Simply Irresistible

Unleash Your Inner Siren and Mesmerize Any Man, with Help from the Most Famous--and Infamous--Women


By Ellen T. White

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It’s said if you want to succeed, watch successful people and do what they do. Simply Irresistible is a humorous manual of case studies that show how the greatest sirens of history did what they did and got what they wanted, nearly all the time. Our role models-many of whom are still weaving their charms today- include Eva Peron, Greta Garbo, Coco Chanel, Nigella Lawson, Angelina Jolie, Edith Piaf, Lucretia Borgia, Anne Boleyn, Mata Hari, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Simply Irresistible gives practical, sexy, and sometimes downright outrageous advice on modern seduction. It exalts the siren archetypes of the Companion, Competitor, Goddess, Mother, and Sex Kitten. The cheeky histories of the iconic real-life women are paired with a fun array of quizzes, quotes, photos, tongue-in-cheek captions, and personal stories of triumph and tragedy. (Mata Hari and Anne Boleyn were, after all, both executed.) The wisdom of these famous sirens is fleshed out with the contributions of everyday, lesser known charismatic women. The conclusion? All women have an inner siren-the ability to bring men to their knees-just waiting to come out. Now they’ll know how.


To Mathilde and Mollie Brent with thanks to Paul Dixon

"I don't want to liveI want to love first, and live incidentally."
Zelda Fitzgerald

It has long been my ambition to write a how-to book on romance. Not for me the Great American Novel or a definitive history—my fascination is for the details of people's romantic lives. I never fail to ask a couple how they first met, and what attracted them to each other the most. For me, the sentence "I met an interesting man" is the beginning of hours of delightful speculation.
I come from a long line of women who treated seduction dead seriously—and who remained successful in their pursuits as long as they had a breath in their bodies. In my immediate family alone, my grandmother, at fifty-six, wooed a younger man out of bachelorhood after she had been twice widowed. My mother, whose yearbook picture bore the legend "wolverine," still entertained gentleman callers when she was seventy-five. But within the context of my family, I was a particularly slow starter. When I was a mere ten or eleven years old, my grandmother became so concerned that boys were not showing the expected level of interest in me that she and my mother sat me down for a talk. Up until that time, I was an obedient little girl with a straight A average—a credit to any other family. But dates with boys? They actually expected me to have dates? I didn't even have breasts.
So it was under two generations of maternal guidance that I tossed aside my schoolwork and boned up on my flirtation techniques. It was rough going. As I sat cross-legged and alert in my stiff school uniform, my grandmother advised me in the delivery of "come hither" remarks that make me writhe with embarrassment even today. Her personal favorite was, "I dreamt about you last night," which she said should be communicated with an air of mystery. "What if he asks what I dreamt?" I asked earnestly—a question that invited her obvious disdain at my lack of imagination. When, at eighteen, I finally worked up the nerve to use that line at a garden party, a bird flying overhead took strategic relief on my forearm.
Still, while my progress was slow, I had a respectable collection of semi-besotted teenaged suitors by the time I was sixteen. My first boyfriend, Pete, wrote me poetry every day while I was away at school and signed all his letters "Te quiero" ("I love you" in Spanish). I had a smattering of summer romances with boys from Long Island, Boston, and Iowa, with whom I subsequently corresponded. But the year I inspired a barroom-style brawl between two guys who ended up spending the night in jail, I began to feel I had stumbled into the zone. News of my "triumph" was broadcast within my family, who acted as if I had just won a Rhodes scholarship—and in their view, I suppose I had.
Armed with my beginner's success and a keen eye for the great romantic story, I studied the masters. I had read a few of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novels and learned that his heroines were modeled on Zelda Sayre, the legendary Southern belle who became his wife. I bought several of her biographies. Later, I developed an interest in Jennie Jerome—the American society girl who later became the mother of Winston Churchill. Not only did Jennie keep Victorian England agog with her romantic exploits, but she closed out her active career with a marriage to a contemporary of her son's. Then came my interest in Cleopatra, the courtesan Veronica Franco, and Pamela Harriman, among many, many others.
All of this made for instructive and fascinating reading, but it was hard to grasp the essence of what made these women irresistible to men without seeing them in action. I understood that Jennie's wit was part of her great appeal, but if wit was all a girl needed, then wouldn't Whoopi Goldberg be constantly fending off marriage proposals? And though I'd read that Pamela Harriman seduced some of the world's most powerful men by hanging on their every word, didn't that make her somewhat of a doormat?
Years later, when I was living in Washington, D.C., I met a contemporary femme fatale named Ruth Vogel. By almost any standard of measurement, Ruth was plain—f lat-chested and skinny, with stringy blonde hair, a big nose, and beady little eyes. Yet her whole being projected the conviction that she was a raving beauty. Guys never seemed to be able to catch up with her, or at least she made them feel that way. She had a kind of goddess quality, I observed—alluring yet distant and untouchable, though she was always in the close company of men. In addition, she had individual traits that heightened her appeal. She was unusually smart—an intellectual, really, who wowed men with her mental agility. And she was always beautifully dressed in clothes that were contemporary, yet somehow suggested another, more romantic decade. She was elusive, either way ahead of them, or back somewhere in another time, and men were driven to rash and near-suicidal acts over her. I watched in awe.
Through Ruth's example, I began to understand some fundamental truths. While it helps to be beautiful, it's not essential to being irresistible to men, and beauty alone is not enough. Men are most attracted to women who are convinced of their own appeal—the sine qua non of the irresistible woman. And, while it may go without saying, these women love men. Furthermore, they live large, as if men and life were created for their pleasure. After further consideration, I saw that Sirens fall roughly into five distinguishable archetypes—namely, the Goddess, the Companion, the Sex Kitten, the Competitor, and the Mother—based on their dominant qualities. Building on this foundation, the irresistible woman will have her series of individual quirks, tricks, and talents that personalize and heighten her appeal, creating her own signature "brand."
Over the years I've inspired my modest share of marriage proposals, infatuations, bad poetry, and even a novel in which I figured—albeit unflatteringly—as a love interest, but I consider myself to be more of a passionate student of the genre. And Simply Irresistible is my thesis on the subject. This book will give you a blueprint for becoming a Siren, using notably seductive women as case histories, providing invaluable and timeless lessons in love. More than being simply irresistible, the Sirens who populate these pages are women of substance—interesting and admirable people outside the context of their romantic exploits. As women who have gotten much of what they want out of life, they are well worth studying.

