Southern Voice: Dara Carson

I’m convinced Dolly Parton matters to everyone. She’s basically a patron saint to Southern folks, and I’ve never met a person who doesn’t love this iconic woman. I don’t even know if I fully trust someone who isn’t a fan in some way. Even if you don’t get into her music, there is something to love in an icon who gives us beauty, talent, sass, inspiration and empowerment all in one 5-foot package.

Dolly may represent a spectrum of feelings to her millions of fans worldwide, but as a 40-something woman who’s grown up under the influence of Dolly, she’s given me some vital life lessons on being a strong Southern woman.

Dolly Parton

Image: Submitted

9 Life Lessons I Learned From Dolly Parton

Listen to your gut. I don’t believe Dolly Parton would’ve reached anywhere near the level of success she’s had without her famous intuition. Her famous business advice of “just go by your feelings” has probably failed her at times, but I believe she became even sharper with those experiences.

Reinvent yourself. If we’re lucky, we will encounter countless chapters and revisions of who we are as we age. Aging used to scare me in my early adult life, but Dolly somehow makes it okay to continuously discover and embrace new interpretations of who I will become.

Confidence is beauty. Now that we are finally in an era that seems to be accepting of various body sizes and versions of beauty, nearly every public model of “real body beauty” attributes inspiration from Dolly. I believe this is because Dolly represents unapologetic confidence: “The magic with me is that I look completely false when I’m completely real.” Dolly’s energy of not giving a damn is truly aspirational when the fear and insecurity sets in.

Diversity and acceptance matter. People are drawn to Dolly because she radiates acceptance and love. In an increasingly divided nation, she’s a shining light of inclusive hope, tolerance and respect we all need — and need to treasure. You will never hear Dolly condemning anyone on their life choices, and her gift for making everyone feel accepted has paid off: “I just don’t feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody.” She quietly avoids public political discussions, but her feelings on the matter are beautifully concise: “I believe in ‘human rights’ and the Scripture, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’” That’s a kind of gospel that I can get behind.

Make ‘em laugh. I believe Dolly’s humor and sarcasm are natural, but they’re also calculated. Even if it’s a joke at your expense, sometimes the only way to disarm bad energy is humor. Dolly makes me feel okay to cuss a little, too, and it sure takes the edge off sometimes.

It’s okay to be soft and tough. Dolly reminds me that every woman can decide and express her own personal interpretation of womanhood, and she deserves to be ranked among other trailblazing females who manage to unapologetically succeed while embracing their sexuality and playing up their femininity. “I consider myself feminine. I consider myself a woman with some talent and some power, some guts and some spunk, but I would have been that if I’d been a man. I think women should be treated equally, and I’m going to see to it that I am,” she said in 2002.

Show the &*^$ up. There are countless stories of her professionalism, like getting up at the crack of dawn each morning or being the first to arrive on movie sets before other co-stars. In addition to being one of music’s biggest icons, she runs a production company, owns a theme park, wrote a Broadway musical, lends her time and talents to raising money for those in need and has given away over 100 million free books to children. How does she do it? I tend to think about this when I feel like complaining about not having enough “time.”

You are only limited by what you believe. To fully appreciate Dolly is to understand her escape from poverty. I love her for her humble roots and deep devotion to the people of her mountain home. I also know about the lasting damage of fear and insecurity, and I think Dolly’s tireless belief in herself is at the pinnacle of her absolute wonder. Who else could write “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” in the same night?

Dolly Parton & Dara Carson

Dara Carson and Dolly Parton | Image: Submitted

Being present is a gift. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with Dolly. If I had to choose one single thing I love most about her, it’s this: she has the gift of presence. No matter who you are, Dolly Parton will make you feel like the most important person in the room, like she’s known you forever.

As long as Dolly’s talking, I’m listening. I’m so grateful we all have her as a life coach.

Dara Carson is a marketing strategist who works with lifestyle and spirits brands. A former East Nashvillian, she now spends every moment of free time restoring a 1903 farmhouse and farm in Dickson, TN. Follow her on Instagram @daracarson