it's complicated

25 Women on Being Famous

Photo: Getty Images; BFA

Until recently, celebrities never complained about fame. It used to be like an unwritten rule: Hollywood’s most famous actors and actresses beamed megawatt smiles while flitting across red carpets in designer gowns, charmed every interviewer, and graciously accepted the life-altering changes that came with *FAME* — even if that involved very public breakdowns covered frame by frame by the paparazzi.

Of course, social media changed the rules. As stars took control of their own images — posting vacation pics, sharing midday thoughts on Twitter, receiving and responding to comments — their fans gained a complicated sense of ownership. Consider the man who thought Amy Schumer owed him a photo when he demanded to take one. Her response said it all: “I’ll still take pictures with nice people when I choose to, if it’s a good time for that. But I don’t owe you anything.”

Below, Adele, J.K. Rowling, Zadie Smith, and more famous women discuss their complicated relationship with the spotlight.


“If I wanted to just be famous, like be a celebrity, then I wouldn’t do music, because everything else I’ve been offered would probably make me more famous than I am just with my music … Commercials, being the face of brands, nail varnishes, shoes, bags, fashion lines, beauty ranges, hair products, being in movies, being the face of a car, designing watches, food ranges, buildings, airlines, book deals. I’ve been offered everything. And I don’t want to water myself down. I want to do one thing. I want to make something. I don’t want to be the face of anything.” – The New York Times, November 2015

Britney Spears

“I’m actually a very private person. Sometimes I’m in denial that I’m really famous. It’s too much, I think, for someone to reach that kind of magnitude to really understand it. I feel like when you’re younger, it’s easier. But as you get older, it’s one of those things that’s kind of like ‘Huh? What is this? This is kind of crazy.’ But there’s a lot of people who are in store for it, and who can completely understand it and appreciate it for what it is. I go back and forth with it, honestly.” – BBC Radio 1 with Scott Mills, August 2016

Kim Kardashian

“There are pitfalls, lack of privacy, loss of privacy, and that’s not for everyone. For me, I can handle it.” – 60 Minutes, October 2016

Yoko Ono

“All fame is infamy, and all infamy is fame. Good luck to whoever is famous. It is not easy. It could break your heart.” – her Twitter, March 2016

Alanis Morissette

“I want to poke holes in the erroneous beliefs about what fame provides. It won’t raise your self-esteem, it won’t create profound connection, it’s not going to heal your childhood traumas, it’s only going to amplify them. You’re going to be subject to a lot of criticism and praise, both of which are violent in their own ways.” – The Telegraph, August 2012

Zadie Smith

“I have an ambition to write a great book, but that’s really a competition with myself. I’ve noticed that a lot of young writers, people in all media, want to be famous but they don’t really want to do anything. I can’t think of anything less worth striving for than fame.” – The Guardian, December 2000

Megan Fox

“I don’t think people understand. They all think we should shut the fuck up and stop complaining because you live in a big house or you drive a Bentley. So your life must be so great. What people don’t realize is that fame, whatever your worst experience in high school, when you were being bullied by those ten kids in high school, fame is that, but on a global scale, where you’re being bullied by millions of people constantly … Not everyone understands that that’s the deal.” – Esquire, February 2013

Marina Abramovic

“Artists should never think of themselves as an idol. Fame is a side effect of one’s work. I’ve put 40 years into this. Some young artists who are 25 [and become famous] overdose and die, but my success came so slow. So it does not really affect my ego because ego is a huge obstacle in art. If you think you’re great, then something is seriously wrong with you.” – Harper’s Bazaar, February 2012

Amber Rose

“Like every poor person, I used to dream about winning the lottery. I didn’t just get money, though. I got fame. And I got fame before I got money, and it was scary. It fucking sucks.” – The New York Post, January 2012

Constance Wu

“Listen, I’m very privileged. I have a show; I have a guaranteed paycheck. I could be financially fine for a really long time based on this show alone. Fame is not something I’ve been very comfortable with; I don’t love it. I don’t even love money all that much. But I have it, and that gives me a certain semblance of freedom that another actor might not have. So I’m going to try and use that for good. Obviously I don’t want to make my career a totally political thing, but I care about young Asian-American girls growing up thinking they can never be the stars of their own stories.” – Vulture, June 2016

Brie Larson

“I don’t know if I’m ready for it, but I don’t want to turn away from it either. When you go out and people start taking photos of you on their iPhones, it feels really scary and awkward, so it’s easy to say, ‘I’m going to stay in, watch movies on Netflix, and get my food delivered.’ But I’ve spent a lot of my life doing that, and it’s not better.” – The Hollywood Reporter, January 2016

Cheryl Strayed

“It’s tremendously hard. My feelings are deeply hurt when people say mean things about me and my ego is wildly inflated when people say good things. So early on I realized I had to construct a metaphorical wall, to take the praise and hate in equal measure. To say ‘thank you’ for the kind things people say, but also realize it’s generally outside of me. What I’ve learned about fame with this experience, is that people project upon people in the public eye their own struggles and ideas. The answer I’ve found is not to absorb, but to move through the criticism. To keep doing my work and focus on that, outside of those who don’t know me and feel grateful for the things that have happened.” – Inlander, October 2015

Selena Gomez

“I’m utilizing social media right now because of my age and because, to be honest, everybody else in the world was talking about me, so I wanted a fucking say. I honestly had to, because I didn’t really expect my life to be as public as it was. Is this going to destroy me or make me? I still have to make that choice on a daily basis … In a few years, I’ll give all of it up.” – W Magazine, February 2016