finding your inner siren


So you want to be a Siren. Or if not a Siren exactly, you want to channel some of her power over men into your life. Maybe you have one man in mind, or more intriguingly, a bevy. Well, you've come to the right place. Within these pages, the collective wisdom of some of the great Sirens of history has been distilled to its essence and embellished with homespun lore from the awesome, lesser-known seductresses of my acquaintance. Maybe you'll borrow a page, a chapter, or a few of these lessons in love. Maybe you'll become a disciple.
But aren't Sirens born, you ask, not made? 'Taint necessarily so. The Siren's power lies within each of us. She is part of our most primal selves, if we can only seize the courage to unleash her. Deep down, we all have the power to attract—to strut, crow, spread our feathers, and bring men shuddering to their knees. But first, we need to identify and personalize the qualities that make us so alluring. Simply Irresistible peels back the layers and exposes it all.
We begin by learning who the Siren is, along with her core values—the launching pad for lessons in love. We'll move on to study the archetypes—Goddess, Companion, Sex Kitten, Competitor, and Mother—using some of the greats as role models. Finally, we'll layer on attributes that individualize your appeal. You'll learn how Sirens create a signature style, why they are unforgettable, how they transport men—sexually or otherwise—and how you can do and be the same.
Our study is not frivolous. The advantages of being a Siren are not just about men, love, and sex appeal, as if they were not enough. In 1000 BC or in AD 2010, the rules for ordinary mortals do not apply to Sirens. This is in part because the Siren refuses to see the accepted mores of what nice girls do and don't do. And to the Siren, refusing to see obstacles often means that they just aren't there. But more to the point: in a man's world, the Siren's power is such that she almost always gets her own way—through her own brand of irresistible style and charm. The Siren calls the shots, and no one dares to stop her. And you do want to call the shots, don't you?


