Is it okay for a baby boomer to feel sexy. Of course! There was a role model

Whether you’re a baby boomer or younger, is it okay to feel sexy? If the answer is yes, you have an icon to thank. Who was it? BoomerCafé contributor Marcia Barhydt’s answer is, Never Mind Barbie, What About Marilyn?

Marilyn Monroe

We early (a.k.a. “leading edge”) Boomers are old enough to remember the blonde bombshell that was Marilyn Monroe. Born in 1926, she was hot hot hot in everything she did. Her personal life was often even steamier than the sexy roles she played in movies.

When Marilyn died in 1962, just 36 years old, we early Boomers were 16 and Marilyn Monroe had left her mark on what we were learning about being sexy. She was a part of freeing us from our 1950s Victorian morals and roles.

Barbie, who needs no introduction to Boomers, was born in 1959, making her a bona fide Boomer. Barbie was a sex symbol of the 60s and 70s, the first doll ever with a real figure, as in ‘not flat-chested,’ oh my! Our daughters loved Barbie as we did, and had no idea who Marilyn was. Marilyn shaped our lives; Barbie shaped our daughters’.

Marilyn Monroe was overtly sexy and capitalized on her sexiness. It may be closer to the bone to say that Marilyn was required to capitalize on her sexiness. Although there had been Hollywood sex symbols before her, none of them did it with such panache and success as Marilyn.

Marilyn Monroe Barbie

Barbie was sexy, but in a rah-rah-cheerleader way, with a hip, popular, teenager image to cover up her innate sexiness. There’s nothing like subliminal advertising to sell, especially when you’re selling to a group of sub-teens and tweens.

I am not a Barbie fan, although I’ll admit that my daughters played with Barbie just like other little girls. She is a Boomer; Marilyn is not. And Barbie continues to influence girls today. Marilyn? Not so much.

Dr. Susan Albers wrote about this in Huffington Post. “In some ways, she (Barbie) may have actually helped women to start practicing otherroles, besides being a mother, earlier in their life. Barbie could do anything — travel, work, or play. Girls were not trapped into one role as a mother as was the case when they played with baby dolls.”

There were even Marilyn Monroe Barbie dolls! Barbie emulating Marilyn — surely that’s a topic for Barbie’s therapist’s couch?

Marcia Barhydt

Although Marilyn was an example of how innocence can be manipulated by those less than honorable, she showed us early Boomers that a poor brunette raised by a single mother can become the top star in Hollywood. Spirit and determination do pay off.

Being sexy was a very new thought for many of us in the 1950s. Marilyn Monroe showed us that it was okay to be sexy, even okay to flaunt it, and especially okay to own our sexiness. She ignored all of our tsk-tsking about her escapades and, in spite of her messed up personal life, she continued to show us that it wasn’t so bad after all to be a sexy woman.

One doll, one live woman; Barbie, and Marilyn. They both make me wonder if women in every generation learn their sexuality from an icon. Who was your idol?

© Marcia Barhydt, 2012

Read Marcia’s website … click here.


  1. Marcia, mine would be Sophia Loren and Jane Fonda, real women, who have managed to age with grace and wisdom. Wendy

  2. This is another great inspiration for us to get sexy always.. Actually, there are a lot of people who doesn’t know that they are sexy.. They just need to be aware..

  3. Thanks everyone for adding to the list of women who’ve shown us it’s ok to be sexy and sixty.

    Georgia,you’re right of course. But what Marilyn did was show us when we were 16 that it was good to be sexy so that we could carry that with us into our 60s.

    Comparing Marilyn to a doll may seem unequal, but it seemed to me that Barbie, with her real life figure, was a huge influence on our daughters just as Marilyn was on us.

    Maybe the important thing here is that they both showed us that we could be anything we wanted to be. And that was a pretty new thought for the 60s!

  4. The women that inspire me are sexy because of their intellect and not the shape of their bodies or the changes they’ve made to them in the name of fashion or being sexier. To me, Maralyn always looked clownish with her artificial hair and too-red lips. Barbie’s proportions are anything but ‘real’ and it’s often been said that if she was a real woman she wouldn’t be able to stand up because her legs are far too long, the chest too big and her waist too tiny. I think she’s helped to contribute to generations of eating disorders be creating an unrealistic expectation in little girls that a ‘sexy woman’ needs to look like a barbie doll.
    I loved Catherine Hepburn with her freckles, red hair, less than perfect figure and penchant for wearing men’s clothes. Sexy? Yes! Also Helen Mirren, Judy Dench and Meryl Streep for proving that blonde did not mean ‘bimbo’ and brains were not an impediment to being admired by men. My ultimate role model was my Mum. Short, round and extremely bright. Now 77 and still blissfully ignorant of the impact she has on men wherever she goes.
    Of course, some men don’t think smart women are sexy. But I don’t think they are either, so we’re even!

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