25 Famous Women on Self-Expression

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There are numerous ways to dabble in the arts, identity, and self-expression, whether it’s developing an inimitable personal style, sketching, writing, making music, or even stress-eating a sheet cake in the name of comedy. Below, 25 creative women — including Erykah Badu, Eileen Fisher, and Rupi Kaur — delve into the artistic outlets they use to further explore, shape, and express themselves. Read on for musings on lipstick as a means of expression and rebellion, the pursuit of personal style, and the wave of peace that washes over some writers after a solid journaling session.

Iris Apfel

“Most people don’t find their personal style because it can be very, very stressful. To find out who you are is like putting yourself on a psychiatric couch, but you have nobody to help you. Really, it isn’t easy. I was talking with my nephew this morning and he gave me one of the best quotes I’ve heard in years, ‘Personal style is curiosity about oneself.’” — The Metropolitan Museum of Art, June 2012

Yoko Ono

“Don’t adjust your self-expression to find an audience
You will regret it
It’s only fun if you are accepted as you are
And you will, one day” – her Twitter, April 2017

Issa Rae

“I love [rap]. I love the alter ego that it provides you. Rap is rooted in this bravado element, and I tend to be a very modest person in general, and rap as a device forces you not to be, because you have to pop yourself up. You have to show how you’re the baddest or the tightest or the coolest or whatever, and it’s just a raw form of expression that all the characters that I write need, because they’re not as straightforward or as confident or as aggressive. It’s such a funny dichotomy between having a modest, humble person, and then cutting to them spilling out all their guts in an uncharacteristic way.” — Complex, October 2016

Stevie Nicks

“I think that every girl — and boy, if you so choose — should take some ballet. Because ballet gives you grace. It gives you [the ability] to work with your hands. It’s all about your hands, you know. And I can captivate with my hands. And I do it onstage. It’s like, it’s magic. And I learned that all in ballet.” — NPR, March 2013

Shailene Woodley

“I believe that life is about the importance of reconnecting to our roots and living. I think that anything in excess can be toxic — just like not enough of some things can be toxic — so it’s just about finding the perfect balance of whatever works for you and helps you find lasting positivity and happiness. I’ve found that self-love and self-expression for me can just come in the form of trees and come in the form of connecting back to the soil.” — Interview, July 2013


“I did an interview recently and I said singer is probably at the bottom of the barrel in what I am trying to achieve as an artist. Visually through many mediums, through choreography, through dance, through art direction, through color theory, there are so many I have dabbled in that I have yet to immerse myself in … Music composition and producing and creating from the ground up, that’s when I feel the most at home.” — Elle, April 2017

Tavi Gevinson

“My relationship to fashion has changed a lot over the years. At first it was, like, this is a way to express myself. Then it was, like, this is a way to piss off the confused boys in seventh grade who are giving me shit for my outfits and I’m gonna come back the next day in something weirder. I guess I was turned on to designers who were not concerned with a conventional idea of beauty. My body is like an easel and this can just be a matter of putting together colors and patterns that’s really fun or a way of being a character, which was probably tied into how much I was doing musicals and was into that kind of way of transforming yourself … In a way I’ve become a lot more boring in how I dress. I think I no longer like to draw attention to myself the way I did when I was a sassy 12-year-old. I mean, if I have time to put together something I really like, I take immense pleasure in that I’m creating some sort of tiny movie for myself or a tiny aesthetic experience.” — Glamour, February 2015

Erykah Badu

“Well, music has never been lucrative to me.
I think my image is more popular than my album sales. The stage is where I shine and pay my bills. But art is art to me. There’s nothing new about cross-pollination in art to me because it’s all one thing: an expression of who I am. I’ve always directed all of my videos and been in total control of my image. I write all of the lyrics, stage and produce all of the shows. It’s something that comes very naturally to me. It’s therapy. It makes me feel awesome, happy, centered and balanced when I can turn out some piece of art – whether the world sees it or not. It’s what keeps me going and breathing.” — Paper magazine, October 2014

Kate Winslet

“I think any form of self-expression is half confidence, half sheer hard work and, maybe, a bit of talent thrown in. It is really hard work.” — The Guardian, April 2004

Eileen Fisher

“In the last year or two, I’ve become more confident and more comfortable. I never set out to be a clothing designer — I was an uncomfortable person, and so I wanted comfortable clothes. Women have great power — our voices and decisions can make a huge difference in the world.” — The Cut, February 2017

Rupi Kaur

“I write verses, prose, and poetry. I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on. I was moved by the ability of books to pull one out of their reality and into someone else’s. I thought it was the most powerful thing. And I think that’s why I’ve been driven to write.
I have this terrible habit of feeling too much and I want to express these feelings in the written form. I want to put words to feelings we have trouble putting into words. Like the breath before the kiss, I want to make the mundane beautiful.” — The Huffington Post, January 2015

Zoë Kravitz

“Music has always helped me stay creative and grounded because I’m traveling and shooting and trying to understand other people. Music was something I could just sit in a room and make with my friends. Especially with the election, I want to dig deep and say something. Not that it all has to be profound, but I want to be some kind of example — not of anything perfect — of another human being trying to figure it out in the world.” — Elle, January 2017

Carine Roitfeld

“I won’t say I’m too provocative; it’s my way of expressing myself, you know … It’s true, I’m always pushing. I like that. I’ve always been provocative, but what I’m going to do next is a new way of provocation. I did for many years porno chic. I was the queen of porno chic. And I will do something totally different now.” — Vogue, February 2011

