It pains me that I don’t know Dolly Parton. Of all the stars alive today, she’d be someone I’d love to sit down with and just kick it with. Seriously: Every time I read a new interview with the singer—who turns 70 today—I learn something new about her, and find myself more intrigued and impressed than I was before; something that almost never happens with me and famous people.
I adore her music, admire her backstory, and I’m in awe of her decades-long commitment to her signature look, but what draws me most to Dolly is her ability to maintain a sunny, happy, grateful disposition while standing up for things she believes in, saying what she feels, and possessing a healthy dose of self-deprecation without ever seeming angry or cheated or entitled.
Plus, despite admitting she doesn’t classify as a feminist in absolute terms (“I consider myself feminine. I consider myself a woman with some talent and some power, some guts and some spunk, but I would have been that if I’d been a man. I think women should be treated equally, and I’m going to see to it that I am,” she said in 2002), I think she deserves to be ranked among other trailblazing females who manage to unapologetically succeed while embracing their sexuality and playing up their femininity.
Dolly also is known as someone who’s able to swiftly knock down critics who, at one time, wrote her off as “silly” because of her over-the-top appearance and the fact that she’s been open about her dirt-poor, rural upbringing. “I look like a woman, but I think like a man. I’ve done business with men who think I’m as silly as I look. By the time they realize I’m not, I’ve done got the money and gone,” she’s said.
I could go on for ages about why Dolly absolutely rules, but in honor of her 70th, here are few life lessons we could all learn from the self-proclaimed Backwoods Barbie.
Dolly in 1977. (Keystone/Getty Images)
She looks the way she wants. End of story.
Next to her crystal-clear voice, the best part about Dolly is her commitment to a signature look—big boobs, big hair, big heels, and enough rhinestones to spot her from ten miles away. At first, people probably assumed she chose to dress the way she did to court attention, but she’s stuck with it for decades without feeling the need to change with the times or reinvent herself, which proves she knows what works for her and sticks with it.
Plus, she’s in on the joke, famously saying, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.”
Parton circa 1981 (Robin Platzer/Images/Getty Images)
She never for a second pretended she was born looking the way she does, though.
Unlike most stars today who are so damn shady about getting work done, Dolly never hid her fondness for nips and tucks. She’s openly admitted to getting work done, never tried to fool us into thinking she was a natural blonde, and isn’t afraid to reveal that she sleeps in her makeup and never lets her man see her without it, all because it makes her feel good as a person, not just an entertainer.
“I would do it even if I wasn’t in show business,” she told The Independent in 2002. “I would be a waitress spending all my wages on make-up and bleach and high-heeled shoes. I think of my make-up as a box of crayons, and I look at myself as a blank canvas–I like getting paint on there. It makes me feel better. I’m not a natural beauty. It’s not that I’m beautiful with all that shit either–it’s just that’s what I enjoy and what makes me comfortable.”
Parton in New York City, 1989. (Tom Wargacki/WireImage)
She stands up for other women, no matter how they look.
Dolly isn’t only an advocate for her own aesthetic choices, but stands up for other women who choose to look a certain way, too.
Most recently, she defended goddaughter Miley Cyrus’ jarring 2013 emancipation, telling The Sunday Times, “Back in the day, doing my own things my own way, and dressing sexy and showing my cleavage and all that, I got a lot of criticism. Lots of people thought I was making a mistake. So I did go through that.… Everyone has to walk this journey according to their own rules.”
In 2002. (Getty Images)
She’s accepting, plain and simple.
It’s hard not to admire Dolly for openly supporting same-sex rights—something most stars in the country and bluegrass world absolutely do not do publicly.
She’s attributed her large gay following to her open-mindedness, saying, “They know that I completely love and accept them, as I do all people. I’ve struggled enough in my life to be appreciated and understood. I’ve had to go against all kinds of people through the years just to be myself. I think everybody should be allowed to be who they are, and to love who they love,” adding, “I don’t think we should be judgmental. Lord, I’ve got enough problems of my own to pass judgment on somebody else.”
Parton during a portrait session in 1978 (Harry Langdon/Getty Images)
She values family, but didn’t take a “traditional” route.
Why Dolly and her husband of 50 years never had kids isn’t really anyone’s business, but the singer’s been forthcoming when asked about it, telling People in 2014: “I grew up in a big old family with eight kids younger than me, and several of my brothers and sisters came to live with me early on in my life…. I’ve loved their kids just like they’re my grandkids, and now I’ve got great-grandkids…. I often think, it just wasn’t meant for me to have kids, so everybody’s kids can be mine.”
Dolly also seems to be aware that women might not necessarily be able to do it all, telling The Independent, “I don’t know that I would have been a great mother.”
At the 76th Annual Academy Awards (Getty Images)
She’s an actual boss.
In addition to being one of music’s biggest icons, Dolly acts, runs a production company, owns a theme park, co-wrote a Broadway musical based on her 1980 movie “9 to 5,” and runs a nonprofit called Imagination Library, which has provided more than a million free books to preschoolers.
During the 2006 Kennedy Center honors. (Scott Suchman/WireImage)
She seems really, genuinely nice.
Not to sound too cynical, but I just don’t think the crux of today’s celebrities appear that nice. Dolly, on the other hand, can give one interview and make people fall in love with her, before even hearing her sing.
With Mick Jagger in the 1977.
She rocks “Stairway to Heaven” almost as good as Led Zeppelin.
OK, we all can’t do that, but it’s sure worth a watch.