There are three giant female icons of the twentieth-century who were born in July. They grew up in relative anonymity but their marriages to prominent men catapulted them into the stage of the world. They were the focal point of their respective countries first, then the rest of the world.
They are (in order of age, left to right) Imelda Romualdez Marcos (b. July 2, 1929), Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (b. July 28, 1929) and Diana, Princess of Wales (nee Lady Diana Spencer, b. July 1, 1961).
Imelda, the Philippine first lady, is renowned for her beauty, her involvement in politics and diplomacy during her husband, Ferdinand Marcos’s twenty years in power. Before all the hullaballoo about her shoe collection, she was actually a force to be reckoned with. She was so popular in the late 1960’s that when the Beatles visited Manila and pulled a no-show for a private concert at Malacanang Palace, their police escort was withdrawn and the crowds ran after them, shouting abuse (this at the height of Beatlemania!) Bong Bong Marcos, her son, thereafter famously remarked, “I prefer the Rolling Stones anyway.” It was also Imelda who visited Colonel Gadaffi when Libya was supplying the Muslims in Mindanao with weapons (thereby wiping out battalions of the army). This meeting resulted in the Tripoli agreement.
As for her so-called “edifice complex”, Imelda gave the Philippines the Cultural Center, the Heart Center, the Kidney Center and the Lung Center, all currently institutions of the country. People have lambasted her for her extravagance and made a loud stink about her shoes, gowns and jewelry… but I must say, there is a bit of Imelda in all girls. Personally, I love jewelry and shoes and one can’t have enough of them. Imelda might as well be the precursor of Carrie Bradshaw (famous for her love of Manolos, Choos and Louboutins).
Imelda, of course, became the widow who failed to inspire pity (unlike the admired widow of all time, Jackie Kennedy). With Marcos gone, she attended several high-profile court sessions and was eventually vindicated. She is currently the sole surviving legend among the three mentioned and she has not faded into obscurity. Currently the Congressman of her late husband’s province, she dazzles or offends the public as she holds lavish birthday parties and wears her famous jewels.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the Sorbonne-educated American First Lady, who would go on to marry a Greek billionaire, dazzled the world only years before Imelda; coincidentally, the year Jackie became First Lady was also the year Diana was born. There was no one like Jackie and no one else since (except for this First Lady, perhaps). In hindsight, Jackie actually fashioned her style after another fifties icon:
At a certain point, after she married JFK, Jackie actually cropped her hair into an Audrey-like pixie, which did not bode well for her square jaw. Jackie also made no secret of the fact that she admired Givenchy’s creations (and who should be Givenchy’s muse then but Audrey). The good thing about Mrs. Kennedy was that she eventually gained confidence in her own fashion sense and went on to popularize the pillbox hat and the boxy jackets with 3/4-length sleeves (and later on, she perfected the Capri look for the next generations – scarf, oversize shades, pedals and Rogers sandals).
If Imelda felt she was obligated to spend because she was the wife of the head of state, Jackie’s sense of extravagance had a self-involved tinge to it. Her world was narrower than her Philippine counterpart and she played the grand dame role to the hilt: horses, yachts and the jet-set. Her attributes are namely her devotion to her children, which is laudatory. However, this also reflects how she chose to remain a private citizen and nothing more, which is a shame because to live such a great life entails giving back to the greater good.
In the end, Jackie is best remembered through her gowns and sense of fashion, which really has no use to people in general. She is also the glorified house wife who spent her husband’s money redecorating the home and overseeing menus. This is not in itself a negative thing but it is all too limited an occupation given her apparent intelligence:
She was acknowledged as more handsome than beautiful and she may have been chic but even Audrey had her U.N. missions and Liz had her AIDS advocacy. Jackie is the true product of media sensationalism, her husband’s martyrdom and her subsequent tragic widowhood the fodder for the image elite. With LIFE and LOOK magazines, and later even Hustler and Hello!, Jackie was the best thing that happened to the media moguls.
Princess Diana was born in the most comfortable situation (as Jackie and Imelda were deemed to be the poor relations when they were growing up) but she was certainly the most ill-educated. Her appeal was similar to that of Imelda’s: they centered on emotion. Diana’s strength lies in her ability to connect with the regular persona and even the marginalized. However, Imelda’s extravagance seemed to be at odds with her pronounced charity. Diana, born the wealthiest of the three, may have her occasions of indulgence but I doubt if it is ever at par with Jackie’s or Imelda’s.
On the other hand, Diana did take a leaf out of Jackie’s book and devoted much time to her children. Some might criticize her for using Wills and Harry as part of some publicity campaign (something Jackie resisted) but in hindsight, Diana was the walking magnet for the paparazzi. If those pictures with her children at McDonald’s or Disneyland were never published, she might as well never have spent time with them. One thing though which neither Imelda nor Jackie ever did, which Diana played to the hilt, was the shameless defamation of her husband. Maybe Charles may not have been as powerful or as charismatic as JFK or Marcos but Diana seemed bent on destroying him, not only to their children but to the whole world. To this day, Imelda speaks highly of Marcos and Jackie, to the public’s knowledge, never spoke a disloyal word about her husband’s infidelities.
Diana was also rather reckless and had no sense of history. She seemed to have no respect for her position or her sons’ positions. I daresay she was acting out her extreme humiliation and pain when Charles openly chose Camilla over her. But this did not seem to make her any wiser. Of the three, Diana is portrayed more often as being downright bitchy and petty. Am sure Jackie and Imelda had their low-blow moments but with Diana, the people who work for her actually resign in protest (most notably, when she gloated over Tiggy Legge-Burke’s “abortion”).
Diana’s death, though, took the world by storm and there are several angles to it: her youth, her sons, all these possibilities after her divorce. I will remember the time I heard about it: my best friend rang me up on Sunday afternoon and told me. I was a high school freshman then and was moved by the spectacle of the funeral (though I felt that Earl Spencer was pushing it with his not-so-subtle swipes at the Royal Family). True, I do not condone Charles’s apparent disregard for Diana (unlike JFK, who was proud of Jackie’s triumphs abroad, Charles resented his young wife her fame) but the Princess’s behavior was so awful that I couldn’t side with her either. In any case, the victors of it all would have to be William and Harry, who seem to be well-adjusted young men.
These July born icons – Imelda, Jackie and Di – embody all that is adored and resented in women. They have us quite a show but now, in the days of Paris, Lindsay and Britney, they are sorely missed.