To age in public for a woman is, despite all woke societal efforts to the contrary, still hell; to age in public as a star is worse. A roll-call of the sex symbols of my youth in the noughties – Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Christina Aguilera – is notable for the fact that many of them dared to suffer what the tabloids saw as lapses in their promised hotness: weight gain, insanity, shaved heads and bad haircuts, cheap fake tans, bad plastic surgery, each mark against them more or less a problem auto-generated by the fact of being female, famous, femme and fuckable during a wave of (dubious, commercial) feminism that mistook the marketing of slogan thongs for self-empowerment.
It’s strange now, in hindsight, to think about all the world’s girls in their Juicy-brand tracksuits amid the Clenbuterol boom, when ideal bodies were meant to be radically, hungrily skeletal, i.e. un-juicy: wearing garments labeled with zeroes but shaped nothing like them. Ones, instead, were the bodily trend: lines of straight little ones and elevens, as narrow as Adderall rails, were mobbing Kitson in frenzies at weekends. All over L.A.’s sidewalks, there were girls pulling rank in their pastel-pink two-pieces; girls with Swarovski Razrs; girls with loose, pale hair extensions and plastic French tips.
Having your ashes placed in a handbag by Louis Vuitton is another way of writing a love-letter, not to a man, but to commerce. If Marilyn had only meant what she sang in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,’ she and Zsa Zsa and Anna Nicole would have been in agreement. There was never any question of landing a man until death do us part in ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’; the part that mattered was having the diamonds to die in. The thing that people without a great fortune always say about riches is: ‘you can’t take it with you.’ The thing that rich, dead women seem to say is ‘watch me.’
What was difficult for Marilyn – or for Norma Jeane, who lived inside the Marilyn persona – was her need to be regarded as a fully realised being (difficult, although it may not sound like much, for famous women). Her authentic self was not a pale erotic phantom after all, but a New York intellectual: a method actress, and the wife of a playwright, and a wearer of discreet and modest clothes, a poet and a diarist. What frightened her the most was thinking Norma Jeane might, over time, disintegrate, and that she might be left with only Marilyn: a hollowed outline in a woman’s shape, a white dress hanging empty like a shroud; a spooky horror-movie bed-sheet, two holes showing panicked eyes, an animal confusion.