Edie Sedgwick was a short-lived socialite and actress that rose to fame in the 1960s. Beloved but misunderstood by all she met, her actions puzzled many throughout her life and have continued to fascinate since her untimely death in 1971 at a mere 28 years old. She was troubled throughout her life, constantly being placed under the care of various therapists and psychiatric hospitals, though doctors were never able to diagnose her erratic behavior. Due to her strict and sheltered upbringing, she did not make an independent social debut until she was 20 years old, but given the opportunity, her fame and influence skyrocketed. Despite her instability, she became an icon of her time and continues to inspire books and movies based on her short life. I aim to explore some of the experiences of her childhood and the more pronounced aspects of her personality as a young adult in order to offer some explanation as to how this young woman was able to capture the hearts of innumerable people in such a short time. Biography
Edith Sedgwick was born on April 20, 1943 in Santa Barbara, California, to an affluent family (Painter & Weisman, 2006). She was the seventh of the eight children of Francis Sedgwick and Alice De Forest, both of exceptional lineages, but who together created a dysfunctional household (Stein, 1982). Francis, who insisted on being called “Fuzzy” by his children, was advised not to have children due to a diagnosis of manic depressive disorder and a previous institutionalization due to a breakdown (Painter & Weisman, 2006). Fuzzy exhibited his disorder by behaving almost like a “Greek god:” he was obsessed with his physical appearance, worked out for hours each day and was largely absent in his children’s lives except to discipline them (Stein, 1982, p. 56). Both parents seemed to live separate lives apart from their children, creating space both emotionally and physically (Stein, 1982). For example, Edie’s parents relied on nurses to raise their children; Edie lived in a guest house on the family’s ranch with her nurse and other young siblings, visiting her parents in the main house for a few hours a day (Stein 1982). Edie’s parents isolated the family from the outside world (until the children were old enough to attend boarding school) by living on a 3,000 acre ranch (Stein, 1982). This contributed to the children’s worship of their father at a young age because he owned everything “as far as the eye could see” (Stein, 1982, p. 55).
Edie’s parents aimed to maintain their public image, but the family was already deteriorating by the time she was born. Fuzzy had begun to have affairs because he no longer found his wife attractive because her body had been exhausted due to having so many children; while at first opposed to having children, he later did not want to stop just so he could boast that he had more children than anyone else he knew (Stein, 1982). He would openly flirt and dance with young, beautiful women at the lavish parties at the ranch while Alice looked the other way (Stein, 1982). While she never verbally expressed her feelings on the matter, Alice began getting frequent “low grade fevers,” often visiting the hospital and declining invitations to parties due to this stress on her relationship with Fuzzy, but she refused to leave him (Stein, 1982, p. 89). The other children were silent like their mother; only Edie was outspoken enough to verbally object his behavior (Stein, 1982). She even witnessed him making love to another woman in their house once, but he flew into a rage, claiming she was insane and immediately calling doctors to the house, ordering them to give her tranquilizers (Stein, 1982). This episode dramatically changed the way Edie viewed her father who discredited her and her mother who refused to believe her, thus beginning a destructive path of feeling helpless and vulnerable that would continue for the rest of her life.
Edie was in and out of various boarding schools and...
Bibliography: Ellis, A., Abrams, M., & Abrams, L.D. (2009). Personality theories: Critical perspectives. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc.
Painter, M. & Weisman, D. (2006). Edie: Girl on fire. San Francisco, California: Chronical Books LLC.
Stein, J. (1982). Edie: An American biography. G. Plimpton, (Ed.). New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
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