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.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Family

2 photos of a woman's bedroom reveal just how powerful depression can be.

"We need to be able to talk to each other about our feelings, even the bad ones."

This article originally appeared on September 7, 2016

Jonna Roslund is a 26-year-old from Sweden who lives with depression.

Photo via Jonna Roslund, used with permission.

Living with a mental illness affects many areas of a person's life, including one annoyance most of us can relate to: the dread of household chores.

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This article originally appeared on November 6, 2015

Every single day, babies across the world are born prematurely, which means that they're born before 37 weeks of gestation.

In Canada, about 29,000 infants are born prematurely each year, roughly 1 in every 13. But in the United States, around 400,000 to 500,000 are born early. That's about 1 in every 8 to 10 babies born in the U.S.!

Red Méthot, a Canadian photographer and student, decided to capture the resilience of many of these kids for a school photography project.

He's the father of two prematurely born kids himself, so the topic is important to him.

"My son was born at 29 weeks and my daughter at 33 weeks," he told me in a phone interview. "These are the kind of pictures I would like to have seen when my first child was born — they've been through that, and they are great now."

Méthot said he knows not all preemie stories have a happy ending — one of his photos features a child whose twin passed away after they were born prematurely — but for so many kids who come early, they go on to experience a great life.

Meet several of the beautiful kids he photographed!

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