who delivered a baby girl. We just came back home. I’ll check the internet to see what was Angelina’s decision. I do like her and think that she is much more than just a pretty actress and has done much humanitarian work.

  2. I'm far far from a Brangelina fan.

    I do respect her choices and work.

  3. Ah, those times. I had a healthy childhood and the usual anxious adolescence, but that would be only about four or five years of trying to figure out who to be. By the time the flower children came along, I was right there ready to snap up that narrative. A silly one, but more self-fulfilling. At least it gave me permission to be something authentic. Once I figured out what that meant.

  4. She has received a great deal of attention over this, but I still wonder if she will also have her ovaries removed, which present a much more intractable problem through ovarian cancer. But you can't get prosthetic ovaries, and her appearance would change greatly. I am of two minds about her announcement. I hope this will help other women who make the decision to have insurance companies pay for it.