25 Famous Women on Regrets

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In her 1961 essay “On Self-Respect,” Joan Didion described an antidote for feelings of regret: learn, and move on from them. “People with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes,” she wrote. “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.”

Below, 25 famous women recall choices of varying magnitude, from photo gaffs (see: Kim Kardashian) to bigger questions related to family, career, and living out their 20s. Read on for stories from Tina Turner, Carrie Fisher, Barbara Walters, and more who have regrets, or choose not to.

Cheryl Strayed
“One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her skeptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you.
Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life. Say thank you.” —Dear Sugar, The Rumpus, February 2011

Sarah Silverman
“If you don’t have enough regret in your life, try cutting bangs.” —her Twitter, April 2011

Elizabeth Gilbert
“If I were to have listened … I would have said, ‘Avoid romantic entanglements in your youth and focus on yourself. My God … the amount of hours of time I spent with boys and men … I could speak fluent Mandarin now, in the amount of hours that I spent in my adolescence with boyfriends! I would say that’s the biggest regret of my life.
I’m not going to beat myself up over it because it is what it is, and I’m here and it’s great; it made me who I am. But I wish that I had spent those youthful years just feeding this mind.” —Oprah, February 2015

Gloria Steinem
“When people ask me if I regret not having children, I can feel the pressure to say ‘yes’. But I don’t and I never did. When I was much younger I assumed I had to have children. I assumed everyone had to have children. But someone said once that not everyone with vocal chords is an opera singer. And not everyone with a womb needs to be a mother. When the Pill came along we were able to give birth — to ourselves. Even today I still feel such gratitude towards the Pill, and I think there are millions who feel this.” —The Daily Mail, February 2016

Dolly Parton
On not having kids: “No. I used to think I should regret it. Early on, when my husband and I were dating, and then when we got married, we just assumed we would have kids. We weren’t doing anything to stop it. In fact, we thought maybe we would. We even had names if we did, but it didn’t turn out that way. Now I say, ‘God didn’t mean for me to have kids so everybody’s kids could be mine.’ I’m very close to my family — five of my younger brothers and sisters lived with me and [my husband] Carl for many years — and we’re very close to our nieces and nephews. Now that Carl and I are older, we often say, ‘Aren’t you glad we didn’t have kids? Now we don’t have kids to worry about.’ ” —ABC News, October 2014

Betty White
“I spent a whole year, wasted a whole year that [my husband] Allen and I could have had together, saying, ‘No, I wouldn’t marry him. No, I won’t. No, I won’t leave California. No, I won’t move to New York.’ I wasted a whole year we could have had together.” —Oprah, March 2015

Martha Stewart
“I would say that I didn’t have enough children. I have one child, and the pressure is on when you’re an only child. I think it would have been nice for both my daughter and I if I had decided to have more children.” —The Huffington Post, December 2013

Nora Ephron
“Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.” —I Feel Bad About My Neck: and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, 2006

Barbara Walters
“I’m a big coulda-shoulda-woulda … My idea of hell is that I finish doing an interview and someone says, ‘Did you ask such and such?’ and I think, ‘I didn’t ask that.’ In my work I’m very decisive, and in real life I’m very indecisive.” —Oprah, 2004

Bette Davis
“I do not regret one professional enemy I have made. Any actor who doesn’t dare to make an enemy should get out of the business. I worked for my career and I’ll protect it as I would my children — every inch of the way. I do not regret the dust I’ve kicked up. I always fought people my own size and more often than not they were bigger.” —The Lonely Life, 1962

Tig Notaro
“When I dropped out [of school], you know, teachers, people would say I was going to regret it. I am 42 and I do not regret it.” —Buzzfeed, August 2013

Yoko Ono
“I have no major regrets. As for what I always wanted to do and have not done yet … I don’t know what, but I will take them as they come.” —her Twitter, April 2017

Lily Tomlin
On the single thing she regrets the most: “Oh, you’ll laugh at me. Remember the dress that Cher wore to the Oscars [in 1988]? I was going to wear it to the Academy Awards the next year. I had it all arranged. I was playing at the Kennedy Center in D.C., doing The Search. And everybody got on me about the dress: ‘You’re going to have to cancel three days of shows to go to California.’ I said, ‘I don’t care. It’s important that I wear Cher’s dress.’ [Laughs] I got so much flack from everyone that I wound up not doing it.” —Parade, January 2017

Zadie Smith
On her greatest regret: “Letting my father go to voicemail the day he died. Not having children earlier. Not being able to live two completely different lives simultaneously.” —Vanity Fair, December 2016

Patti Smith
“The only things I regret are if I wasn’t always a good daughter or if I hurt my siblings’ feelings or wasn’t always a good friend. Those are things I have to live with, and try to be a better person … I don’t have any regrets in terms of how I’ve conducted my life. I’ve always respected my life and I’m not a self-destructive person.” —The Independent, June 2008

Laverne Cox
“I don’t believe in regrets. I believe every mistake I’ve made, every hardship gives me testimony. You cannot have testimony if you’ve not been tested.” —Forbes Women’s Summit, May 2016

Tina Turner
“I regret not having had more time to spend with my kids when they were growing up.” —Vanity Fair, June 2011

Iris Apfel
“I suppose a few normal regrets, but I don’t like to harp on them or think about them. If I did something wrong or stupid, it’s gone, finished, and I hope I’ve learned from it.” —St. Louis Magazine, October 2015

Kim Kardashian
“One of my biggest photo regrets is when I got engaged, I had the shortest nails when I showed my picture. And I was like, ‘Ugh, it would have looked so much better with long nails.’” —Glamour, August 2017

Jessica Lange
“I regret those times when I’ve chosen the dark side. I’ve wasted enough time not being happy.” —O, The Oprah Magazine, April 2009

Barbara Bush
“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.” —Wellesley Commencement Speech, 1990

Carrie Fisher
“No, I don’t believe in regrets. I know they’re human and I have them sometimes. But I don’t like to hang out with them. The only stuff I regret is any discomfort I caused someone else.” —The Los Angeles Times, December 2010

Katy Perry
“People always ask me, ‘What is it that you regret?’ And I say, ‘nothing, because I could not buy what I’ve learned.’ And I apply those things to my life I learn. And hopefully, hopefully it helps me to be a better human in the future and make better choices.” —ABC News, June 2012

Chrissy Teigen
“I regret things all the time. I’ve never regretted not saying something. I’ve only regretted saying something.” —E! News, June 2013

Juliette Lewis
“It always surprises me when people say, ‘I don’t regret one thing about my life. I wouldn’t change anything because it’s all led me to where I am today.’ I would want to change certain things that have caused others pain. But mostly you’re wasting your time looking back when you should be living today, so do I regret anything today? The short answer is: well, I’m not looking back at the past; I’m looking forwards.” —The Telegraph, November 2010

25 Famous Women on Regrets