I've loved Marilyn Monroe since I was 8 years old, when a life-size poster of the famous subway grate scene from The Seven-Year Itch covered my bedroom wall. At 12, I convinced my mom to let me dress up like her for Halloween when I didn't even have the boobs to fill out a white halter dress. In college, I read a dozen biographies and covered my dorm room with Ikea-framed black-and-white portraits of Marilyn that I printed in the library for 20 cents each.
Today, my look is inspired by my favorite blonde bombshell's vibe. I wear winged liner and red lipstick everyday. I'm rarely in flats, and I love 50s-inspired dresses and cat-eye sunnies. Recently, I snipped and dyed my hair into a blonde shoulder-length bob. On very good days (like, the best days ever), people will say that I remind them of a modern version of Marilyn Monroe.
But like my idol, I struggle with crippling insecurity. I've tried hypnotism, therapy, personal trainers, and The Secret. But any time things lighten up a bit, my confident outlook quickly fizzles and I'm back in an endless hole of self-doubt. This affects my relationships, career, and my marriage (my husband basically deserves a medal). If I could drink a magic tea that would fix me forever, I'd chug it in a heartbeat.
People seem puzzled when I confess that I have these demons, since on the surface, it looks like my ducks are mostly in a row (and, you know, I'm not fugly). Well, what can I say? I'm really good at faking it.
Even though I have this in common with her, Marilyn's confidence issues seem downright absurd to me. I'm just a regular person—she's regarded as one of the most beautiful women in history, an international sex symbol lusted after all over the world, transcending time and trends.
And yet, her struggles were so real that she had to create a faux persona to control them. The blonde bombshell as we know her, "Marilyn Monroe," is basically a lie. The real hottie beneath (Norma Jean, sometimes known as Zelda Zonk) was much more complicated than the ditzy, breathy starlet she projected. It's not unlikely that her self-doubt and pain were why her marriages failed, and eventually, why she took her own life.
To help me try and conquer these lifelong burdens—or at least connect to the woman who may have felt my pain—I embarked on a week-long journey of channeling Marilyn. Here's how it went.
My First Day as Marilyn Or, how I tried to master the Marilyn look.
Marilyn's makeup routine is pretty iconic. It's sultry, with bedroom eyes and pouty full lips, and is much more involved than my two-minute liquid liner and bold lip routine.
I studied her photos, watched her movies, interviewed Eve Morrow (head makeup artist for the Marilyn-themed show Smash), and read endless blog posts to come up with a strategy based on Marilyn's favorite makeup artist Allan "Whitey" Snyder's technique.
I landed on Vaseline as moisturizer, full-coverage foundation, powder, contour, highlighter, enhanced angular brows, white and brown eyeshadow, brown winged liner on upper and lower lids, white eyeliner in a triangle on the outer eye and along the water line, half a faux lash glued on the outer ends of my top lid, mascara, and contoured lips (four different shades of red topped with highlighter cream in the center). Finally, I finished with a brown eyeliner beauty mark.
It took multiple tries to get the brows, eyes, and lips right. I didn't feel like they were ever perfect, but eventually I had to move on with my day (and do my actual job) so when I was close enough, I moved on to the next step. Finally, the lashes were glued in place and the beauty mark was drawn on. Like magic, those two finishing touches made me feel a little less Loni Venti and a little more Marilyn Monroe. I felt beautiful, but like I was in a costume—not at all myself. I wondered if she felt that way when putting on her face.
Hair-wise, I got fab tips on how to set my hair in Marilyn's pattern from Tim Wandrey, a lead stylist at The Red Door Spa (where Marilyn actually went). It seemed manageable ... until I had a curling iron in my hand. Desperate to make it work, I disregarded Tim's setting pattern, curled with abandon, clipped some spirals onto my head, and brushed them out when they cooled. It wasn't exactly Marilyn's style, but it looked pretty good.
