[if you clicked and you're already stricken with ennui, all i ask is that you read THIS.]
there was this interesting publishing trend a little while back toward what i’d like to label “the celebrity lifestyle guidebook.” it drew lessons from the lives of celebrities as a means of showing readers how to live better.
distinct from the notion that celebrity life narratives are, at their root, implicitly instructive, the celebrity lifestyle guidebook makes everything explicit.
maybe i’ve got this wrong entirely, but to me it says this: “hey, audrey was elegant. your life will be better if you’re elegant. here’s some concrete things audrey did to be elegant that you should do so you can be elegant too and then your life will be perfect like audrey’s life because you’ll be elegant like audrey.”
which is problematic because, omg, logic = FLAWED.
because, hey, audrey’s life was kind of really difficult at times and, therefore, not perfect. and because, if you’re looking to a superficial understanding of someone else’s life to make your own life easier to live that is, in the long-run, maybe not going to go so well for you.
isn’t there more strength to be drawn from an audrey hepburn who carried messages to the french resistance during WWII than from the audrey hepburn who wore pretty dresses and was impossibly slim?
“the celebrity lifestyle guidebook” isn’t meant to be biography, and yet somehow it perfectly encapsulates my problems with what biography of mid-20th century famous women currently is.
we’re not mining the lives of dolly madison and anne bradstreet for lessons in elegance, but instead consistently ransacking the stories of jackie, audrey, marilyn, and- to a lesser degree- princesses grace and diana. it says something very not great about our treatment of mid-20th century famous women that this has, thus far, been exclusively done to them.
what did jackie teach us? she taught us about “Courage” and “Vision” and “Focus.” not unlike these posters…
how to be like her? “Exude Grace in Everything You Do,” “Play with the Boys, But Choose a Man of Substance,” “Insert Your Kitten-Heeled Shoe in the Door,” “Learn to Produce Authentic Kitchen Smells.”
for real. authentic kitchen smells. what does that even mean? how can the lessons of a life be distilled into kitchen smells? is there such a thing as an inauthentic kitchen smell? shouldn’t we be more worried about authentic food? did jackie even cook?
in case it’s not incredibly apparent by now, i have a little problem with this genre of “the celebrity lifestyle guidebook,” though i’m not entirely certain how to articulate it.
on the one hand, it’s commendable that we’re talking about female lives. hurrah that!
on the other hand, i think we’re talking about important lives and then falling comically short in the appallingly trite lessons we extract from them. (dress better! learn to cook! exude grace! KITCHEN SMELLS!)
if oprah wrote biography, this is how she’d do it…
this is, in part, because we- as a society- suck in our handling of women’s lives and, by extension, our interpretations of those lives entirely miss the point. and, in turn, the notion that women should be modeling their lives after the faulty and reductive understanding of all these other women’s lives creates a tremendously daunting ideal.
enter Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn?: Timeless Lessons on Love, Power, and Style. which- for the record- i have not read, but which was featured in this article that i have read, and which is completely ridic.
confession: for me, this statement completely undermined the whole thing… “According to Keogh, from very early on, Jackie had a plan to ensure that whomever she married would become the President of the United States.” because that, my friends, is plain wrong. even more so than this:
but, also, look at the opening line: “Both Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Marilyn Monroe loved men — and men always loved them right back, too.”
um… not really at all. if you know even the barest bit about either of these women, it’s likely that their love lives were harrowing… at best. and yet, you’re advised here to “channel your own inner Jackie or Marilyn [and] follow Keogh’s tips below to snag the man of your dreams.”
it would behoove you to check out the regendering of this article, because it’s uh-mazing. as a teaser, i give you this:
“If you’re looking to score a driven, successful gal, employing a ‘Jack’ attitude will serve you well. According to Keogh, from very early on, Jack had a plan to ensure that whomever he married would become the President of the United States. Since a ‘Jack’ type is the ne plus ultra of men, an ambitious woman could do no better than to have a ‘Jack’ at her side as she navigates the world — which is why wealthy, successful women often gravitate towards a loyal, classy ‘Jack.’
would that we lived in a world where this was so.
i was actually auto-piloting through this article, reading it out of an obligation to read jackie articles, until this sentence: “In order to summon the man-attracting powers of America’s most iconic sex kitten and good-girl actress, it’s important to see beyond Marilyn’s iconic body-hugging dresses, platinum curls and diamonds, and Jackie’s ladylike pearls, tailored shift dresses and sleek brunette bob, says Keogh. “
i’ve spent so many many subsequent minutes parsing that sentence structure. because, in it, jackie is the “good-girl actress.” and while i am pretty sure this is an accident, it neatly coincides with everything i have written and ever hope to write.
jackie was a “good-girl actress.” she was pretending to be a “good-girl.” the story of rebel-jackie is so.much.better. as i’ma show you all.
(pictures from all over the internet)