When your mile-long list of achievements includes becoming the (admittedly stunning) Face of Feminism in America, you probably shouldn't be surprised if women don't exactly get the "Icons -- they're just like us!" vibe from you. But it turns out there were a few potholes on Gloria Steinem's road to feminist icon status, and she opens up about them in a revealing new Q&A for Lena Dunham's Lenny.
Though she championed women's rights beginning in the late 1960s and came to be synonymous with the movement's Second Wave, Steinem admitted she struggled to feel like she belonged during her undergrad years.
"Trying vainly to fit in, in college," the 81-year-old told Dunham of the "worst choice" she made before age 21. Steinem went to Smith, the (apparently quite preppy) women's college in Massachusetts. "Trying to convert from a person who wore blue jeans and loafers and big socks and came from Toledo [Ohio] into somebody who wore Bermuda shorts and cashmere sweaters," she explained.
While denim, loafers and cozy socks sounds like a timeless study hall ensemble to us, students in her dorm found her sartorial choices so offensive that they "took a collection and bought me a pair of Bermuda shorts," Steinem recalled. "They were so appalled." (Search "Seven Sisters" style on Pinterest and you get an idea of the mid-20th century look Steinem was probably going for.)
What's key -- and the lesson for any girl wrestling with similar circumstances -- is that Steinem looks back on her efforts with regret. Not only because she tried and failed to pass herself off as a card-carrying member of the Smith squad, but also because you get the sense her disappointment is likely fueled by having calculated how much time she exhausted that could have been put to productive use.
We get clear proof of that when Dunham asks the Ms. magazine founder to reveal the worst choice she made after turning 21. "Wasting time," Steinem responded.
In short, don't misspend time trying to change your stripes. Find your tribe instead. And who knows? You just might spark a movement.
For more words of wisdom from Steinem, subscribe to the Lenny newsletter.