Barbra Streisand’s Mother Never Believed She Was “Pretty Enough” or Good Enough – How Those Cruel Words Made Babs the Star She Is Today
Babs spent her life being told she was never good enough by her toxic mother.
Beneath Barbra Streisand’s enchanting voice and iconic performances lies a personal journey filled with challenges, self-discovery, and a complex relationship with her mother. In her new memoir, My Name is Barbra: The Exhilarating and Startlingly Honest Autobiography of the Living Legend, she delves into all of these.
Looking back on her life, Barbra Streisand knows the odds were stacked against her. Despite growing up with a mother who doubted her beauty and potential, the young Streisand discovered the profound art of living authentically and learning to let go of the weight of societal expectations to make her dreams come true.
Barbra Streisand’s ascent to superstardom is a story that defies the odds in an industry known for its challenges.
It’s no secret the entertainment industry has a history of being hypercritical…especially when it comes to expectations for young women. In recent years, the media has come under fire for the notoriously unrealistic beauty standards it sets for women. So you can only imagine how impossible it would be to break into the industry, without fitting those beauty standards…and in the 1960’s no less!
Yet, with her tremendous vocal talents and show stealing breakout performance as legendary American comedienne, ‘Fanny Brice’ in Broadway’s “Funny Girl” (1964)…that’s just what Barbra Streisand did.
Looking back, Streisand attributes her success to her mother. Even though her mother never believed she would make it. Barbra is a glass-half-full kind of woman. “She motivated me to prove I was worth it,” and prove her wrong, she did.
“She Never Said Words Like ‘I love you,”’ Barbra’s Troubled Relationship With Her Jealous Mother
At the tender age of 15 months old, Barbra Streisand’s future shifted dramatically. When her father, Emanuel Streisand suddenly passed away from an epileptic seizure, the young Barbra was left to be raised by her mother, Diana Streisand (1909-2002), who lacked the nurturing qualities Barbra craved growing up.
In her own words, the singer-actress opened up about her childhood, expressing how her mother, rather than being affectionate, was often stern and frequently critical of the career path she had chosen. Her mother’s “criticism” is something Barbra has since considered may have been a result of her mother’s secret “jealousy” towards her. Diana Streisand had been a soprano in her youth and considered a career in music, but later resigned her dreams in favour of becoming a school secretary.
“I think sometimes there are parents who don’t really like themselves. They don’t like their offspring either. My mother meant well. She loved me as best she could. She had dreams of her own and she wanted to be a singer.”
Was she jealous?
“Yes. And that was staggering for me to learn. She never praised me to my face but I have a feeling she praised me to other people. And she wasn’t a toucher. She never hugged me or said words like, ‘I love you’.”Barbara Streisand, Daily Mail (2014)
Barbra’s childhood was filled with negative comments from her mother, that forced the young ingenue to trust her gut when it came to her creative choices:
“When she first saw me sing I didn’t have money so I went to thrift shops for my outfits. I was wearing a Victorian lace jacket that looked beautiful with a pink ribbon in it, a white cotton skirt I’d made and shoes from the 1920s in pink satin. I thought it was a great outfit. My mother said, ‘Why are you singing in your underwear? And your voice needs strengthening. Put an egg in milk and whip it up.’ She called this a ‘guggle muggle’. It was disgusting. Other people were praising my voice but my mother would say, ‘It’s not good enough, it’s not strong.'”
Eventually Barbra realized she would never have her mother’s approval, but she could still use her disapproval to fuel her art.
“I just couldn’t please her. But I owe her my career. It was painful on the way up. I was always trying to prove to her that I was worthy of being somebody.
No One Anticipated An “Ugly Duckling” From the Brookyln Would Become One Of The World’s Most Iconic Stars
At 81 years old, with a 63 year career behind her, Barbra Streisand is as a triumph. Born in the gangster-run neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York–from a young age, Barbra Streisand knew she was unlike the other kids her age.
In a heartbreaking 1964 interview with then-popular Coronet Magazine, Barbra reveals she was teased by the kids in her neighbourhood for being “different.”
