There’s only one Dolly Parton. The inimitable country legend, who’s so successful she’s got her own dedicated theme park but whose heart is even bigger than her hair, as evidenced by her reading initiative, Imagination Library, got to where she is today by doing things her own way. As she memorably told the Evening Standard, “It costs me a lot of money to look this cheap.” With her iconic style and even more legendary back catalogue of hit songs, the superstar singer-songwriter isn’t someone you could imagine taking bad advice to heart.
Parton’s celebrated career has taken in more record-breaking moments, awards, and just plain boundary-pushing than it’s possible to keep track of, so it’s difficult to imagine a time when the multi-instrumentalist wasn’t confident in her own gifts. Surprisingly, however, it took a while for Parton truly accept who she is as an artist and a woman, and to leave naysayers at the door.
Dolly Parton was advised to change her look in order to make it
As the country icon explained in a career-spanning interview with Elle, she had her fabulous Backwoods Barbie persona, inspired by the “town tramp” whose own look she described as a “country girl’s idea of glamour,” down to an art form by the time she came to national prominence. Her friend, mentor, and fellow country legend, Chet Atkins, warned her off being herself, however, advising, “Dolly, you need to tone it down. You’re wearing too much makeup. You need to have a little more taste.” As Atkins saw it, “People are never going to take you serious[ly] as a songwriter and singer.”
Parton refused to tone it down, arguing that she couldn’t separate how she looks from who she is as an artist. “I figured if my work was truly good enough, people would eventually recognize that,” she explained. The legendary singer-songwriter knew deep down that she had to be comfortable with herself, and love that person, in order for everybody else to do the same. “That’s how I’ve always looked at it: that I look totally artificial, but I am totally real, as a writer, as a professional, as a human being,” she advised. After all, “A rhinestone shines just as good as a diamond.”
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