“Beauty is a power; a smile is its sword.” John Ray

I’ve chosen to post two statues this month rather than the usual solo monument  (yes, I know I did it before with Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan but that’s because they’re been molded together, forever in tandem). You could say the reason I’ve chosen to highlight Marilyn Monroe and Venus de Milo simultaneously has more to do with a happy coincidence than any kind of feminist agenda. Like most writers I’m rarely working on one thing at a time; there’s so much I want to say its hard to find a stopping point. This month while I was searching through my pile of possibilities;  a stack of statues that silently await their turn to be heard,  I made an unexpected connection between two beautiful icons.  The thing that joined these two monuments in perpetuity is their beauty- that rare quality that “the beautiful” wear as if it were a crown upon their head or a medal pinned upon their breasts. Something us mere mortals know nothing about.

I found Forever Marilyn first. She jumped right off the pile and into my line of sight. How could she not? At 26 feet tall, the statue of Marilyn Monroe is the embodiment of beauty and desire; a blond bombshell on a pedestal. Every inch of her is glorious. Simultaneously I was knee-deep in preparing for a Mediterranean cruise which terminates in Athens. I can’t turn a page about Greece culture or history without being bombarded with images of Venus de Milo/Aphrodite. Of course she’s the center of attention. Considered to be the most famous sculpture in the world, she’s also the standard of which all of classic Greek antiquities are measured. Besides, she’s the goddess of love, beauty and desire.  

Hmm. Two beautiful goddesses, on full display, both of them perfectly sculptured works of art.

        “Beauty awakens the soul to act.”  Dante Alighieri

Beauty, that combination of attractive qualities that pleases the aesthetic senses of anyone who experiences it, seems to be the common denominator between these two iconic statues. But can beauty be chiseled, carved or erected?

Let’s start with Marilyn. Forever Marilyn designed by Seward Johnson currently stands in a plaza in Palm Springs, California. The statue is based on a famous photo taken by Bernard of Hollywood in 1955 during the filming of Billy Wilder’s “The Seven Year Itch”  in which Marilyn is posed over a subway grate, her white dress lifted and billowing from the blowing steaming below, revealing her legs, underwear and possibly other feminine attributes, depending on your view or imagination. She’s without a doubt provocative, alluring and eye-catching. I see beauty when I look at her. But not everyone agrees with my assessment. Naysayer’s comments range from “in poor taste,” to “misogyny in the face of nostalgia,” to “pornography.” Lawsuits are pending. Readers, I ask this question: Is it the marble statue itself the haters object to or is it Marilyn Monroe’s innate and overt sexuality?

 Now let’s talk about Venus de Milo, a classical Greek statue, said to have been chiseled in the likeness of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty and desire. Venus was created during the Hellenistic Period during the second century but she wasn’t excavated until 1820 on the Island of Milo (hence the name). What a stir she created! Venus or Aphrodite, depending on whether you’re following Greek or Roman mythology, is rumored to have enticed both gods and powerful men into illicit affairs with her beauty, just by whispering sweet nothings’ in the ears.  (We could say the same thing about Marilyn Monroe.  Remember her sultry “Happy Birthday, Mr.  President” rendition?) When found, the statue of Venus was topless, a shroud covering her thighs and feminine parts. She’s now on display in the Louvre in Paris, France where nobody seems to object to her semi-clad state. Is it because Venus is an antiquity, a priceless work of art, and is off limits to public scrutiny and outcry?

If we look back at the two questions posed earlier, I’d have to infer that Venus, unlike Marilyn, doesn’t seem to conflict with modern feminism (it seems antiquities are held to a different standard). Then there’s the whole goddess part with its own rules of behavior and measures of beauty. Society gives Venus de Milo a pass. Yes, it could be her slender size that humanize her or her missing arms that evoke vulnerability and instead of feeling threatened by her beauty and perfect proportions, we feel awe and grace in her presence.  Forever Marilyn, on the other hand, is considered to be too sexy, too seductive, not to mention larger than an over-sized building. In many ways, we feel dwarfed by her beauty.  

 Statues are a unique species of women. Once we put them on a pedestal, it automatically  places them on a higher plateau. We genuflect, and depending on your perspective of what constitutes sinner or saint, we can either honor and admire or vilify and deface.

Where do you stand in the face of these two beauties?