But no matter the sticks and stones (and words that hurt) hurled her way, the young Barbra Streisand had big dreams. With incredible promise as a vocal talent and the thick skin to make in through the gruesome rejection she’d undoubtedly face, she had every hope to make it as a star. There was just one problem.
According to her mother, no matter how talented of a singer she was, or how hard she worked at to master the craft of acting, she would “never make it as a star” for this hurtful reason…
Her Own Mother Told Her She Wasn’t “Pretty Enough” To Be An Actress
Thankfully, she didn’t listen. After much persistence, Streisand got her start at just 18 years old, doing gigs on the nightclub circuit in Greenwich Village.
“My ﬁrst break sounds like something out of a movie plot. I was ﬂat broke and I entered a singing contest in a Greenwich Village bar. And I won. A few weeks later I was singing for $108 in a little Village nightclub called The Bon Soir“.-Barbra Streisand
It was at The Bon Soir, Streisand would say ‘Bon Voyage’ to her old life. It was there, at that late-night club, where the future Tony Award-winning, multi-talent was discovered.
Barbra Streisand Turned Weakness Into Strength
After her out-of-the-gate success for her 1962 Broadway debut I Can Get It For You Wholesale, Streisand scored her first Tony Award Nomination for her portrayal of ‘Miss Marmelstein’. The success would be the first of many.
The triple-threat actress would go on to take home the prestigious Academy Award for her reprisal of her Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl”; the 1968 Hollywood film adaptation, of her 1964 Broadway show of the same name.
Yet before all the positive reviews and critical acclaim came flooding in, even in the early stages of her budding fame, Streisand was able to see the silver lining her tough upbringing gave her.
It’s hard not to make the connection, that the titular roles that catapulted Barbra Streisand to unimaginable “star status”, draw incredibly meaningful parallels to the actresses own life.
In Funny Girl, Streisand plays Fanny Brice: the real-life American comedienne who was a wildly popular 1920’s entertainer, despite her conventionally unattractive looks.
Much of the film Funny Girl is centred around character Fanny Brice’s fish-out-of-water story. Streisand humorously and delicately portrays a young woman who finds her footing in an industry that, until she came along, didn’t allow anyone who looked like her to perform on stage.
Streisand’s Fanny Brice is resilient and despite the sexist industry’s best efforts, they won’t rain on her parade! The character’s story rings eerily similar to Streisand’s own.
Again, in The Mirror Has Two Faces (starring, directed, and produced by Barbra Streisand, no less), Streisand portrays Rose Morgan, a frumpy English Literature professor who falls in love with her colleague, Gregory Larkin (Jeff Bridges), despite his desire from a strictly platonic…marriage. Yes, it sounds conceptually absurd, but is an absolute classic!
In one scene, that feels as though it’s inspired by the painful experiences Streisand had with her mother in her own life; Rose’s entire outlook on life changes when, after a particular hurtful sexual rejection from Gregory, her mother hands her an old photograph of herself as a baby. Rose’s mother tells her she was such a “pretty baby.” This unexpected compliment launches Rose into the third act, with a fresh (more compassionate) perspective about herself and her worthiness when it comes to love.
When Being “You” Is Better Than Being Perfect
When it comes to the difficult lesson that the “best thing we can be is ourselves,” Streisand teaches by example. Despite the pressure she faced to look a certain way, in a moment of weakness one person told Streisand exactly what she needed to hear, to never question her place in the world, again.
“I asked one of the show’s backers if he thought I should do something about my nose. “If you do,” he answered, “you won’t be Barbra Streisand anymore.”-Barbra Streisand, 1964
Even though she was told for years to come, by industry insiders and critics alike, that she was “too ugly” to make her dreams come true, she worked with her head down but walked with her chin held high. Her mindset was the first step, in the direction that changed her life.
Barbra Streisand’s emotional words remind us, that we should never underestimate the power of believing in ourselves, even when it feels like no one else does. The worst of them may start off throwing tomatoes, but if we focus on being the kind of “good” that’s undeniable? In the end, they’ll be throwing roses with the rest of them, and screaming “encore!”
Barbra Streisand’s highly anticipated memoir, “My Name is Barbra”, is available for pre-order now. The book hits shelves November 19th, 2023.