pretty hurts

30 Famous Women on Overcoming Their Insecurities

Photo: Getty

This week, the Cut explores women’s complicated relationship to beauty standards and the effort required to meet them.

Celebrities may get to wear designer gowns and have their every pore attended to by personal “glam squads,” but behind all that, they’re just human beings, burdened by the same insecurities and moments of self-hatred that dog the rest of us. And once they’re famous, they’re automatically subject to endless public nit-picking about whatever it is that’s happening with their various parts — as evidenced most recently with the hubbub around Renée Zellweger’s face.

The Cut rounded up some honest comments from well-known women who aren’t afraid to get real about their worries, from body size, to skin color, to Hollywood’s absurd beauty standards. Read on for wise words from Beyoncé, Kate Winslet, Barbra Streisand, and more on how they found the will to shake off their self-doubt.

1. “I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned … What does sustain us … what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul … There is no shade in that beauty.” —Lupita Nyong’oBlack Women in Hollywood Luncheon Speech, 2014

2. “I’ve realized that it’s time for me to show my audience that you don’t have to be perfect to achieve your dreams. Because nobody relates to being perfect. … I’m okay with having bad dance moves. I’m okay with having horrible lower teeth. That’s what makes me me, and for some reason it’s worked out all right.” —Katy Perry, Parade, 2012

3. “I don’t want to be some skinny mini with my tits out. I really don’t want to do it and I don’t want people confusing what it is that I’m about.” —Adele, 60 Minutes With Anderson Cooper

4. “I always thought that people told you that you’re beautiful, that this was a title that was bestowed upon you — that it was other people’s responsibility to give you this title. And I’m sick of waiting, people! [laughs] … I think that the world is pretty cruel to women, in what it considers beautiful and what it celebrates as beauty. And I think that it’s time to take into our own hands this power and to say, ‘You know what — I’m beautiful — I just am. And that’s my light — I’m just a beautiful woman.’ And I am just going to start talking about how beautiful I am, and people will start talking about it after I start talking it.” —Margaret Cho,, 2009

5. “[Remarks on weight was] one of those things I learned quickly to ignore. Once it was different, it hurt me. When I was twenty I pretended it didn’t bother me, but I felt very bad, I did. In front of journalists and the public I acted superior, but I was dying inside. Now everything is different. It takes time, but you can learn it … [I]t’s true that you need much time to get rid of the fat girl you once were, but — you know — I am sincerely grateful for my buttocks.” —Kate WinsletVanity Fair Italia, 2012

6. “Maybe [it’s] because I have professional confidence that comes from my business, but calling me chubby cannot hurt me in the way it does so many, many girls, millions of women … When I was younger, I already went through that. I know it’s much harder to do the things I’ve done than it is to lose weight and be thin. Also, when you’ve seen Instagram comments like, ‘You’re so ugly, you should kill yourself,’ it’s like, I went to college. How could I be offended by someone who talks about what you look like? I wouldn’t even deem you a person I’d speak to. I don’t know if I’d have felt this way when I was 22. But I feel this way at 34.” —Mindy Kaling, The Guardian, 2014

7. “The boys in my school would make fun of me. ‘Hairy monster.’ You know, things like that … And then, going to high school, I saw how popular girls had to behave to get the boys. I knew I couldn’t fit into that. So I decided I would do the opposite. I refused to wear makeup, [or] to have a hairstyle. I refused to shave. I had hairy armpits … Straight men did not find me attractive. I think they were scared of me because I was different.” —MadonnaHarper’s Bazaar, 2011

8. “I grew up dancing a lot, so I was self-conscious of what I would call my ‘tree trunk legs’ because they are very muscular. When you are dancing a lot every day you become very muscular and I did not appreciate that at the time, but now I’ve learned to love them.” —Vanessa HudgensAbout Entertainment, 2011

9. “In Hollywood, I’m obese. I’m considered a fat actress. I’m Val Kilmer in that one picture on the beach … I’m never going to starve myself for a part. I don’t want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner’ … I was trying to get my body to look fit and strong — not thin and underfed … I eat like a caveman. I’ll be the only actress who doesn’t have anorexia rumors.” —Jennifer LawrenceElle, 2012

