The first time I saw an Angelyne billboard I was driving through Hollywood in 1996. It also happened to be the year I got my driver’s license. There is no coincidence here—I took my car over the hill from Burbank, California where I grew up to explore Hollywood as often as possible. I turned to my friend in the seat next to mine and asked, "Who's that?!"
She said, "Oh, that's Angelyne. She buys billboard space and has made herself famous."
"Wait. So, she's famous, and she isn't like an actress or a model or something?"
"I think I heard she did a porno. But, no. She's just famous because she's making it so," my friend flatly shared.
"That's odd," I said, not knowing how the Internet would change this phenomenon entirely. People magazine filled with those who are famous simply because they are famous.
A few weeks later while at mother’s day brunch with my family, I came face to face with this iconic woman in the restroom. Imagine how startled I was to see the lady in the billboard in real life while washing my hands in the side-by-side sinks. I kept glancing into the mirror trying to take in the oddity of her appearance. Growing up in Burbank, I’d seen a lot of the eccentric ways people express themselves—but this was new. Here in front of me was an older woman dolled up head to toe with the presumed goal to look just like Barbie. As Angelyne made her way out of the restaurant to her pink Corvette parked out front, my family stared. Grandma said with her thick Texas-transplant-accent, "well, I'll be darned..." Our leering wonder seemed to be just the kind of attention that Angelyne was after.
I’ve seen Angelyne in Trader Joe's and driving through Malibu and all over town in the years since my first sighting in Burbank. Like everyone, I’ve wondered what her personal story is—a city full of people trying to be seen and filmed, I’ve assumed the story wasn’t unique to many transplants coming to Hollywood for fame. The quest to be seen and significant is not new, but my question has always been: will Angelyne be loved and seen?
This week a story broke in the Hollywood Reporter unveiling the identity of this woman Angelenos have wondered about for so long. The story reveals that she is the child of Polish immigrants, survivors of the Holocaust coming to Los Angeles to start a new life—she grew up in the San Fernando Valley. She’s a valley girl—just like me. The story read a bit like "See, I told you she's a fraud. She's just ordinary." But I wondered at the indelible ink of the trauma her parents experienced in concentration camps and how this impacted their daughter, Robyn's childhood—now, Angelyne. Follow up stories share that Angelyne is a bit unnerved by the mask being ripped from her face, showing us her high school yearbook photo. As much as I liked reading the answers to my questions, it caused me to wonder if it's any of our business. I’ve been thinking about two things: privacy and identity.
When we objectify ourselves by masking our identity behind false masks and stories—true love—the kind of love we all need, has a hard time breaking through to the most authentic part of ourselves.
But when someone rips the mask away from our face too soon, without our consent—it is traumatic. Angelyne isn’t hurting anyone with her pink Corvette and attention seeking behavior. I wonder if the facts are as important as her privacy?
I had done enough online dating before I met my husband to know that we live in a generation of so much facade. What you see online or even in person is not always the real story. If Instagram filters have taught me anything, it's that sometimes the image we take doesn’t tell the whole story either—a filter can express a layer of feeling over a picture and give a depiction of how the moment you’re capturing might look and feel.
Masks tell a story even as they hide the truth. I hope that this story of Angelyne can be a great conversation starter for parents who want to talk to their children about identity and the story they’re telling through social media. What do you tell the world about who you are? Does it matter or make you more valuable if hundreds and thousands and millions of people notice, or are each one of us valuable whether we have social media tribes or fans watching?
I put on darker eyeliner when my thoughts feel deeper. I don’t always mean to, but it happens, and I am aware of it. What story am I telling through the way I express my identity in clothing and makeup and style? What do I want the world to know about me by the choices I make and the story I tell? I haven’t changed my name or lied about the facts—with me, generally what you see is what you get. However, I value my privacy and that of others. It’s not something I want to hand out to the world—all the little stories that make me Kristie. I believe that our stories are ours to tell. Privacy is important.
There’s one thing I know—we can only truly feel loved when we are seen and known. Who do you allow to know you—flaws and beauty and uniqueness?
I hope that Angelyne’s friend knows her whole story. I hope there are nights when she takes off the makeup and sits on the couch with him and tells him all her deepest truths. But if she doesn’t? I suppose that’s up to her, isn’t it?
Identity and privacy. How much do you let people see? Who knows your details? And, do we all need to mind our own business a little more often? I think my grandma would say so, and her generation had something we can learn. She'd say, "Oh, let them be. They aren't hurting you anyway."