Janelle Monáe

“I use hip-hop as a form of expression. I don’t consider myself a rapper or a hip-hop disciple, but whenever I’m trying to communicate, I can sing it or sometimes when you rap it or speak it, it has a totally different aggression or meaning to it. Sometimes if it’s too melodic, they’re not going to feel or understand the power. With hip-hop you can be as real as you want to.” — The Los Angeles Times, June 2015


“I continue to express myself — my sexuality — in my 50s, even though that’s also considered taboo, and I get a lot of shit for it. But in 20 years, Miley Cyrus probably won’t get shit for it. Then, it’ll be like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s nothing new.’” – Billboard, February 2015

Marina Abramovic

“For me, performance is when the performer steps into his own mental and physical construction in the public. It’s a kind of energy dialogue. They are not rehearsed or repeated but done once basically. There is a concept that is a platform for the performer to follow, but at the same time, he doesn’t know the outcome of the performance in that moment. It is very different from the theater. There is a constant dialogue between the performer and the public. I got involved with performance after making sound installations. At one point, I started using my body, and then, I never could go back into the seclusion of the studio and just make objects or other types of artwork. Performance was something that fit my nature the best.” — Museo magazine, 1998

Kourtney Kardashian

“I’ve been wearing lipstick since I was in 7th grade. That was our form of daring self-expression, because we had to wear uniforms in school. It made our teachers so angry.” — Into the Gloss, November 2013

Pat McGrath

“The ‘trend’ that I love the most at the moment (and I believe that it’s more than a trend, it’s a paradigm shift in the beauty industry), is makeup as a medium for self-expression. From the beginning of my career I’ve used makeup as a vehicle to express my vision; my obsessions, inspirations and addictions. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing young people recreate some of my iconic looks, especially the Dior x Galliano ones that took us 18 hours to create in 45 minutes and then running out to the club — or the deli!” — Elle, June 2017

Donatella Versace

“If you wait until something is exactly how you wanted to express it, you won’t create anything anymore. Of course, you always think to yourself, certain things could have been better, but after that, you say, ‘It’s ready to go. It has to be on the runway.’” — Interview, June 2009


“As a young songwriter, I would put a lot of pressure on myself. I’d write a line and then aggressively backspace because I was like, “This isn’t a representation of you!” or “This is weird!” I would just censor myself so heavily. I felt like there wasn’t room for me to write a bad song or write something that didn’t necessarily fit with my vibe or whatever. I think if I were to go back I would be much easier on myself. Write all kinds of stuff, man. Don’t be afraid to cast your net wide creatively, ’cause I think that’s the only way you’re gonna learn about yourself as a writer. Does that make sense?” — Rookie, January 2014

Susie Lau

“I hate when people impose rules around style. Style is whatever you want it to be. You can play with it and have fun with it … I think it’s a very fluid thing. My look has stayed more or less the same since I started Style Bubble, but now it’s probably more refined … It’s my natural instinct to really play up colours and think ‘what is the most amount of colour I can get away with?’” — Liberty London

Taylor Swift

“I wrote my first album when I was 14 and 15, so now we’re going on ten years of making albums right now. The formula has never changed, in that I try to make an album that best represents the last two years of my life. People have essentially gotten to read my diary for the last ten years. I still write personal songs, and sometimes people like to put a very irritating, negative, spin on that — as if I’m oversharing, as if it’s too much information — when this has been the way I’ve lived my life and run my career the entire time. So I do think it’s really important that I continue to give people an insight into what my life is actually like, even though it comes at a higher cost now.” — NPR, October 2014

Daphne Guinness

“Our choice of clothing is deeply personal. It is equipment against the world or a means through which to embrace it. Fashion is self-expression. It is the mood we are in: armor from our vulnerability or attestation of our exuberance. If I wear a hat, I might feel the need to put a shield against myself and the wind, or just the people I’m faced with that day. A hat says a thousand things.” — Real Style, winter 2015

Vivienne Westwood

“I don’t follow fashion. I really don’t. I’ve never been interested in it. I think punk has entered into the iconography of fashion. In 1970 or 1969, the shop we have, Worlds End at 430 Kings Road, that was Mr. Freedom. I went in there and bought a pair of tight leopard-printed velvet trousers. I had never seen anything like it. It was the most amazing thing. Punk says rebellion. Now every child has seen this … I didn’t consider myself a fashion designer at all at the time of punk. I was just using fashion as a way to express my resistance and to be rebellious.” — The New York Times, March 2013

Amber Rose

“I started experimenting and feeling empowered by fashion as a little girl. I grew up really poor in South Philly so I’d either wear my cousin’s hand-me-down clothes or go to the thrift store. The thrift store definitely helped me because I had to search for great pieces. I was always the girl that was very different in my neighbourhood because I liked to experiment with my clothes and try new things. But doing that and supportive encouragement from my mum helped me embrace my body and boost my confidence. No matter what I had on, she always told me I looked great. The most Amber is probably all black: leather jacket, black shades, black boots. I have days where I want to feel pretty and wear a dress. Other days I want to wear leather pants or a bodysuit and fur jacket. It just depends on how I feel that day and where I’m going. So I wanted to have a selection of pieces for any mood that you’re in. You can expect to see a variety of things. When wearing the pieces, I want people to feel confident in their own skin and feel amazing. Happiness is the most important.” — Dazed Digital, September 2016

25 Famous Women on Self-Expression