Five days a week, I am so lucky to get my hair and makeup done professionally by the talented Fox News folks who put me together for my TV show. While they’re transforming me from an everyday person to a television personality, I’m busy studying my notes for the show—until they need to work on my eyes. After the mascara and the last stroke of lip gloss, I pop out of my chair and hurry to the studio, where my goal is to tell America the real story.
I’ve had people ask me, “How can you be real when you’re so made up?” Well, that’s just my outside appearance – a requirement of the job. But I understand the question. Even my own kids get distracted by my TV face! They’re used to seeing me around the house in sweats with a ponytail and no makeup at all.
Soon after I started my show, “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson,” I decided to go on air without makeup in honor of the International Day of the Girl. It was the first time any woman had done it on cable news. Not surprisingly, I got a ton of reaction. I would do it all over again to show young girls the real side of me.
For me, getting real means more than how I look. It’s been the theme of my life. So, what does it mean to “get real”?
Everyone needs to figure out what it means for them to get real. Your list might look different than mine—and that’s the point. We’re all unique individuals with God-given gifts.
Getting real means finding self-esteem from the inside out. I was a fat kid, so I couldn’t rely on my looks for self-esteem. Instead, I had to develop it from the inside out, based on who I was as a person and the wonderful gift of music I’d been given. When I played the violin I felt as if it was an extension of me. No one could ever take it away from me. Thanks to the violin, I never got dangerously obsessed about my weight. I always knew my body didn’t define me. In the book I write, “I have always been one to speak my mind, and I don’t sit still for being stereotyped. A friend who knows me really well called me “Badass” one day, a nickname that stuck … I stand up for myself and speak freely, whether the subject is faith or freedom or my own potential.”
Getting real means never letting anyone else tell you who you are. I’ll never forget the look on the face of the Stanford dean when I told her I was “stopping out” to run for Miss America. “That’s absolutely the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” she said. She didn’t understand why someone who had made it into Stanford with top grades would want to become Miss America. I didn’t bother trying to explain my motivations or the fact that Miss America was a chance to showcase my talent as a violinist. The real point is I didn’t feel I had to defend my choices. I had a right to make them, no matter what anyone thought. I write in my new book, “Getting Real” (Viking June 16, 2015) “I fight for women to be respected for everything they are and do, and I ask for respect myself. We’re all complex beings, full of unique gifts and opportunities. I’m blessed to find fulfillment in each of my roles – as a wife and mother of two, as a journalist and anchor of a television show, as a musician, as a woman of faith whose weekly highlight is teaching Sunday School alongside my husband. Like every woman I know, I juggle a full load of both joys and stresses.”
Getting real means giving life your all. After I became Miss America, an interviewer suggested to me that it was because of luck. Sure, there is always luck in anything subjective, but I didn’t think luck had everything to do with it. I won because I gave it my all. I worked my butt off for that opportunity. In the book I write, “We all have some luck in our lives, but I don’t tell my children, “Maybe you’ll get lucky.” I tell them to work hard and study and give every challenge their all. I make sure they understand what it means to have strong values and always strive to do the right thing. My dream as a young girl was to play the violin on a world stage. No one told me I wasn’t good enough, or skinny enough, or any other “enough”. My life stretched out ahead of me full of possibility, and I lived with the ever-present idea that I could do anything, if I set my mind to it and was true to myself.”
Getting real means reaching out. I grew up in the small town of Anoka, Minnesota, where people really cared about each other. My parents taught us that we had a vital contribution to make in our community, and they were our best role models. They opened their hearts time and again to help others in Anoka. Casey and I have passed on this same lesson to our children. Our life in the church gives us a way to practice daily charity. We are a family that volunteers—whether that’s Thanksgiving dinner at our church, or making meals for the homeless.
Everyone needs to figure out what it means for them to get real. Your list might look different than mine—and that’s the point. We’re all unique individuals with God-given gifts. Find out what yours are, and then live the best—real--life you can.