To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re looking at the life of one of America’s biggest icons–Dolly Parton. You may know her as Miley Cyrus’ godmother, or as a country music legend with some really dramatic outfits and wigs–but there’s so much about Dolly’s life and times that we find inspiring. Here are seven reasons why Dolly’s one of our icons, and what we can learn from her incredible story.
Dolly believed in her dreams.
Dolly was born as the fourth of twelve children in a one-room cabin in the mountains of East Tennessee. She grew up poor–’dirt poor’ in her own words. But even when she was very little, she had dreams of being a singer. Her uncle got her a guitar at age eight, and she started performing on local television and radio programs. When she was 13, she appeared on the Grand Ole Opry show, which was a big deal at the time. Being a country music star would have seemed like a huge dream–and the industry was so competitive, that there was no guarantee Dolly would make it. But she believed in her dreams so much that she literally moved to Nashville to start her music career the day after she graduated from high school. Dolly owes her success to self-belief–but also hard work and persistence. Going after your dreams is hard. But not going after them is such a waste.
Dolly Parton has always been true to herself. She has never made herself less feminine.
As women, we often absorb and internalize cultural messages about femininity. And there’s this cultural idea that an overtly feminine or glamorous woman–someone who loves full-on makeup, the color pink, sparkles, etc–just can’t be taken seriously. This mocking of femininity is definitely a form of misogyny at work. But Dolly has always completely ignored that and stayed true to her glamour-loving, wig-wearing, high-heeled self. She shows us that we don’t have to dim our own sparkle just to make others feel comfortable. And she shows us that it’s possible to embrace our feminine style and be taken seriously.
She’s never let the sexism of her colleagues stand in the way of her pursuit of her dreams.
Dolly got started in the music industry a long time ago–her debut album came out in 1967! Back then, she got her big break when she appeared on another country music star’s TV show. That star, Porter Wagoner, knew that Dolly would be a great singing partner for him. But her own star power started to eclipse his fame after several years of recording and filming together. Wagoner was threatened by Dolly’s success. He tried to control Dolly and didn’t want her to be a full and equal songwriting and performing partner–there are even a couple of moments on the TV show where he’s short-tempered with her and it’s really gross to watch. Dolly actually wrote the song “I Will Always Love You” as a loving–but final–goodbye to Porter Wagoner. She believed her own dreams were too important to take a back seat to Porter’s. And she was right!
She’s honest about her love of cosmetic procedures.
Since so many celebs won’t be truthful about the fact that they get procedures or treatments done, Dolly’s candor is super refreshing. She’s admitted to having Botox and says she stays young thanks to ‘good doctors’. She also jokes that she’s ‘real where it counts’. We hope that more celebs will take a leaf out of Dolly’s book and admit that they get help to look so good. Let’s be real–at this point, a lot of us know celebs get things done, and when they say in interviews that their youthful appearance is thanks to celery juice or lemon water, it makes us roll our eyes. It seems silly that there’s still stigma and shame attached to cosmetic treatments, so we’re grateful that Dolly appears to have a no-BS policy around the topic.
She’s a smart businesswoman who protects her own interests.
Dolly’s biggest legacy is probably her catalog of iconic songs, from “I Will Always Love You” to “Jolene” to “9 to 5”. We’d go so far as to say that she’s one of America’s greatest living songwriters, full stop. And what’s impressive about Dolly is that she understood her worth as a songwriter and protected her intellectual property, even when that wasn’t the standard in her industry. In 1974, Elvis Presley wanted to record a cover of “I Will Always Love You”, and Dolly was on board at first. After all, a legend like Elvis wanting to sing your song would be super flattering! But then she learned that she’d be expected to sign away the rights to the song, ceding all publishing rights to Elvis. So Dolly said no. In the intervening decades, that song has made her many millions of dollars. Sometimes it pays to say no.
She’s been an outspoken ally of the LGBTQ+ community.
Dolly is famously circumspect about political or cultural issues–but she’s been a vocal supporter of the LGTBQ+ community for decades, saying that “I hope that everybody gets a chance to be who and what they are.” She came out in support of same sex marriage in 2009 and has affirmed her belief that all people should be treated with respect and dignity multiple times. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, and we admire that Dolly advocates for love and acceptance.
Dolly supports early literacy for thousands of kids, so they can achieve their dreams.
Dolly founded her charity the Imagination Library because she knows the importance of early childhood literacy: “I know there are children in your community with their own dreams….the seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.” The Imagination Library mails one book per month to each enrolled child from birth until they enter kindergarten at age five. Currently, the Imagination Library serves two million children each month across the US, Canada, the UK, the Republic of Ireland, and Australia. The Imagination Library has donated over 199 million books to kids since 1995. Which just brings everything full circle. Dolly’s achieved her own dreams, and now she helps others achieve theirs.
Now you know more about Dolly and why we find her so inspiring. We hope her story encourages you to dream big, go after what you want, and wear the sequined outfit, too.