10“I’ve accepted my body shape more as I’ve got older. I went through a stage of wanting to have that straight-up-and-down model look, but I have curves and hips, and in the end you have to accept yourself as you are. My weight has fluctuated between a size 6 and a 10. When you’re growing, your body is still figuring itself out and it takes a while to settle down. I keep telling myself that I’m a human being, an imperfect human being who’s not made to look like a doll, and that who I am as a person is more important than whether at that moment I have a nice figure” —Emma Watson, Glamour U.K., 2012

11. “Society paints this picture where you have to have the longest hair and the thinnest body and you can’t help but want to be that beautiful person you see on that picture. But then you have to start asking yourself the question — Is that realistic for you? I began to ask myself those questions: Who am I working out for? Who am I looking good for? When I look in the mirror who do I want to please? Do I want to please people or do I want to please Mary first? So I began to want to please myself first. I can’t please everybody. I can’t be the slimmest girl. Be the best you that you can be.” —Mary J. Blige, The Tyra Banks Show

12. “I have cellulite. So what! I’ve never claimed to be perfect. It’s crazy anyone should assume that just because you’re in the spotlight, you’re flawless … Sometimes I pig out and I still feel great, and think, ‘That was so worth it!’ That’s how I feel a lot of the time. I think, ‘See this little dimple of cellulite here? It was so worth it for that cookies ’n’ cream ice cream!’ If I was stuck on a diet my whole life, I would be really miserable. I love to eat.” —Kim KardashianBritish Cosmopolitan, 2012 

13. “When I was young I thought I should be built more like an athlete — long and lean — not with a womanly figure. But then people my age started coming up to me, saying, ‘I love you because of the way you look.’ They could relate to me. That was really motivating. So I learned to be proud of my curves and to embrace my large boobs and my butt. It’s all about loving who you are and realizing that you’re beautiful.” —Serena WilliamsFitness, 2014

14. “[A]s a young girl, I was much more preoccupied by my flaws. Everyone teased me because of my long, skinny neck. To hide my so-called deformity, I was wearing a turtleneck when I was 3! Yet my neck is probably my best asset. At the end of the day, what counts is the entire package.” —ImanO, the Oprah Magazine, 2000

15. “[The artistic staff at ABT] told me: ‘Your body has changed. The lines you’re creating don’t look the way they used to. We’d like to see you lengthen.’ That, of course, was just a polite, safe way of saying, ‘You need to lose weight.’ I was so embarrassed that all I could answer was ‘I understand. I’d like to change this.’ And then I got out of there as fast as I could. When I reached my apartment, I started crying uncontrollably. I knew that since I was 5’2” and 108 pounds, most people would consider me super thin. But in my own little world, I was devastated to learn I was ‘fat.’ I had always been proud of my body — its strength and grace enabled me to pursue my passions. But now it had become the enemy … I became so ashamed of my body that I started wearing T-shirts and shorts over my leotard and tights during practice. … [A]s I grew more introverted at ABT, always nervous that I’d be criticized, I started to venture outside that tightly knit world to make friends. That’s when everything began to shift. I noticed that most people didn’t have the same rigid expectations I had about how their bodies should look. Gradually, I started to feel more relaxed and comfortable in my frame — and even happy with it.” —Misty CopelandSelf, 2014

16. “I make a point to never, ever point out my physical flaws … this is advice I give to women as often as I can. People don’t notice the things we see in ourselves that we hate, so why direct them to it? Living with your flaws doesn’t mean you should tell people about them.” —Dita Von TeeseThe Guardian, 2006

17. “When I got out of college I thought, ‘What am I gonna do? No one’s gonna hire me, I’m a fat girl’ … [But] I really feel good with my size now. I know when I say that people are like, ‘mm hmm,’ but I just do! It used to be when I went into a room with all thin women I felt like, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ Now I just feel special.” —Lena DunhamPeople, 2014

18. “[I]nsecurity is not an option. It just isn’t. I remember when I was a late teenager and I had a boyfriend who cheated on me. I remember feeling so bad about myself and I felt shame. I asked myself why I wasn’t good enough and I thought the other girl must’ve been so great. And then I thought, ‘What if I decided to never think this way again?’ What if I decided that I’m just what I am and realized that someday I would meet someone and I would be enough for him? What if I didn’t try to warp myself into this phantom standard that I didn’t even know? Instead of being insecure and jealous and suspicious and wondering if every guy is going to cheat on me again, I decided to say, ‘Nope. This will be totally enough for somebody one day.’ That was a real script flip and it changed the rest of my life in such a positive way.” —Drew Barrymore, Elle, 2014

