This weekend I went to a fabulous centennial birthday celebration at the New York Public Library for the burlesque icon, Gypsy Rose Lee. It coincided with the release of the biography, American Rose, which explores some of the darker side of Gypsy’s life. The world-famous musical turned film portrayed some of the rosier, glamorous and happy-go-lucky sides of Gypsy, her emergence as a sex symbol and her relationships with her mom and sister. However, this book based on interviews with her family and friends notes that she was a woman coping with pain and insecurity from dysfucntional family relationships and having to be “on” all the time.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine recently who said it took her almost 40 years to realize that “pretty girls” are often insecure, meaning that those who we deem as “beautiful” share the same insecurities as “regular” gals. Take a modern example: Kourtney Kardashian. She is hot according to public opinion but she holds onto her d-bag boyfriend/babydaddy/fiance/husband and complains about her body and looks, etc. We can argue that beauty is in the eye of the beholder but let’s also be real and recognize that societies maintain and promote certain beauty aesthetics.
Anyhoo, the point is that we don’t know what is going on with people underneath a well-coiffed exterior. We all have roles we play in public and insecurities no matter what we look like or what accomplishments are under our belt. However Gypsy used that energy to make a way for herself, as a businesswoman. Author Karen Abbott said that Gypsy would write the word “money” over and over again in her journal as a reminder to keep focused on her goals. She used her beauty and her body to earn a living…but on her own terms even within the confines of a decidedly more sexist era. She was a tour de force and commanded respect and attention despite what was going on internally. Though our inner demons will show themselves in some way no matter how hard we push them away (she did have substance abuse issues), there is something to be said for the idea of faking it until you make it. Others believe when we believe.
In honor of this icon’s 100 year birthday, here’s a clip in dedication to her sass and outward confidence which can inspire us all to let our lights shine unapologetically no matter what is going on underneath.