J.K. Rowling

“For a few years I did feel I was on a psychic treadmill, trying to keep up with where I was. Everything changed so rapidly, so strangely. I knew no one who’d ever been in the public eye. I didn’t know anyone — anyone — to whom I could turn and say, ‘What do you do?’ So it was incredibly disorienting. … You don’t expect the kind of problems it brings with it. I am so grateful for what happened that this should not be taken in any way as a whine, but you don’t expect the pressure of it, in the sense of being bombarded by requests. I felt that I had to solve everyone’s problems. I was hit by this tsunami of demands. I felt overwhelmed. And I was really worried that I would mess up.” – The Guardian, September 2012


“There are times when I’ve thought if I’d known [fame] was going to be like this, I wouldn’t have tried so hard. If it ever gets to be too much, or I feel like I’m being overscrutinized, then I won’t do it.” – Rolling Stone, October 2009

Emma Stone

“The concept of movie star is something that you can never wrap your head around. Not being a cog in a machine, there being guys in New York with cameras — it feels like it’s happening to a different person. That loss of anonymity, not being able to just sit and watch in certain circumstances, is very strange and very new.” – Vogue, July 2012

Anne Hathaway

“This fame thing? Fucked me up for a really long time. I didn’t know how to do it; I didn’t know how to engage with it; it stressed me out. And people would say, ‘You just have to be yourself,’ and I was like, ‘But I don’t know who that is yet!’ … The thing I’ve learned this past year is to chill out. I think when you’re young and struggling to find yourself, there’s something alluring about the idea of being tortured.” – Elle UK, November 2014

Jennifer Lawrence

“I teeter on seeming ungrateful when I talk about this, but I’m kind of going through a meltdown about it lately. All of a sudden the entire world feels entitled to know everything about me, including what I’m doing on my weekends when I’m spending time with my nephew. And I don’t have the right to say, ‘I’m with my family.’ … If I were just your average 23-year-old girl, and I called the police to say that there were strange men sleeping on my lawn and following me to Starbucks, they would leap into action. But because I am a famous person, well, sorry, ma’am, there’s nothing we can do. It makes no sense … I am just not OK with it. It’s as simple as that. I am just a normal girl and a human being, and I haven’t been in this long enough to feel like this is my new normal. I’m not going to find peace with it.” – Vogue, September 2013

Lady Gaga

“I don’t think I could think of a single thing that’s more isolating than being famous … It’s almost impossible for people even to probably look at my career and the things I’ve done and think, ‘Oh, she didn’t want [that] — of course she wanted to be famous, of course she wanted all that attention. It’s just, creative expression is what I am and I would’ve been doing this whether I became famous or not. I wouldn’t have given up to try to get famous in another way. I wanted to get a job being creative and I did … It is very hard to not be able to engage with people in a real and honest way because they either want something from me or they see me as something that I simply am not. I am not some goddess that dropped down from the sky to sing pop music, I am not some extra-incredible human person that needs to be told how wonderful they are all day and kissed.” – Variety Studio: “Actors on Actors” Series, June 2016

Tina Fey

“I think my level of fame will drop back down. I think it’ll recede. In fact, I know it will. That’s life on Planet Earth. And I’m okay with that. Besides getting tables at restaurants and special treatment at the airport, what else is there?” – Esquire, March 2010


“People say, ‘Enough of this shit where she doesn’t show her face,’ and ‘It’s a gimmick.’ For sure. I’m trying to do this differently, for serenity. And it’s a fun game for me as well. I have nothing to lose. But of course I want to be loved. So when people say, ‘Show your face, you’re not ugly.’ I want to say, ‘I know. I’m not doing it because I think I’m ugly; I’m trying to have some control over my image. And I’m allowed to maintain some modicum of privacy. But also I would like not to be picked apart or for people to observe when I put on ten pounds or take off ten pounds or I have a hair extension out of place or my fake tan is botched.’ Most people don’t have to be under that pressure, and I’d like to be one of them. I don’t want to be followed by paparazzi. I don’t go on Twitter. Because when people say things like, I don’t know, ‘I hope you get cancer and die,’ it hurts my feelings … I’m just trying to work out a way to be a singer and to create cool content. I’m willing to do that as an entertainer. But I’m not willing to give up my actual self. ” – Interview, March 2015

Jennifer Lopez

“It’s hard, and it’s not something that people really want to hear you complain about when you’re making a bunch of money and you’re in a movie when a lot of people want to do that. So, you know I don’t complain about it. I just try to deal with it and not to say that it doesn’t get hard. It does, but, you know, it comes with the territory.” – ABC News

Emily Dickinson

“Fame is a fickle food / Upon a shifting plate / Whose table once a / Guest but not / The second time is set.

Whose crumbs the crows inspect / And with ironic caw / Flap past it to the Farmer’s Corn – / Men eat of it and die.” – The Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1659

Amy Schumer

“People feel how they’re going to feel. I was just kind of like, I’m a comic. Like, can we just skip this thing where I become famous and then you guys look to burn me at the stake for something? Is there any way we can skip that?” – Vanity Fair, May 2016

Tavi Gevinson

“Here’s what I’ll say: Fame and conventional success are conditions. Fame isn’t a hug. It’s a dangling carrot saying, ‘I’m about to go away!’ And it’s human to want it, and I’d be lying to say, No, I never worry about it. But what I tell myself — and what I tell my staff at Rookie all the time — is ‘protect your flame.’ When it comes to your emotional well-being and keeping that creative muscle flexed in spite of the less-enriching parts of pursuing art, you have to preserve that. You have to protect that flame.” – Elle, April 2016

25 Women on Being Famous