There’s nothing more degrading and discouraging than entering a world where one is boxed into a very constrained stereotype. In the case of Hollywood, women are expected to be tall, slender, with luscious hair, a killer white smile, and a beautiful face. Beyond the physicality, they have to be teeming with talent as well, whether it’s acting, singing, dancing or modeling. And when they don’t meet these expectations, Hollywood doesn’t hesitate in kicking them to the curb.
But there are the determined ones who claw their way back into tinsel town, not letting their critics deter them from fulfilling their passions. They aren’t afraid to defy convention and carve their own path to success. Luckily, they persevered or we wouldn’t have them in our lives today, entertaining us and making the industry much brighter and better because they’re in it. The people listed below didn’t get an easy start in their respective careers. But perhaps it was the people who held them back that they should thank because they wouldn’t be where they are today if they didn’t set out to prove their naysayers wrong.
15 Lea Michele
It’s fitting that her character in Glee looked up to Barbra Streisand, having covered many of the great songstress’ songs on the show. Because back when Lea Michele was first starting out on Broadway as a child theatre actor, she was told when she was 15 years old that she needed a nose job. Luckily, as reported in Entertainment Tonight, her sensible mother talked her out of it, citing Barbra Streisand as an example of someone who had an unconventional nose, which was easily overlooked because of her immense singing talent.
14 Winona Ryder
Back during her heyday, Winona Ryder was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. With her angelic looks and petite frame, she was cast in romantic lead roles in films such as Edward Scissorhands, The Age of Innocence, Little Women, and Reality Bites. It’s hard to believe that Ryder was once told by a casting director that she should not be an actress because she wasn’t pretty enough and that she should go back to where she came from, as stated in New York Magazine.
13 Sarah Jessica Parker
She’s best known as Carrie Bradshaw in the Sex and the City franchise, which earned her an Emmy award for her performance in the TV hit series. Her features are certainly not the norm in Hollywood and according to Entertainment Tonight and Today, she was listed in Maxim magazine as the world’s unsexiest woman in 2007. Undeterred, Parker went on to star in the movie version of Sex and The City (which was a giant hit among audiences) and is today considered one of the top fashion icons in the world.
Kesha oozes with confidence every time she struts her stuff onstage and displays her svelte figure, but this wasn’t always the case. According to Bustle, the singer’s manager once told the singer that she was too plump and needed to drop a few pounds so that she’d look better in front of the camera. This triggered her insecurities and led to her developing an eating disorder just so she could get skinny by Hollywood’s standards. She eventually had to go to rehab for treatment.
11 Benedict Cumberbatch
He’s probably the best thing that has come across the pond from Britain’s acting pool and he’s currently so popular with a multitude of fans, mostly female, that call themselves cumberbitches. He gained fame when he was cast as Sherlock Holmes in BBC’s modern take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary classics about the famed detective. But when casting was ongoing, Bustle reports that the actor was initially considered not “sexy” enough to play the role. It’s a good thing network producers changed their minds and saw the man’s appeal.
10 Reese Witherspoon
One of the reasons Reese Witherspoon has been able to survive under the harsh glare of the spotlight is that she had very down-to-earth values and was raised by a grounded, optimistic mother. According to the Daily Mail, the petite Witherspoon had it rough when she was just starting out in Hollywood. She’d constantly get told to her face that she wasn’t pretty enough or tall enough to succeed in the business. Many blockbuster movies and an Oscar later, her naysayers were clearly wrong.
9 Viola Davis
Beautiful actors like Halle Berry and Kerry Washington inadvertently set the bar for their fellow black actresses, making it a struggle for the likes of Viola Davis to break into the scene. According to Bustle, she was told that she lacked the classic beauty of Washington and Berry, but this didn’t deter Davis. With her immense talent, she has garnered critical-acclaim for many of her performances and she was listed by Time as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012.
