Audrey Hepburn: Beauty Icon or Humanitarian?

imgresIt’s been a while since I’ve written on my favorite topic – “beauty in our society”, but rest assured that this delay is not from lack of content. In fact, in the past few months, I have been collecting, storing and sifting through a great deal of information on looks and our society. This post on Audrey Hepburn is one that I have been mulling over since mid-April.

I think most everyone knows or has at least heard of Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993). I mean how many times have you seen the iconic picture below from Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

She is well known for her starring roles in a  number of famous (and really terrific) films,  including Roman Holiday (1953), Breakfast  at Tiffany’s (1961), My Fair Lady (1964) and Wait Until Dark (1967).

But, she is perhaps even better known for something equally as impressive, though completely out of her control: her natural beauty.

She is not just a film icon. She is a beauty icon. When people think of beautiful, glamorous women, they naturally think of Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and perhaps Angelina Jolie.

With that in mind, take a look at this picture below:

grave-at-trenzalore: followingthedeer: sainthannah: heatherbat: stunningpicture: ‘Cause people seem to only post the 20-something Audrey Hepburn. Audrey Hepburn was the granddaughter of a baron, the daughter of a nazi sympathizer, spent her teens doing ballet to secretly raise money for the dutch resistance against the nazis, and spent her post-film career as a goodwill ambassador of UNICEF, winning the presidential medal of freedom for her efforts. …and history remembers her as pretty. AND HISTORY REMEMBERS HER AS PRETTY note this is the first time I have ever seen a picture of her older than 20 and I think that’s scary

I saw this picture on tumblr with these three comments below:

1. “‘Cause people seem to only post the 20-something Audrey Hepburn.”

2. “Audrey Hepburn was the granddaughter of a baron, the daughter of a nazi sympathizer, spent her teens doing ballet to secretly raise money for the dutch resistance against the nazis, and spent her post-film career as a goodwill ambassador of UNICEF, winning the presidential medal of freedom for her efforts …and history remembers her as pretty.

3. “this is the first time I have ever seen a picture of her older than 20 and I think that’s scary”

That second comment is my favorite. She was a kind, compassionate and brave woman but, most importantly, she was born with good genes for us to fawn over for generations to come.

Now, to be honest, I think perhaps the older people of the world do remember that she was a humanitarian, but what is her legacy? Already, after perhaps one generation, what do us “kids” know about her? That she was a pretty face?  We must not reduce her life’s work to something so trite and temporary.

Men are most often valued for their brains and money, and women are most often valued for their looks. Why? Because we are sexual objects in society, and that stereotype is reinforced everyday on the internet, on tv and on the streets.

Well, I’m trying to keep my posts shorter, so I’ll leave this topic for now. But, as owner of this blog, I will not leave this post on Audrey without highlighting her real legacy:

1. A seriously brilliant actress. Have you seen this beautiful lady act? Please tell me you haven’t just seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s because, if so, you are seriously missing out. Please go watch Wait Until Dark immediately. I mean she wasn’t picked to star in so many classics just for her looks. In fact, she won an Academy Award for Best Actress, a record three BAFTA Awards for Best British Actress in a Leading Role, three Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award for Best Performance for a Leading Actress. Bam! Talk about talent!

2. A seriously compassionate humanitarian. In 1988 Audrey Hepburn was appointed as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and spent the remainder of her life traveling throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America in an effort to raise awareness for suffering children.

This five year period from 1988 to her death in 1993 was not a publicity stunt or a way to stave off the guilt of her successful life. In fact, Audrey’s friends and family later said that she was consumed by “the thoughts of dying, helpless children” until her death (audrey1.org).

During one trip to Bangladesh UN photographer John Isaac accompanied Audrey and still remembers her genuine love for the children. “Often the indexpicnewkids would have flies all over them, but she would just go hug them,” Isaac said. “I had never seen that. Other people had a certain amount of hesitation, but she would just grab them. Children would just come up to hold her hand, touch her – she was like the Pied Piper.”

I love that quote because he was a photographer and photographers look for beauty. When Audrey was young, her face was the “beauty” of the photo. But, as an older lady, her actions were the “beauty” of the photos (as in the picture to the right).

Audrey used her powerful name and status to help thousands of children because Audrey got it. She knew that the thousands of children pictured in the countless “feed the hungry” ads each year do have a name and do have a life and do need help. Each child has a story. They get embarrassed. They get scared. They worry. They laugh. And they need food and water.

Two quotes from Audrey on her humanitarian work stuck out to me:

“People in these places don’t know Audrey Hepburn, but they recognize the name UNICEF. When they see UNICEF their faces light up, because they know that something is happening. In the Sudan, for example, they call a water pump UNICEF.” (US magazine McCall’s, 1989)

“There is so much we cannot do. We cannot give the children back their parents, but we can return to them their most basic human rights – their rights to health, tenderness and life.” (USA Today, 1989)

 

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