One year ago today, Anna Nicole Smith passed. As I reflect on the topic, it occurs to me that the circumstances of her death actually quite suit her. Her departure was as sudden, strange and spectacular as Smith was in life. The dust has finally settled from the post-mortem paternity circus, and Smith’s odd story has become the stuff of pop mythology; a bizarro Marilyn Monroe trapped in the mirrored corridors of a tabloid fun house. Calling Smith to mind not so long after her death, it seems impossible to know if her reflection over time has become a gross distortion, or if Smith was, in fact, a woman fatally warped by excess.

Smith first gained notoriety in the early 90s as Guess Jeans’ bombshell spokeswoman, fresh off the no small honor of being named Playboy Magazine’s Playmate of the Year (especially considering that only a few years before, Smith was a struggling stripper in small-town Texas).





Ironically, the supposedly “ultimate disempowered woman” initially struck a chord with these images that validated voluptuous feminine beauty. She was celebrated for bringing a “real woman’s body” back to fashion, and glorified in rags-to-riches lore; that is, until she crossed the sanctioned parameters of celeb-morality by marrying billionaire J. Howard Marshall, 63 years her senior.

When Smith’s sexuality was owned and pimped out by media conglomerates, it was applauded, but when she prostituted herself in marriage, she faced widespread condemnation. The gender bias in the representation of Smith’s marriage to Marshall was pervasive in most media coverage, recalling the tired double-standers that fiercely cling to sex-for-money transactions. If one assumes Smith couldn’t have truly loved Marshall and married him solely for his money, one can just as easily posit that Marshall’s interest in Smith wasn’t exactly intellectual. He earned his money, and he had every right to trade it for any commodity he desired. As for Anna Nicole Smith, as my mother always says, “any woman who marries for money, earns every [expletive] cent”, a sentiment ultimately vindicated in 2006 by the US Supreme Court.

Even worse than her faux-pas love life, Anna Nicole Smith committed the greatest sin of all: she got fat. The gloried rags-to-riches narrative of a sweet southern belle gave way to the only classification possible for a (once) poor, (always) white, (now) fat woman: white trash. As Jeffrey A. Brown points out in his brilliant essay entitled The Strange Case of Anna Nicole Smith, upon her weight gain, “the same media that had so recently held Smith up as a healthy ideal of female beauty and sexuality now portrayed her as a ridiculous obscenity.”

Smith embodied too many contradictions. She was rich but also “white-trash”, she was a sex symbol but also “fat”, she had orchestrated an ascension to international fame, but was also “dumb”. Anna Nicole Smith was a very visible woman (and mother), which was a problem for the press’ construction of identity because she didn’t perform herself the right way. Smith was therefore subject to punishment. She was ridiculed mercilessly by the media, made a clown for public consumption, and situated as a harlot beneath the puritanical pointing finger of the masses; but Smith didn’t seem to know that she was supposed to either apologize or go away. Albeit drug-aided, she continued to show up to award shows in too-tight dresses, parading around her supposedly “grotesque” body, slur incomprehensible obscenities to reporters, all around making a spectacle of herself to the delight and horror of a world of gaping on-lookers.

Anna Nicole Smith was at the mercy of impossible beauty standards, predatory hanger-oners, sexual exploitation, and the perils of drug culture. Yet, the sheer magnitude of her myriad transgressions read, at least to me, as an extravagant parody of the approved scripts of public femininity, which was oddly empowering.

Did Anna Nicole Smith die a victim of the troupes of fame and fortune? Did she commit a slow suicide, looking to cheap highs and tabloid exposure for validation in the midst of depression? Was she a transgressor/rebel, an outlaw on the run from the mass media’s harsh regime? Did she die, (as was probably the case) sad, alone and disoriented; still little girl from Texas who had lost her fierce resolve to survive? I only know for sure that she died as she had lived: extraordinarily.

In a year’s time, Anna Nicole Smith has retreated into the fog of her own strange legend, and suddenly I realize that we no longer know who she really was, or perhaps just who she was to us. In any case, her myth looms large and I, for one, mourn her passing.

Rest in peace.

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