8 Lady Gaga
She’s courted controversy many times with her risqué fashion sense and offbeat songs, but it’s her unconventionality that makes Lady Gaga as popular as she is today. But while her uniqueness is celebrated now, it was also what dragged her down in her youth. In an article in New York Daily News, the singer said she was constantly bullied in high school for being ugly, having a big nose, for always singing and being into theatre. Til today, she’s still considered atrocious by critics, but it no longer matters because she has embraced who she is when she is performing.
She’s not what many people would call beautiful, but Pink certainly has her appeal. According to Entertainment Tonight and Yahoo, she was constantly told when she was starting out that she wasn’t pretty enough to be in the entertainment business because she didn’t look attractive enough to be on magazine covers. Luckily, she didn’t cave in to superficiality and knew not to rely on her looks. Even more fortunate for her, she had the vocal prowess to catapult her to stardom.
6 Lena Dunham
When the TV show Girls first came out, it made a lot of waves, not just because of its witty and graphic content, but because of the person behind it. Lena Dunham is the creator, writer, and star of the celebrated TV show and she has won several awards for her accomplishments. But by no means is she considered stereotypical Hollywood material, constantly being made fun of for her fashion sense (or lack thereof) on the red carpet, her homely face, and not-thin body. According to The New Yorker, she was outright called fat during one of her earlier films, with people saying she was shameless for disrobing when she didn’t exactly have the body to show for it.
5 Jennifer Lawrence
She has accomplished so much at such a young age, receiving her first Academy Award nomination when she was only 20 years old and winning her first Oscar at 22. Given that she never took formal acting classes, Jennifer Lawrence was clearly born to be an actress and one of the more versatile ones of her generation, at that. According to Bustle, though, Lawrence was initially told that she wasn’t skinny enough for Hollywood, that her body was too womanly. A critic from New York Times even said she didn’t look “hungry” enough for her role in the film franchise of The Hunger Games.
He’s worth a whopping $650 million today and that’s due to his grit, determination, and hard work, all of which got him out of the doldrums of a difficult life. Jay-Z is constantly evolving and expanding his professional life, being a rapper, singer, songwriter, producer, and businessman. But he didn’t have an easy start. As a fledgling rapper, he couldn’t find a single label who would sign him, according to Huffington Post, as they didn’t think he sounded good enough. He took matters into his own hands by creating his own music and recording label.
3 Taylor Swift
She’s one of the best-selling recording artists of all time and that’s saying a lot, considering she’s only 25. Taylor Swift appeals to a mass audience in the millions, not just because of her catchy tunes and the meanings behind her songs (she composes songs about her life experiences), but also because of the wholesome, but not prudish image she gives off to the public. But the road to fame wasn’t easy. Having started in the music business at such a tender age, Swift was receiving rejection after rejection as early as 11 years old when she first arrived in Nashville to pursue a career in country music. Things took a turn for to the better when she learned how to play guitar at 12 years old, inspiring her to write her first song Lucky You. Thus began her career as a song writer and a singer.
2 Kate Beckinsale
She’s one of the prettiest faces in the entertainment industry, having gotten her start in movies in the 1993 film Much Ado About Nothing. But Kate Beckinsale came into prominence when she was cast in the female lead role in the epic war film Pearl Harbor in 2001. But she almost didn’t get the part because director Michael Bay had his doubts about the English actress, thinking she was “a little nasty” during her screen test, saying she looked “slutty” because she was wearing leather pants. According to her Wikipedia page, Bay eventually hired her because “she wasn’t too beautiful” and they were looking for someone who wasn’t too pretty. A Forbes article mentions that Bay also told her to lose weight.
1 Meryl Streep
Who would dare tell Meryl Streep that she wasn’t good enough for Hollywood? According to Entertainment Tonight, the most Oscar-nominated actor of all time was once told flat out that she wasn’t pretty enough to star in the 1976 film King Kong. During Streep’s audition, the film’s Italian producer said in his native tongue, “Why do you bring me this ugly thing?” to which Streep, who understood and spoke Italian, very quickly shot back in the language, “I’m sorry, I’m not beautiful enough to be in King Kong?” Needless to say, she went on to play many, much more noteworthy roles in the decades that followed.