Then, the clothes. The dress was so tight that I had to stand completely upright. It didn't reveal any skin and the hem fell mid-calf, but it was still way sexier than anything in my wardrobe because it put my curves front and center. Cue my first meltdown trigger.
Stepping out in front of my colleagues for the first time in my full Marilyn look made me feel glamorous but also vulnerable. I knew that people could see parts of my shape (specifically my lower half) that I usually cover up in flippy, A-line skirts.
But I forced myself to turn up the drama, walking her walk, talking in her voice, and shutting down the voices in my head telling me I looked fat, weird, and worse. If it worked for MM it could work for me, right?
It did, actually, and soon I felt a lot more comfy in my unbreathably tight dress. (Except when I had to like walk. Or sit. Or climb stairs.) Strangers definitely noticed me a lot more than usual. I got a lot of heads turned and comments from people on the street, especially when I practiced her hip-swinging strut. When my heel got caught in the sidewalk, three construction workers rushed to my rescue. It was hands down, the most "Marilyn" moment of my life. When I got home, my hubs said I looked hot (without me asking, thankyouverymuch) and so I went to bed wearing (just) Chanel No. 5, of course.
Day 2 A glam squad is a girl's best friend.
For my second day, I gave the makeup another try on my own, but decided to get a little expert assistance with the hair. Marilyn regularly visited Elizabeth Arden's Red Door spa for beautifying, so I booked an appointment with their mane man, Tim Wandrey.
Tim explained that Marilyn would most likely have done a "wet set," which is when you wrap damp hair into little swirls and pin them all over your head to later pick out and shape which would literally take all day (at least four hours). But since Loni had to get to work, Marilyn's hair would need a slightly more modern technique. Tim curled my entire head with a half-inch iron, then clipped the coils down onto my head. It took forever. And this way the faster high-tech version!
Finally, when everything was set, he removed the clips and brushed out the curls until my hair had about quadrupled in volume. He shaped it with a brush and his fingers until it was in a very Monroe-esque coiff, and then I jetted out of there so I wouldn't miss my AM meeting.
That afternoon, when I usually pick up a flat white with my work bestie, I swapped caffeine for a little champers. Marilyn loved Piper-Heidsieck Champagne and kept a month's supply in her kitchen at all times. Her friends and assistants would bring her a glass to wake her from a nap or as a pick-me-up. So when my 4 p.m. slump hit, I popped open some Piper-Heidseick. It was so delicious but got me pretty tipsy (I'm kind of a lightweight) and I had a hard time focusing on my work afterwards. While sipping bubbly all day may sound crazy-glam, I also reflected on how sad it was that my hero clearly relied on substances stronger than java to get her through the day.
Later that night I got to check out the Erno Laszlo Institute. Marilyn and Dr. Laszlo were friends and she would see him for customized facial treatments. He even made a product (Phormula 3-9) just for her, to help her appendix scar fade. The Institute isn't in the same location as when my girl went there, but they do have an awesome historically accurate room filled with antiques, original Erno Laszlo packaging, magazines, and furniture from the 50s. Stepping in there made me feel the most connected to Marilyn that I had yet. I was wearing an exact replica of one of her outfits, surrounded by items from her decade, and about to get a facial with the same products she used on her own gorgeous face. It was pretty epic.
Day 3 Trying not to vomit over raw eggs.
Ms. Monroe told Pageant magazine in 1952: "Frankly, I've never considered my own figure so exceptional; until quite recently, I seldom gave it any thought at all. My biggest single concern used to be getting enough to eat. Now I have to worry about eating too much. I never used to bother with exercises. Now I spend at least 10 minutes each morning working out with small weights. I have evolved my own exercises, for the muscles I wish to keep firm, and I know they are right for me because I can feel them putting the proper muscles into play as I exercise."
