It’s the lecture of all lectures; the universal chat that never seems to tarnish, despite the passage of time or change in location; it’s what young girls have been taught from the moment they are capable of forming identities until the moment they no longer need convincing; you know the one I’m referring to. You are beautiful just the way you are. It’s a sweet gesture, and most of the people who recite that mantra actually do mean every word, but what happens if they’re reciting them to a stranger? What happens if the beautiful person they’re referring to is hiding a part of themselves because they believe it will make them less beautiful? When the mantra wears thin and is replaced by worried weight on our shoulders, who can we turn to for reassurance? When life gets in the way and circumstances change, when we make personal choices that alter others’ opinions and perceptions, are we still beautiful just the way we are?
To answer this, we must look to a woman who puts her own happiness in front of others’ interpretations of the word; who believes that self-worth and inner appreciation are more powerful than biased opposition; who doesn’t need a rehearsed speech to remind her that she is beautiful, just the way she is. I’m talking about the one and only, Ellen DeGeneres, a female who has taught us to embrace our differences instead of being masked by them. As one of the most successful females of our generation, and as one of the first to be open about and proud of her sexual orientation, she has proven that you really can have it all (as long as you’re willing to laugh at yourself every now and again).
Dabbling in all sectors of the entertainment industry — television, film, branding, stand-up comedy, music, and more — is a tough job for just one person; thankfully, that’s why God made Ellen. With a career spanning from the 90’s through today, there’s virtually no entertainment feat that Ellen hasn’t already conquered. She made a name for herself with a stand-up comedy act that charmed anyone with a decent sense of humor, and also went on to star in two original TV shows, Ellen and The Ellen Show. By this time in her life and career, Ellen was ready to tell the world what they probably already assumed; she was, in fact, a gay woman. As her comedic banter and harmless “digs” at herself would suggest, Ellen made it pretty clear where she stood in terms of sexual orientation; but to clear up any confusion, she appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to give a full “coming out” interview. Dubbing it a “sexual identity strip tease” that had people on the edge of their seats for years, Ellen finally set the record straight (how punny) and came out as the first openly gay woman to star on primetime television. In the aftermath, she faced an overdose of hate mail, angry corporate heads, frustrated viewers, and vicious backlash. For what? For being comfortable enough in her own skin to share it with the world.
Still, the opposition never forced her to back down. She didn’t run and hide in the corner because people chose not to understand or accept her lifestyle. She witnessed the hateful voices and heinous behavior, swallowed the reality she faced, and moved forward with her life — pride always in tact. Maybe all that opposition served as the catalyst for the success she received as a result of coming out and exploring LGBT issues that most networks were too fearful to incorporate into their shows. For this, she went on to win several Emmy Awards for her contributions to the community and achievements in television.
After conquering primetime television, Ellen decided to take her talents to daytime TV with her own NBC talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. When the first episode aired in September 2003, I don’t think anyone, including Ellen herself, anticipated just how big of a hit it would become. With celebrity guests by the handful, quirky and original news segments, and an entirely new interpretation of the term “audience participation,” the talk show was easily one of the most watched daytime programs on television. And since then, TV ratings and public opinion have skyrocketed and expanded so significantly that it inspired Ellen to take on even more projects. She launched the record label, ElevenEleven to represent and promote up-and-coming musicians from all over the world, including child stars Greyson Chance, Tom Andrews, and Savannah Robinson. In 2012, despite outrageous boycotts and negative protests that were eventually dismissed, Ellen partnered with JC Penney to re-brand and re-design the company from all angles with witty advertisements spearheaded by the leading lady herself. She’s hosted countless award shows, rubbed elbows with some of the sexiest A-listers known to man, introduced the world to Sophia Grace and Rosie, and made Forbes‘ “10 Most Powerful Female Celebrities of 2012” list — all while being a happily married (to Portia de Rossi, no less), gay woman. Imagine that!
If Ellen DeGeneres has taught us anything (besides the fact that laughter is definitely the best medicine), it’s that you should never be ashamed of who you are. Giving in to peer pressure will never keep you satisfied, and reacting to unwarranted criticism will never bring you the happiness you deserve. So when you’re faced with the choice, always choose yourself. Ignore the critics, break the mold, and stay smiling; the world is a beautiful place when you live it freely. And judging by the above picture, it looks like Ellen is about as free-spirited as they come.