The Siren's story begins in ancient Greece, with the beleaguered action hero Odysseus, who trudged dutifully through twelve chapters of Homer's epic poem The Odyssey. My memory of studying The Odyssey is indistinct, as I routinely got through school assignments on a phalanx of hastily read CliffsNotes®. It's safe to say that Odysseus' journey around the world was long, tediously grueling, and fraught with dangers that you and I can only dream about—quite literally. Not the least of these perils was his encounter with the mythical Sirens, recognizable as half bird, half woman, and all bad news.
Odysseus' sorceress pal Circe had warned him about the lethal enchantment of the Sirens' song. Perched on an island in the western sea between Aeaea and the rocks of Scylla (i.e., somewhere off the coast of Italy), the Sirens warbled to passing sailors. So seductive was their call that men would forget their homes, wives, and children, and make a beeline for these bird-like babes. Inevitably, the men would meet their untimely deaths on the rocks. But Odysseus took Circe's advice and, while his men plugged up their ears with wax, he ordered them to tie their gallant captain—ears unplugged—to the mast, so he could hear the Sirens' song. They passed unscathed, and the rest, as they say, is history, or rather, classical myth.


Today's Siren is a woman who, by some mysterious combination of qualities, is irresistible to men. Not all men, necessarily. Not each man, every time. But a Siren's batting average is very high. We know these women as the man-eaters of history, from Cleopatra to Angelina Jolie. And, unrecognized by posterity, they live among us. Even without meaning to, Sirens play men off each other, break their hearts, bring them to unaccustomed tears, and cause them to commit rash acts. A Siren owns the room—or at least most of the men in it—when she walks in. Without singing a note, she has a song, and men will scramble over whatever lies in their way to listen.
Being a Siren is not being a babe, or a bombshell, or a hottie—though being any of the aforementioned does not exempt you from becoming a Siren. And you don't necessarily have to be young, buff, or smartly turned out. In fact, let me go out on a limb here: being physically exceptional can sometimes be a deterrent to becoming a world-class Siren—Helen of Troy notwithstanding. Being beautiful is too easy. Everyone naturally gravitates toward beautiful people; consequently, beautiful people are rarely forced to spend any time or thought on becoming magnetic people or in calculating how to get what they want. And Sirens are nothing if not calculating. Sirens rely on the force of their personalities to make the world take notice.
The essence of a Siren's song is, and always will be, sex appeal—a quality for which beauty is only a decorative effect. "Sex appeal doesn't depend entirely on physical attributes," said the actress Dorothy Dandridge, quite rightly. "It's a kind of vitality and energy . . . it has to do with how you feel as a person." Diana Vreeland might have been talking about a Siren when she said, "you don't have to be beautiful to be wildly attractive." The roster of Sirens is filled with women who were not only without physical charms, but were downright plain—the Duchess of Windsor, the courtesan Cora Pearl, and the singer Edith Piaf, just to mention a few.


The Siren may doubt her abilities in other areas, but she has absolute faith in the irresistible force of her appeal to men. She was born with this unshakeable confidence, and it keeps her smokin', even when it's cold. After all, just like the rest of us, Sirens have bad hair days and overdrawn checking accounts—and they even occasionally get trumped by other Sirens. The Hollywood glamour puss Slim Keith, for example, lost her second husband to the inestimable Pamela Churchill (later Harriman), and Pam forfeited Fiat heir Gianni Agnelli to an Italian heiress. But to a Siren, it's the amorous successes that resonate. She treats her low moments as aberrations and her triumphs as gospel.
Surely, you've witnessed the phenomenon of the woman who, for no evident reason, is so taken with her own beauty, talent, or sense of self-importance that she hoodwinks the world. Even those who are not hoodwinked somehow manage to go along. "She's so beautiful and smart," I remember often hearing about an acquaintance with this kind of impenetrable confidence. I had (perhaps a little cattily) observed that the woman in question had a derriere the size of a private heliport and a penchant for restating the abundantly obvious as if it were news just in from Mensa. Didn't anyone else notice? This Washington political hostess, as she was, so intrigued an Arab king (and a major-league one at that) that he showered her with expensive gifts, among them a white Arabian stallion. Is there a woman alive who wouldn't like to flaunt an Arabian stallion as proof of her appeal? For the Siren, there seems to be no end to the power of this kind of positive thinking.
To truly be a Siren, you need to decide that you too are fantastically irresistible, even if it requires the same crazy leap of faith that you might draw on to suddenly become a redhead. You need to make this decision over your own most strenuous and reasoned objections. The evidence is slim, you say? The jury's still out? Well, you're missing the point. As you must know by now, it's the confidence itself that's the draw. Don't look for the evidence of your appeal—create it with your towering self-regard. Even if you have to fake it. Treat it like a performance, and dress the part. Persuade yourself that you beat men off with a stick. You'll find that confidence in motion stays in motion and carries everybody in its gravitational field.