To this day, people are still obsessing over her famous curves. The Internet loves to argue over whether she would be a modern size 16 or 6. Her measurements are documented and compared to Kim Kardashian's and other voluptuous babes in the spotlight. Her teeny 23-inch waist, ample hips, and bust are all of my body goals, so I was excited to road test how she maintained them.
Marilyn also spoke about her "bizarre" eating habits, which included hot milk with two raw eggs and a multi vitamin for breakfast, steak or liver with four or five raw carrots for dinner, and a hot fudge sundae for dessert. She didn't mention lunch.
Throughout the week, I did my best to stick to her diet. The hot milk and eggs (of which she said "I doubt if any doctor could recommend a more nourishing breakfast for a working girl in a hurry") was really, really tough to get down. I hoped it would taste like a thick latte or eggnog, but it just tasted like hot milk with raw egg chunks in it. I felt pretty nauseous after sipping it and wished that my idol had pancakes or an omelette to start her day instead. I paired it with a gummy vitamin because those are the kind I take (yep, I'm a grown-up).
For dinner, I replaced the red meat she had with either a tuna steak or salmon (I'm a vegetarian who occasionally has fish, but never red meat!) and I chowed down on those carrots, Bugs Bunny-style.
I was definitely stoked to indulge every night in a hot fudge sundae, and kicked it off at the Brooklyn Diner with one of my friends, but I could barely finish half of the delicious treat. I started getting pretty bad headaches from all the sugar (between the Champagne and the ice cream) and needed to chug water and pop some aspirin to get through the work that was piling up at my desk.
In this same Pageant story, Marilyn also mentioned that she worked every morning with weights. I recruited Nick Mastropasqua, General Manager and personal trainer at The Club (the gym at Cosmo HQ) for some guidance in breaking down her moves based on those iconic photos of her working out. We ended up with a chest press, squats (with weight), and shoulder presses aside from some jogging.
But to make it all extra Marilyn (and extra ridiculous), I hit the gym in a bikini top, high-waisted jeans, and Converse sneaks. There weren't Lululemon pants and Nikes in MM's day, so when she worked out, this is what she wore. People at the gym looked at me like I was crazy. I felt like I was crazy. But I did feel a lift in the boob and butt area after doing her plan for a few days. Plus, I actually looked better in the bikini top than I expected (I'm NOT a beach girl) so that definitely boosted my ego a bit!
Day 4 Time for my close-up, whether I was ready for it or not.
A huge part of MM's life was taking pics—and not the selfie kind. So the amazing Cosmopolitan.com team and I set out to recreate some of her most iconic photos. To be honest, I was terrified. Marilyn was a model, a sex symbol, and a star in the golden age of Hollywood. She's considered one of the most beautiful women who ever lived. How could I even attempt to recreate her images without looking like a cheap knockoff or her chubby millennial granddaughter?
But I dug deep down. I thought about how my idol had insecurities of her own, and probably stressed about those very images I was working on trying to recreate. That helped me calm my nerves. I tried to channel her sex goddess persona, her unapologetic love of the spotlight, and I sipped some liquid courage (more Piper-Heidsick of course). I stopped GAF about whether I'd be good enough/skinny enough/pretty enough/everything enough and just did my damn best to own the shoot and seize this incredible once-in-a-lifetime moment.
Our glam squad, Tim Wandrey of Red Door and makeup artist Jenny Kanavaros, went to town and literally transformed me. The hair was perfect—right before we started snapping our first look, Tim stuck a few pins into the length of my hair to make it look shorter like Marilyn's. The makeup was insane. Jenny studied Whitey's tricks too but her expertise put my not-so-humble attempt to shame. Both the hair and makeup were so much closer than anything I'd accomplished on my own.
Trying to pose exactly like she did, sometimes outside in the freezing February temps, sometimes in front of a jam-packed Starbucks in white dress that was flying up was pretty surreal. I struggled to stretch my arms up as high as hers in the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number but still look sexy and not what I really was, which was IN PAIN.