19. “I wrote ‘Bootylicious’ because, at the time, I’d gained some weight and the pressure that people put you under, the pressure to be thin, is unbelievable. I was just 18 and you shouldn’t be thinking about that. You should be thinking about building up your character and having fun and the song was just telling everyone just forget what people are saying. You’re bootylicious. That’s all. It’s a celebration of curves and a celebration of women’s bodies.” —Beyoncé KnowlesShape

20.“I love my snaggle fangs. They give me character and character is sexy. People comment, but the only person who ever told me to fix them was my mom … I just went my own way, like daughters do.” —Kirsten Dunst, Elle U.K., 2011

21. “In my 20s I used to cry about why I wasn’t thinner or prettier, but I want to add that I also used to cry about things like: ‘I wish my hair would grow faster. I wish I had different shoes’ … I was an idiot … It’s a decade of tears … I’ve never felt like I needed to change. I’ve always thought, ‘If you want somebody different, pick somebody else.’ But sure, criticism can sometimes still get to me. Some things are so malicious, they knock the wind out of you.” —Melissa McCarthy, People, 2014

22. “My first diet started when I was six years old. I’ve never been a small girl. One day I had to sit down with myself and decide that I loved myself no matter what my body looked like and what other people thought about my body … I got tired of feeling bad all the time. I got tired of hating myself.” —Gabourey SidibeOprah, 2009

23. “I was a mostly happy child, though I had a pretty rough puberty. Growing up as a girl is always traumatizing, especially when you have the deadly combination of greasy skin and getting your boobs at ten. But I think it’s good to grow up that way. It builds character … Somewhere around the fifth or seventh grade I figured out that I could ingratiate myself to people by making them laugh. Essentially, I was just trying to make them like me. But after a while it became part of my identity.” —Tina Fey, The Believer, 2003

24. “A friend asked me once to do an exercise and that was to look in the mirror and find something that you like about yourself. So I looked in the mirror and I immediately started crying because there was nothing that I liked about myself. This was in my 30s. So I kept trying. I finally was able to actually just look at myself in the mirror without having any kind of emotion whatever and I realized that I like the sway of my back and my smile. I never found myself attractive.” —Janet JacksonThe Tyra Banks Show

25. “I didn’t do what people said: ‘Change your name, cap your teeth, change your clothes, cut your nose down.’ My nose was part of my heritage, and if I had talent to sing and to act, why wasn’t that enough?” —Barbra StreisandGlamour, 2013 

26. “I was one of the only girls in my high school that didn’t get [a nose job]. And if anybody needed it, I probably did. But my mom always told me, growing up, ‘Barbra Streisand didn’t get a nose job. You’re not getting a nose job.’ And I didn’t … That’s why I’m proud to be on a positive show and to be a voice for girls and say, ‘You don’t need to look like everybody else. Love who you are.’” —Lea MicheleGQ, 2010

27. “More often than not, I hate photos shoots and I hate being on the red carpet. I don’t think I’m very well equipped for the scrutiny or the pressure to be perfect, and I don’t think anyone really is. People are saying ‘We love you and love what you do,’ and you’re sitting there thinking, ‘I’m not skinny enough or pretty enough.’ It’s taken a lot of work to get over that … How much time have I wasted on diets and what I look like? Take your time and your talent and figure out what you have to contribute to this world. And get over what the hell your butt looks like in those jeans!” —America FerreraCosmopolitan for Latinas, 2012

28. “I say to myself, ‘I don’t know how to act — and why does anybody want to look at me on-screen anymore?’ … Lots of actors feel that way. What gives you strength is also your weakness — your raging insecurity.” —Meryl StreepO, the Oprah Magazine, 2003

29. “My sisters have always been these gorgeous glamazons, and I’m, like, this tall skinny stick in the family. And I still am the tall girl, even on the runways. Every time I see Karl Lagerfeld, he’s always, like, ‘Karlie, have you stopped growing yet? Are you taller?’ [Laughs.] It used to be something that I really disliked about myself, being tall and lanky, but it turned out to be the greatest asset I have — how uniquely weird I am.” —Karlie KlossW magazine, 2012

30.”To all of you who have something nasty to say to me or to women built like me, I have one thing to say to you: Kiss my fat ass!” —Tyra BanksThe Tyra Banks Show, 2006

30 Famous Women on Overcoming Their Insecurities