Sirens never begin sentences with "the problem with men is. . . ." Nor do they trade jokes that suggest that men are the inferior sex (unless they're really, really funny). And God forbid that they should have books on their shelves with titles like Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them. (Time for spring cleaning?) The plain truth is that Sirens love men—individually, as a group, practically as a religious persuasion—way too much to think ill of them. Indeed, they strongly identify with men. And basking in that high regard, men have allowed these alluring women to twist them any which way. But while a Siren will often prefer the company of a man, she would never, ever choose to be one. She thinks it's a damn shame that men can't share in all the fun she has being a woman.
Life for the Siren is there to be embraced, in all its variations, along with the men in it. But she especially enjoys the power that comes with getting the undivided attention of men. In fact, she's a tiny bit addicted to that attention—it is part of who she is. Take men away from the Siren, and you'll still have a formidable, fascinating human being, just not a particularly fulfilled one. To Gloria Steinem's declaration that "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle," the Siren says "have you got one built for two, or, better still, three?"
So delete those male-bashing e-mails. Put an end to late night complaint sessions. See men in all their flawed glory as your best friends and brothers. Look for reasons to celebrate men and to get all gooey behind your hard candy shell. Though male-bashing may be the shibboleth of the politically correct woman, be the first on your block to buck the trend. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, in the Siren's world, the planets merge.
Man and woman are two locked caskets, of which each contains the key to the other.
—Isak Dinesen
One of the best things about love is just recognizing a man's step when he climbs the stairs.
Men ought to be more conscious of their bodies as an object of delight.
—Germaine Greer
Men make love more intensely at twenty, but make love better, however, at thirty.
—Catherine the Great
I feel like a million tonight—but one at a time.
—Mae West
Of course, old habits do die hard, and you may struggle with turning an old attitude into something shiny and new. It might help you to hear something about my Siren grandmother's approach. Even as a little girl, I knew she held women to much higher standards than men, and men always got the benefit of the doubt. My brother had only to show his cherubic face to get first prize, whereas she was always faintly disappointed if I didn't have something clever to say. When I was a teenager, she gave me a little insight. "Women have all that natural emotional intelligence, and men are given only blunt instruments," she said, as if this was self-evident, "but they are such delightful creatures. Try to be a little forgiving." In matters of the heart and human relations—the only world she felt really mattered—my grandmother held that women possessed the superior tools. She advised using them kindly.


Be she a kook, character, sexpot, intellectual, muse, mother, or moll, the Siren lives large. Each embraces life in her own way and is determined to live it as thoroughly as possible. "I love life, I love people," said Lady Randolph Churchill (Winston's mother) when, in her mid-sixties, she was asked to explain her popularity with younger men. "I have known all the world has to give—ALL!" confessed the scandalous courtesan Lola Montez on her deathbed.
Though her very existence may hinge on a man (as would have often been the case before the twentieth century), the Siren makes the most of her little corner of the world, managing to embellish it in her own swashbuckling style. I like to cite Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, who reinvented herself as the early twentieth-century siren and spy Mata Hari. Orphaned, shuffled off to relatives, and married young to a violent stranger in the Dutch West Indies, she came back at life as a "sacred dancer from a Ganges temple" within the salons of Paris. As she lived, so she left the world. At her execution on trumped-up charges of treason during World War I, Mata Hari, dressed to the nines, blew a kiss at her firing squad and smiled, causing one soldier to faint and another to marvel, "Sacre bleu, this lady knows how to die." A contemporary Siren, the singer Tina Turner, also has a vitality and larger-than-life quality that can't be suppressed.
Risk a little rejection. Let go of the extraneous details. Try remembering that the only thing you have to fear is not fear, actually, but yourself. Embrace your life as if you were the beneficiary of a windfall profit, even as a tax auditor is knocking at your door. Begin as you might any project: draw up the proverbial list of things large and small that make your life embraceable. In no time, you'll find yourself as cheerful as that mad nun Maria in The Sound of Music (though you'll want to resist the urge to remake the drapes into clothes that blend with the upholstery).
To get you started, here is a short list (Siren style) of things that make life embraceable, in no particular order:
New clothes that give you confidence.
Traveling to an exotic location and broadening your world view.
Having someone fall so deeply in love with you that he'd willingly make a fool of himself.
Realizing that you've gotten really good at doing something, even if it's hospital corners on bed sheets.
Good books that both carry you away and teach you something new.
The ocean and the mountains—the reality and the idea.
Working really, really hard at something and getting results.
Friendships that somehow survive.
Being unexpectedly moved by anything.
Food that transports you, even if it's Jujubes with a popcorn chaser.

