The Beauty In Vulnerability

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“But why would you hang a print of a sad Marilyn when there`re so many others?” asked my boyfriend.

Yeah but they lack the impact of this shot, for mine.

Beyond the large-scale, extreme close-up of her fabulous, symmetrical features I love this image of Monroe for its sheer truth.  Candid and slightly grainy, this shot was snapped at a press conference held outside Monroe`s Beverly Hills home.  It was October 1954 and she was announcing her divorce from Joe DiMaggio after just nine months of marriage.  For me, the powerful allure of this photo lies in its authenticity and drama – it is a raw and realistic portrait of the star.  It exudes the air of gravitas.  This is no staged photograph :  there`s no Movie Studio contractual obligation hanging over it, no moguls or managers pulling the strings, no idealized cheesecake here.

I love this shot because in it she`s not being our Marilyn.  There`s no vamping the audience with her signature smoldering poses, all sleepy-eyed and open-mouthed ;  there`s nothing of the contrived persona of movie star Marilyn.  Instead, it depicts a moment of pure presence because in this shot she is totally available to the pain of her loss – there`s no denial, no pushing down of the emotion.  For the fact that she is so visibly distraught I found it uncomfortable to watch footage of this press conference.  She appears frail and almost overcome as she leans on her lawyer Jerry Giesler (to her right) in the midst of a horde of self-serving reporters.

Social researcher and PhD Brenè Brown explains in her popular 2010 TED talk `The Power of Vulnerability` that vulnerability is the birthplace of joy and creativity, of belonging and love.  I would humbly add it`s where healing begins.  Brown says that vulnerable people have the courage to be imperfect and here, Monroe has the immense courage to be seen very publicly as imperfect.  In this photo she is allowing her true self to be seen.  To be deeply seen, as Brown would say.  This image of her is excruciatingly honest and intimate.

What affects me about this photo is that Monroe is fully embracing her vulnerability in grief and to my eyes at least that makes her way more gorgeous.  In this moment there`s absolutely no numbness to Monroe as she steps fully into her loss and despair, on the contrary she is absolutely alive here and breathtakingly beautiful.  Brown explains that vulnerability is exposure and emotional risk, that it most certainly is not weakness and how could it be when Monroe here is very clearly inside the arena, all muddied and bloodied because she had the guts to dare greatly.

Here, Monroe is willing to let go of who she thought she should be – the film star and goddess – to be who she truly is.  She is at once broken-hearted yet wholehearted and that makes her even more exquisite.

For me, the potency of this image lies in its seriousness and its essence of personal crisis which only adds to the artistic quality of the shot, the emotional power elevating it and lending the image a timelessness.


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