It is difficult, if not entirely impossible, to imagine a world without Meryl Streep. Her incomparable charm, inimitable craft and an unwavering knack for breathing life into cinema has moved audiences around the world for over four decades. Known for her versatility and artistic flair – particularly in the accent department, Streep has been the recipient of multiple Academy, Golden Globe, Tony, and Emmy awards, and is often lauded as “the best actress of her generation.” As she steps into her 70th year of excellence, we look back on some of her best lessons on and off the silver screen.
1. Focus on being brilliant, not beautiful
“My advice: don’t waste so much time worrying about your skin or your weight. Develop what you do, what you put your hands on in the world.”
A graduate of Yale University, where she undertook a Master of Fine Arts in 1975, Streep has championed artistic distinction not only through her words but quite literally, through her actions. Taking on roles that demand the kind of intricacy only a highly talented artist could render, the New Jersey native has consistently reaffirmed her stance on choosing brilliance over beauty, even in the face of being told she is “too ugly” to do so.
2. Head in the clouds, feet on the ground
“I try to lead as ordinary a life as I can. You can’t get spoiled if you do your own ironing.”
Deemed the greatest actor of her time, Meryl Streep would be well within her right to submit herself to the luxuries of stardom. However, somewhere between her role as a destitute Helen Archer in Ironweed, and a sartorial ice-queen in The Devil Wears Prada, is an actress whose understanding of people, places, tragedy, and victory can likely be attributed to her understanding of doing the laundry—and don’t we love her for it.
3. Never, ever apologize for being yourself
“I like who I am now. Other people may not. I’m comfortable.”
After being told she was too fat, too ugly, and in possession of too large a nose, Meryl Streep made it her mission to challenge every expectation of what actresses in Hollywood should look like. While there was once a time she was unable to watch her earlier films due to exceedingly low self-esteem, she is now an advocate for being who she is and standing for what she stands for, no apologies in tow.
4. Block out the haters, starting with yourself
“Put blinders on those things that conspire to hold you back, especially the ones in your own head.”
With social media on the rise, it’s easy to lose oneself in fallacies oriented around not being skilled enough, talented enough, and good enough. While comparison and criticism by way of Instagram didn’t quite feature in Streep’s early acting days, she was no less well versed with its harshness. Now revered for her confidence and strength, Streep teaches us that in yearning to be good enough for others, we first have to believe we are good enough for ourselves.
5. Create the mold, then break it
“I think that you find your own way. You have your own rules. You have your own understanding of yourself, and that’s what you’re going to count on. In the end, it’s what feels right to you. Not what your mother told you. Not what some actress told you. Not what anybody else told you but the still, small voice.”
With a career spanning 45 years, Streep has invented and reinvented herself time and time again. Each time, making sure to enhance her skills, her craft, and her ideas. Not only is this partly the reason she has maintained significance in the industry, but it is also largely why she has not been consumed by it. In dancing to the beat of her own drum, Streep teaches us to create our own set of rules, and consequently be unafraid of breaking them when and if it is necessary to do so.
6. Good things take time
“It’s good to push yourself and do what you don’t necessarily want to do, that if you’re not automatically good at it, you should keep at it.”
In a fast-paced world that declares slow progress to be no progress, patience often feels more futile than virtuous. Yet over the course of her career, Meryl Streep has reaffirmed that good things do indeed take time. While she had been acting since 1969, it wasn’t until 1978 that she received the acclamation she deserved, following her performance in The Deer Hunter. With patience and persistence in line, Streep teaches us that in time, hard work does pay off.
7. Age is just a number
“You have to embrace getting older. Life is precious, and when you’ve lost a lot of people, you realize each day is a gift.”
While Hollywood is often criticized for rendering its female contingent a shelf life of five minutes, Meryl Streep has actively used her career to rebel against ageism in all forms. Proving that women, regardless of their age, deserve to be seen, heard, and respected, Streep has taught us to embrace getting older, as opposed to living in fear of it. Considering the tenacity, grace, and confidence with which she is stepping into her 70th birthday this year, we can see why.
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