What Marilyn Means to Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham, the multi-talented (and often controversial) creator of HBO’s Girls, has paid tribute to Marilyn in an essay for Vogue.

“It was, finally, reading about her private life that showed me the triumph and tragedy of her arc. Marilyn’s public presence was playful, seductive, and purposeful. She posed like she was living in an ecstasy of eternal summer, her breathy voice conveying an appealing lack of need—but her private life was marked by pain. Abuse, addiction, and abandonment defined her until, at 36, she died and became forever encased in the amber of our all-American fantasies. Thirty-six—an age that seemed, when I first learned her story, to be without defining factors. But now that I’m here—36 and a half, to be exact—I understand the unique set of fears that set in once you’ve moved past your prodigious 20s. To be 36 is to understand that, while a lot more life can be expected, there are certain things that cannot. If you are childless, you have either made that decision, or you’ve entered a phase of hoping that has the bitter tinge of panic. If you are not yet seen as the thing you believe you are—you feel people don’t know quite how serious or powerful or sexy you can be—you have realized it will be a Herculean struggle to change this … I used to think of Marilyn as ageless and very old. Now, 60 years from her death and the same age she was when it happened, I think of her as impossibly young. She could have had five other acts—mother, serious actress, memoirist, game show fixture, showbiz oldie—if she had lived to gain a single wrinkle. What would that have looked like? Would she have become frustrated with the attention, or would she have relished it?”

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