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One of the women my mom held up as an example of all a woman could do and be was Gloria Vanderbilt. My mom admired her New York social scene, her career as a fashion designer, her success and acclaim.

I really didn’t know much about her myself, except that she released a line of blue jeans that was fairly successful, and designed clothing. I had always assumed she started her company and built her success from the ground up.

Well, last night during some random insomnia web surfing, I came across the full story. Gloria Vanderbilt was actually born into immense wealth, the granddaughter of a railroad baron, the child of her father who rather than be a titan himself had lived a playboy lifestyle and drank himself to death by his early 40s, leaving his barely 19-year-old bride and 18 month old daughter behind.

Gloria was raised by her mother until the age of 10 when she was the subject of a bitter custody battle between her aunt and mother. While her mother traveled the world living off the interest of Gloria’s trust fund ($5 million at the time, which made little Gloria along with her older half sister one of the richest women in the world at age 21), Gloria was apparently largely raised by a nanny who had concerns about the child’s environment.  Allegations of neglect and immoral behavior on her mother’s part, combined with testimony by young Gloria herself, ended up with her being placed in the custody of her aunt, her father sister.

From there she attended exclusive schools and was raised in a family that owned multiple homes on Fifth Avenue in New York, including one that took up an entire New York city block.

Now I don’t mean to take away from what Gloria did with her life, or to imply she did not have her own crosses to bear — including the early loss of her father, the early years with(out) her mother, multiple failed marriages, one son who disowned her, and a son who killed himself in his 20s — but for her to be painted as a role model for what the average gal could achieve with moxie and hard work was, to say the least, disingenuious.

It makes me wonder what the background of many of the other early “successful career women” is. Were they also women who started with means and status far above the usual? I will have to look into it as time allows.

In any case, beware false idols. Things are not always what they are portrayed to be.

What do you think? Please share in the comments!

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