Pink Strapless Gown, JILL STUART (Available at Bloomingdale's), $398; Pink Satin Stretch Gloves, LACRASIA GLOVES, $40; Crystal Flower Necklace, KENNETH JAY LANE, $538; Silver & Crystal Lace Hinged Cuff, KENNETH JAY LANE, $513; Crystal Stretch Cuff, KENNETH JAY LANE, $300; Crystal Headlight Bracelet; KENNETH JAY LANE, $275; Silver & Crystal Link Bracelet, KENNETH JAY LANE, $180;Charm Necklace, FOREVER 21, $17
I felt naked in front of my coworkers when recreating her May 1953 Cosmopolitan cover in that cleavage-baring lace dress. But this is what the icon went through, so Loni had to go through it too.
Black & Tan Lace Dress, REVOLVE, $199
My absolute favorite shot was the convertible look. Partially because I finally got to wear an appropriate amount of clothing for the icy weather, but also because it felt the most like what Marilyn would wear—like actually Marilyn, not a movie character. And convertibles are awesome!
2016 Buick Cascada in Summit White provided by Buick.
Day 5 Fear is stupid. So is regret.
I woke up so depressed that it was my last day channeling my girl (SAD FACE), so I decided to make it count. I aced that MM makeup and hair (I mean, hello, I had a lot of practice), sprinted up the subway steps in a too-tight pencil skirt, and made a grand entrance into the office.
Black Sunglasses, VOGUE EYEWEAR (Available at Sunglass Hut), $120; White Fitted Button-Front Shirt, CALVIN KLEIN (Available at Macy's), $60; Black Pencil Skirt, BAR III (Available at Macy's), $50; Black Leather Pumps, ANN TAYLOR, $128; Camel Trench Coat, TOPSHOP, $110
I sipped Champagne whenever I felt like it throughout the work day (Cosmo's Editor-in-Chief, Joanna Coles, suggested that I might have sipped a bit too much ... Oops! Sorry, boss!). I walked her sultry walk, winked and waved to anyone who looked over at this wannabe Monroe, and finally, after work I went out on the town to greet my fans (aka my friends, hubby, sister, brother, and parents). The cherry on top was when the table next to us recognized me, called me over, and asked if Marilyn would sing "Happy Birthday" to their friend! Now, Loni wouldn't dream of doing anything this embarrassing in public. But I was still living as Marilyn until the clock struck midnight, so I did it. The whole bar applauded and I felt alive and fun, and didn't care if anyone said I sucked, was overdressed (boy was I ever), or thought I was ridiculous. They sent me a glass of Prosecco (the closest thing the Brooklyn dive bar had to Piper-Heidsieck) as a thank you.
When the weekend came, I was definitely glad to go back to being Loni. It felt so good wearing my own clothes and makeup, eating less "bizarre" foods, and working out in normal gym gear. But I will be taking some parts of this Marilyn experience with me. I'll definitely be adding some more body-hugging silhouettes to my wardrobe. I'm totally stealing her amazing makeup tricks (although probably just for special occasions). But most of all, this project showed me how liberating it is to be fearless. If I, as Marilyn, could ditch my self-consciousness to experiment with new looks, pose for a (sometimes revealing) photo shoot, and burst into song in public among strangers, why couldn't I do it as Loni? I can and I will.
Living as Marilyn for a week was pretty much a dream come true. It led to me falling in love with her all over again, feeling more connected to her than I ever thought possible, and maybe—just a little—helped soften some of my own self-hating issues. Seeing what a day (well, week) in her life was like, showed me that anything is possible if you can take a deep breath and turn down the hater inside. Me and Norma may be kindred spirits. And when we both unleash our inner Marilyn, we're downright bombshells.
Stylist: Charles Manning Photographer: Kathleen Kamphausen Video Producer/Editor: Mason Leverington Makeup Artist: Jenny Kanavaros Hair Stylist: Tim Wandrey Editor: Helin Jung
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