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The enduring appeal of Audrey Hepburn

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The popular icons of any particular era are said to be crystallisations of the favoured values and prized attributes of the time. So in an age of selfie sticks, Hooters and Anaconda, what does it tell us about ourselves that we're still obsessed by Audrey Hepburn

Certainly her looks are right in line with current notions of beauty: slender and otherworldly with the sort of face that hovers appealingly between girlhood and grown-up, she is both unthreatening and untouchable, aspirational but not intimidating. 

She's also remarkably un-sexualised. Audrey the Icon (her public persona) is coy perhaps, and certainly sensual, but not *sexy*. Not in the way that we're used to seeing female stars today splashed across the pages of glossy magazines, screens and billboards in various states of undress: available, willing, slightly defiled.

The enduring appeal of Audrey the Icon is precisely in this version of non-sexualised femininity of which she is the archetype: the demure, otherworldly child-woman with her chic chignon, string of pearls and Little Black Dress. Appearing to be both stately and childlike in a way that it’s hard to imagine any major actress’s publicist advising her to be today.

Perhaps this obsession is a rebellion against the hyper-sexualised culture we’re living in, a retreat to a nostalgic and naïve image of ideal womanhood that doesn’t really get much screen time anymore.

Accessorised by a truly enviable wardrobe and army of professional photographers and people whose job it is to make you look beautiful, it’s a vision that’s easy to romanticise. It’s a vision that also makes it easy to forget that this sanitised, saintly ideal was its own kind of tyranny – some of which stubbornly endures.

Still, maybe it’s necessary to have this kind of cultural counterpoint from time to time, the yin to the belfie yang, reminding us that there are all sorts of ways to be a woman.

Anyway, we’re not saying we wouldn’t still kill for her wardrobe – just nothing too demure.

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