“The most important thing is to enjoy your life – to be happy – it’s all that matters”
Born in Belgium in 1929, Audrey Hepburn became one of Hollywood’s most inspirational legacies. With her slender figure and exquisite taste in fashion, she has been coveted and admired for decades since she first hit the silver screen with A Roman Holiday in 1953. What we remember most about this extraordinary woman is the class with which she has graced our televisions and the positive energy that blossomed from her, but what many of us do not fully appreciate is the humanitarian champion she became in her later life and her less well documented struggle with starvation in childhood which she managed to turn into a strength. Hepburn has become a hero of mine. Like many young girls (and boys) I have faced severe confidence issues, battling with eating disorders and self-hate in a society that constantly encourages us to strain for ‘perfection’; one woman I have always looked to for strength and inspiration is Audrey Hepburn.
During her early life Hepburn was exposed to a variety of cultures, born in Belgium, living between London and the Netherlands with an Austrian father and Dutch mother. It is no surprise that she became the embodiment of global citizenship in her later years through her devoted work with UNICEF and “wanting desperately to give [love]”. Following the death of her father and the Nazi occupation of the Dutch town in which she and her mother were staying, Hepburn faced destitute food poverty. She suffered from extreme malnutrition and, perhaps through childlike naivety, allegedly altered her mindset towards food in order to feel strong without it. In later life, this experience still influenced her:
“I associate food with happy times, primarily because those times when I was unable to eat were so miserable. I guess in some convoluted way, I’m afraid if I eat when I’m sad, I’ll be feeding the sadness”.
Following her experience with starvation, Hepburn moved to London and avidly studied ballet. She was known to maintain a strict diet and exercise routine which no doubt produced the elegantly slim silhouette linked to her legacy. Unlike many actresses of this period, Hepburn did not sell sex appeal and is not heralded as much by modern feminists as inspirational in the context of body confidence, the likes of Marilyn Monroe are typically preferred. Instead, she promoted elegance and beauty of the soul – some of her famous quotes have instilled motivation and positive energy through generations of young women:
“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”
Not only in her words, but in Audrey’s compassionate actions I find profound inspiration. Following her legendary film career, she began working mainly with children who were victims of starvation and war – just as she was in her own childhood. She managed to take the atrocities of Nazi occupation and the pressures upon women to sexualise themselves for success and turn them into a positive force for good by committing herself to charitable deeds.
In Audrey Hepburn we can learn a valuable lesson. It’s not about how you look; your value does not come from your weight, or how well you fit into the prescribed criteria of ‘perfection’ – it’s about your ability to turn negatives experiences into positive actions. Through global citizenship and humanitarian charity, we can find within ourselves a sense of pride and can carry on Hepburn’s legacy.