7 reasons why 'Hairspray' is more revolutionary than it seems.

It's basically impossible not to love "Hairspray." Just try not loving it, and you will see you can't.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

Indeed, the musical, which follows Baltimore teenager Tracy Turnblad's quest to integrate "The Corny Collins Show" in an era when TV was still segregated and to win the heart of the hunky Link Larkin over the objections of the evil Von Tussle mother-daughter squad, features an appealing, diverse cast, delightfully throwback choreo, and a closing number so soul-soaringly iconic that it's been duplicated and parodied ad infinitum.


But the show's biggest, most hidden asset? Beneath its bubblegum exterior, "Hairspray" has always been sneakily revolutionary — which makes it incredibly relevant in 2016.

It speaks to the challenges we face in uncertain times and how to meet those challenges head-on.

Here's a highly incomplete list of what makes "Hairspray" so special — and timely.

1. "Hairspray" features an unapologetically fat female main character who feels great about herself.

Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images.

Some iconic Broadway characters, like "Gypsy's" Rose, have been played by larger actresses. But Tracy Turnblad is not only defined by her size in a way no musical theater protagonist had been before  — she's a hero because of it.

Just as critically, Tracy's weight isn't portrayed as an impediment to getting the guy, who is smitten with her from moment one, or to being treated with love and kindness by those close to her. Her weight is only seen as an obstacle when it comes to being accepted as equal by society at large.

In a way, Tracy's journey to star on "The Corny Collins Show" — small and personal as it may seem — reflects the broader movement toward fat equality that's gained significant steam in recent years, with a new generation of activists speaking up against body-shaming and for greater access to public spaces while encouraging brands to reflect the lives of people of all sizes.

Despite being fictional and belting higher than the Vienna Boys' Choir, Tracy is indisputably a trailblazer for fat girls everywhere.

2. After accepting their Tony Award, "Hairspray" songwriters — and romantic partners — Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman kissed on live television, which was a big deal in 2003.

Photo by Richard Drew/AP.

At a time when not a single U.S. state had legalized same-sex marriage and sodomy laws were still on the books in many states, Shaiman and Wittman accepted their award for Best Original Score openly and defiantly as a couple, stunning many and elating others in the live and television audiences.

"I love this man. We're not allowed to get married in this world," Shaiman said in his speech. "But I'd like to declare, in front of all these people, I love you and I'd like to live with you the rest of my life."

Just a few weeks later, the Supreme Court declared sodomy laws unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas. In an interview with Newsweek following the decision, Shaiman quipped, "We're going to Canada to get married, then Texas for the honeymoon."

3. Harvey Fierstein, who played Edna in the original Broadway production and in 2016's "Hairspray: Live," is a badass fighter for goodness and justice...

Photo Steve Spatafore/Getty Images.

Fierstein doesn't consider himself an activist, but that hasn't stopped him from using his art to advance LGBT rights throughout his long career.

His "Torch Song Trilogy" is widely acclaimed for featuring one of the first three-dimensional gay characters on Broadway, and his follow-up "La Cage aux Folles" is a complex, honest portrayal of a same-sex relationship — which was groundbreaking in 1983, particularly in the thick of the AIDS crisis.

In more recent years, he's been active off the stage, speaking up for marriage equality and against anti-gay hate crimes and Russia's anti-LGBT crackdown.  

4. ...as was Divine, who played Edna in the original John Waters "Hairspray" film.

Photo by Mary Evans/Ronald Grant Archive.

Like Fierstein, the iconic drag performer used his performance as a 1960s suburban housewife to shatter norms around what was acceptable on screen.

His decision to appear in "Hairspray" made him — already a punk and LGBT legend — a mainstream figure and challenged audiences to think differently about their world and who deserved to be included in it.

5. "I Know Where I've Been," one of the show's most powerful and important numbers, was almost cut by producers — but it was saved by the songwriters.

Photo by Colleen Hayes/NBC.

According to songwriters Shaiman and Wittman, some members of the show's initial creative team wanted to cut "I Know Where I've Been," but the pair fought hard to keep it — for an important reason.

As Shaiman explained in an early interview, many on the team initially wanted to nix the song — sung by musician and civil rights activist Motormouth Maybelle — arguing that Tracy should get to perform the show's 11 o'clock number. Shaiman and Wittman insisted, however, that the musical's climactic moment must center on the black characters, whose struggle to integrate local TV is the true heart of the story.

"We weren't going to make this into a minstrel show," Shaiman told New York magazine during an out-of-town tryout. "The cast found something very important about that song."

The song was saved and reliably brought the house down long into the show's run.

6. "Hairspray" features a really sweet interracial teen romance that includes actual hooking up.

Photo via Everett Collection/New Line Cinema.

The chemistry between Seaweed and Penny is undeniable, and like most teens with chemistry, they don't remain chaste for a moment longer than they have to.

In "Without Love," he sneaks into her bedroom, and they — it's implied — get busy. The moment is entirely earned, and, even in an era when the representation of interracial couples on TV is increasing, quietly radical.

7. It's the musical we need right now.

Photo via Everett Collection/New Line Cinema.

Lots of current and former Broadway musicals have messages that resonate in the current moment, from "Avenue Q" (hey, bad stuff is only temporary!) to "Hamilton" (immigrants built America too!) to "Wicked" (fight fascism!) to "Rent" (fight AIDS!). But more than any of them, "Hairspray" shows us the way forward through the darkness.

Tracy wants to build a juster, fairer world, and rather than sit back and hope that the slow, inevitable march of progress eventually hands it to her, she gets up and does something about it. She doesn't go it alone, either; she makes common cause with others who are fighting and builds a coalition.

Progress toward a more equal world is great! But it doesn't just inevitably happen. It gets messy. And people fight back. It's up to its proponents to pull together — across colors, classes, and issues — to keep pushing.

Ultimately, as the song says, you can't stop the beat. But like Tracy Turnblad, you have to start playing your own.

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Macy's and Girls Inc. believe that all girls deserve to be safe, supported, and valued. However, racial disparities continue to exist for young people when it comes to education levels, employment, and opportunities for growth. Add to that the gender divide, and it's clear to see why it's important for girls of color to have access to mentors who can equip them with the tools needed to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers.

Anissa Rivera is one of those mentors. Rivera is a recent Program Manager at the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc., a nonprofit focusing on the holistic development of girls ages 5-18. The goal of the organization is to provide a safe space for girls to develop long-lasting mentoring relationships and build the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to thrive now and as adults.

Rivera spent years of her career working within the themes of self and community empowerment with young people — encouraging them to tap into their full potential. Her passion for youth development and female empowerment eventually led her to Girls Inc., where she served as an agent of positive change helping to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.

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Inspiring young women from all backgrounds is why Macy's has continued to partner with Girls Inc. for the second year in a row. The partnership will support mentoring programming that offers girls career readiness, college preparation, financial literacy, and more. Last year, Macy's raised over $1.3M for Girls Inc. in support of this program along with their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programming for more than 26,000 girls. Studies show that girls who participated are more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, score higher on standardized math tests, and be more equipped for college and campus life.

Thanks to mentors like Rivera, girls across the country have the tools they need to excel in school and the confidence to change the world. With your help, we can give even more girls the opportunity to rise up. Throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases or donate online to support Girls Inc. at Macys.com/MacysGives.

Who runs the world? Girls!

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Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given all that we've seen in the past half-decade, it makes sense for many to believe that race relations in the U.S. are on the decline.

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Did you know that girls who are encouraged to discover and develop their strengths tend to be more likely to achieve their goals? It's true. The question, however, is how to encourage girls to develop self-confidence and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

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Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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