Being a Young Sex Symbol

This photo session took place in 1958. Richard Avedon took pictures of Marilyn posing like others classic stars : Marlene Dietrich, Clara Bow, Lilian Russell, Theda Bara and Jean Harlow. In this one she is posing as Clara Bow.

This photo session took place in 1958. Richard Avedon took pictures of Marilyn posing like others classic stars : Marlene Dietrich, Clara Bow, Lilian Russell, Theda Bara and Jean Harlow. In these she is posing as Clara Bow.

“A sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate being a thing. But if I’ve got to be a symbol of something, I’d rather have it be sex than some other thing we’ve got symbols of.”
— Marilyn Monroe

While working on The Clara Bow Project, I am fascinated by multiple issues — but one is most intriguing to me right now: what is it like to be a young sex symbol in the public eye?

Clara became a full-fledged sex symbol by 1927 with the hit, “It”, which garnered her the name “The It Girl”, and launched her as a major face for the roaring 20’s.

All that sounds grand, right?

But, what was it really like for her?

Obviously, this is a big focus for those of us involved with the Clara Bow Project; we want to dig as deep as possible and give an artistic, but honest look into the life of this woman. We’ve got awesome researchers on board and I know we’ll do our best to make the doe-eyed, strangely modern, irreverent ghost of iconic Hollywood strut about again, and tell us a few stories.

But, will we ever really, truly know what it was like to be her? Or, for that matter, any woman (or man) who may well have oodles of brains and talent, but as Marilyn said, became a “thing” thanks to their looks?

No. We won’t know. Not unless we — heaven help any of us — end up walking in their shoes and become overly sexualized ourselves.

To this end, let’s think for a moment about our young stars.

Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance may well have been a monstrosity, but if she had just gotten up on stage and sang a sweet ballad, would we still be talking about her performance?

Doubtful. Her young fans might, but everyone else– very unlikely.

Now, I really don’t want to compare Clara and the women of her begone era to twerking pop stars, but I do think it’s worth noting that without Miley’s over-the-top, highly sexual performance and the way she’s transformed her image from dimpled, squeaky-clean Disney star to… well… whatever she is now, her star might already be fading.

Clara was of a far different sort than the Miley’s, Lyndsay’s, and Britney’s of our world, but one link remains — actually two links remain: we’re drawn to their sexiness, and, we’re love their scandals.

I recently told a co-worker about being part of The Clara Bow Project. He furrowed his brow for a moment, then said, “oh yeah… actress from back-in-the-day, did the whole football team, right?”

Yep. That’s the one. Or, at least, that’s the rumor she’s often associated with.

Slight segue here: today, I was bending over in a metro station to rearrange some belongings in my shoulder bag. A man came up to me and tugged on my earbuds.

When I looked up, he asked me questions about train delays and I answered to the best of my ability. He had a strange smile on his face and I felt the unfortunately familiar awareness that he was looking me over.

He then said, “Yeah, cool. I knew all that. I only came over the ask you because you have a hot a$$.”

I walked away.

And now, I am thinking: I am not a bombshell superstar, not a recognized sex symbol, and I am not that young.

What would it be like to be all those things? What does it do to your psyche? What kind of life do you have — it is normal? What is normal for you; do you even know?

 

— Written by Julie Roundtree

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