The ‘Embarrassing’ Things Dolly Parton’s Schoolmates Would Say Behind Her Back: ‘They’re Not Real’

Dolly Parton has had a look ever since she had access to the right tools. From a young age, she liked her makeup expressive and her clothes tight. In an interview the “Jolene” singer did with Playboy Magazine back in 1978, she spoke about how her look singled her out at school. While Parton’s classmates didn’t make snide comments to her face, she’s sure they did behind her back.

Dolly Parton on stage in a purple dress.
Dolly Parton | Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Dolly Parton has always loved makeup

Parton was drawn to makeup when she was a young girl, even though she didn’t have access to any real products.

“I was always fascinated with make-up,” she said, according to Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton. “We didn’t have any when I grew up. We weren’t allowed to wear it. But we used to have this medicine, what you call Merthiolate, that’s what I would put on my lips as a little kid. I’d paint my lips and there was nothin’ Daddy could do. He couldn’t rub it off. He would say, ‘Get that lipstick off you!’ And I’d say, ‘It won’t come off, it’s my natural coloring, Daddy.’ Then he’d say, ‘Bull.'”

When Parton and her sisters wanted to fill in their eyebrows, they used burned matches.

‘I just like to feel things next to me’

As for Parton’s preference in clothing: the tighter the better.

“I wore my skirts so tight I could hardly wiggle in them,” she said. “I liked tight sweaters. I just like tight clothes, I always did… I just like to feel things next to me, I guess. Even before I had a figure, I liked my clothes snug and tight.”

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Parton’s mother would sew her clothes the way she wanted them. She was the daughter of a preacher and wasn’t allowed to style herself the way she wanted growing up.

“When she was a child, they wouldn’t let her wear any make-up,” said Parton of her mother. “They all had long hair then and she wanted her hair cut. The very day that her and Daddy got married, she cut her hair off and she kept it short ever since. She said, ‘I swore then that when I had kids, I would not make ’em do things that they were uneasy with.'”

Dolly Parton on what her classmates would say behind her back

Parton says she’s always looked more mature than her peers. But she’s always felt more mature, too.

“I was more mature,” she said. “I used my mind in different ways. I developed my mind by writing and thinking deep and planning and dreaming. I thought serious. I looked as old as the teachers. When I was in high school, I looked like I was 25 years old.”

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The “9 to 5” singer said that it was “a problem, to a degree” that she looked different from her female classmates.

“But I had a real open personality,” she said. “I don’t think I was teased openly; it was more what people were sayin’ behind my back: ‘No, they’re not real, she’s got Kleenex in there.'”

Still, it was “kind of embarrassing” to be spoken about like that.

“But it must not have bothered me too much,” she said. “I’m a real obvious person; all the things you see are obvious.”