the allure of archetypes
How did Eva Perón seduce a nation? Did Greta Garbo really want to be alone, or was she trying to make them sweat? And why, many wonder, did Pamela Harriman prevail over more attractive women? The basis of their appeal, my friends, lies in their archetype.
Sirens are, of course, a proud breed of individuals. But like the sports car with a sturdy chassis, each Siren's character is built on a solid foundation—her working archetype. Sirens come in five varieties, namely, the Goddess, the Companion, the Sex Kitten, the Competitor, and the Mother, and those categories roughly correspond to primal male needs (after food, shelter, and a close shave). If you doubt me, ponder the oft-touted Mother Figure. It is no news that men never fully outgrow the need to be mothered, regardless of how evolved they may be. They are hardwired for it, just as women are set up to expect the arrival of their paternal "white knight."
Beyond mothering, men need to connect, to conquer, and to dream—not to mention, to create and multiply. Without necessarily even knowing how they come by their ability, Sirens satisfy, on some level, those ancient desires.
It goes something like this:
Goddess To Dream
Companion To Connect (Validation)
Sex Kitten To Create (Multiply)
Competitor To Conquer (or Tame)
Mother To Be Nurtured
Though each Siren is predominantly a single archetype, she can mix it up, borrowing from other categories—as in, the Goddess Siren may be in part a Competitor. Or, ever versatile, she will bring her mothering skills to bear if the situation demands. And, regardless of archetype, every Siren knows when to draw on her inner Sex Kitten. The Siren's talent for rising to the challenge lies in her highly developed empathy for men and her intuitive ability to apply those skills. But the men who are attracted to, for instance, a Goddess Siren are chiefly drawn by the dominant qualities of her archetype, such as her mystery and/or her otherworldliness. These chapters explore the archetypes, using some of the world's most famous Sirens as case studies. Aspiring Sirens can learn much from the experts and should choose their behavior to achieve their ends.

the goddess
Who isn't familiar with the lure of the unattainable—that man who would complete us if he only knew we were alive? Only those of us
who have spent time in the fetal position can know the exquisite pain and pleasure of pining for the one we can't have. But if women have it bad, men have it worse. The Goddess Siren pushes the buttons of his desire by keeping a part of herself tantalizingly out of reach. Try as he might to shake himself loose, he can't get over her. The closest I can ever come to being a Goddess Siren is when I have no interest in a man at all—and I never cease to be amazed by how well it works. The first time I had a taste of this, I was sixteen and vacationing with my parents. I met a boy who was unable to resist my charms, and I, naturally, was smitten with someone else. I treated him like a lowly cabana boy, which only spurred him on. On our last night, I refused to kiss him goodbye. I later learned that he had been captivated by my (ha!) "independence." Of course, if I'd been interested, he would have had to pry me loose.
The Goddess archetype is not so much about sex as it is about the seductive appeal of distance. She stokes man's conviction that the perfect woman exists. And, of course, that dream stays vividly alive as long as she's not wholly his. The Goddess eats, sleeps, and picks her teeth like other mortals, but she manages to project an otherworldly glow. If he is the dreamer, she is the dream. And because she is in love with the myth herself, their fantasy is a synchronized dance.


On Sale
Dec 25, 2007
Page Count
272 pages
Running Press

Ellen T. White

About the Author

Ellen T. White discovered her siren power at age seventeen when two men fought each other for the chance to take her home. She works as the managing editor of the New York Public Library and has also worked as theater critic for the New Haven Register, as a cultural writer and editor for numerous publications, and as founder of her own underground comic newsletter for “the ironic and unattached.” She lives in New York City. She is a Companion Siren with Competitor overtones.

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