Life Lessons We Learned From Audrey Hepburn
By: Mies Allen
Today, Audrey Hepburn is celebrated for her timeless style, gamine beauty, and iconic roles in films like Roman Holiday (1953), Sabrina (1954), and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Though her beauty and style have endured the test of time, Audrey is often overlooked in terms of her genuine talent, her dedication to humanitarianism, and the personal struggles she overcame.
Despite being a veteran of fewer than 30 films and having had no considerable training in acting, Audrey is one of only 16 people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. She won the Best Actress award at the Oscars for her first starring role as Princess Ann in Roman Holiday. But even outside of her most famous pictures, Audrey made a lasting impact on the film industry, starring in The Children’s Hour (1961), which portrayed the devastating effects of homophobia on lesbians.
Audrey endured a challenging personal life, suffering through a childhood in the war-torn Netherlands during World War II, navigating two heartbreaking divorces and multiple miscarriages, which made her dream of having a family difficult to achieve. Yet, Audrey Hepburn was enduringly selfless and dedicated the last ten years of her life to children’s causes.
In celebration of what would’ve been her 92nd birthday, we are taking a look at five life lessons we’ve from Audrey Hepburn, along with rare photographs of the icon as you may not have seen her before.
Lesson 1: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Although Audrey Hepburn became famous for her adorable features and gamine charm, often referred to as one of the most beautiful women to have ever lived, her son Luca Dotti has revealed that she never considered herself this way. When Audrey was in her formative years, the standard of beauty favored curvaceous figures, which symbolized a healthy diet and the departure from the frugal lives people led during WWII. Hepburn was comparatively boyish and taller than average, which hindered her dreams of being a ballet dancer. Audrey herself stated that she had wished to be more buxom, blonde, with more delicate features. But through her differences, she created a new type of beauty—a more relaxed, somewhat masculine, ‘European’ style that the world fell in love with. Audrey never let her physical insecurities get the better of her and never molded herself to fit the beauty standards set by society. Instead, Audrey Hepburn made the world fall in love with her ‘flaws,’ and has been showing us the importance of internal beauty since she appeared on our screens.
Lesson 2: Subvert expectations
Everyone has their perception of Audrey Hepburn—if you know her from her earlier movies, you may think of her as demure, prim, and proper, always beautiful and poised. However, Audrey was not her characters. She was extremely self-aware, and according to lifelong friends, had a naughty and quick sense of humor. But Audrey didn’t just exceed people’s expectations in her personality, she also took on roles that challenged her. Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly because he and many others thought Audrey came across as too uptight for the role. Little did he know that she would create one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history. Audrey also starred in Avante-Garde films such as Stanley Donan’s Two For The Road, which was influenced by French Nouvelle Vague cinema and discussed themes of sex, adultery, and divorce. Audrey made people fall in love with her without ever fully revealing who she was, leaving her free to make her own decisions and keep people guessing.
Lesson 3: Look after your body
Audrey grew up in the war-torn Netherlands during the Hunger Winter–a period during which many people were so starved of supplies, that they lived on potatoes and tulip bulbs. When the war ended, Audrey was significantly malnourished, which affected her relationship with food for the rest of her life. Audrey learned never to take food for granted, so she enjoyed everything in moderation. In Luca Dotti’s book Audrey at Home: Memories of My Mother’s Kitchen, it is revealed that Audrey’s favorite food was spaghetti with tomato sauce, and she often indulged in dark chocolate and whiskey. Audrey was also keen on fresh air and was often photographed playing golf, croquet, or swimming. Take a leaf out of Audrey’s book and remind yourself that food and exercise are to be enjoyed, but never to be taken for granted.
Lesson 4: …and your mind
Audrey, a notorious introvert, said, “for my whole life, my favorite activity was reading. It’s not the most social activity!” She knew that to keep her energy up, she needed to take time for herself to recharge. Audrey enjoyed reading fairytales in particular, as they helped clear her mind and made her feel more positive. Audrey knew how to be at peace, and favored calming activities like cooking, taking long walks, and gardening when she wasn’t working. Audrey loved nature so much that she hosted a documentary series about the most beautiful gardens in the world. Remember that looking after your mind is just as important as having a healthy body, so pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read for ages or have a listen to the audiobook Audrey recorded in 1992, Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales.
Lesson 5: Personal life before work, always
Though Audrey loved acting, she was always adamant that her private life remained her own, and that the limelight didn’t take away from the joys of everyday life. Despite expectations for actors to live permanently in Hollywood, Audrey lived in the idyllic Swiss town of Tolochenaz from the height of her fame in 1963 up until her death and is even buried there. She enjoyed the solitude of Switzerland, and of course, its nature. Audrey put her career on hold when she was raising her two children, as she was determined to give them a happy childhood. Her son Luca Dotti revealed that during Audrey’s marriage to his father, she called herself ‘Signora Dotti,’ and embraced being a traditional Italian housewife. Audrey knew that her greatest ambition in life was to have a family, so this was what she prioritized. The lesson here is—enjoy your free time, and make sure you have a good work-life balance, after all, it’s what Audrey herself would recommend.