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Celebrities Share How Past Traumas Made Them Stronger

Lady Gaga

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Shock jock Howard Stern was in for a shock himself when Lady Gaga announced on his show this week that she had been raped by an unnamed record producer when she was just 19 years old. She explained that at the time she felt she couldn't deal with it, saying that she was "naive" and thought "oh this is just the way adults are," but told Stern the trauma hit her hard five years later when the man began to tell people that he and Gaga had "dated." Rather than let it destroy her, the songstress found her voice in her music, writing the song "Swine" about her ordeal.

Now she says she owns her story, saying, “I don’t want to be defined by it. I’ll be damned if somebody’s gonna say that every creatively intelligent thing that I ever did is all boiled down to one d–khead who did that to me. I’m going to take responsibility for all my pain looking beautiful. All the things that I’ve made out of my strife, I did that.” (Get more celebrity advice by reading up on 10 Celebs on Body image & Aging Beautifully.)

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Madonna

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Before she was the iconic singer Madonna, 19-year-old Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was a terrified teenager, alone in New York and facing one of the worst moments of her life. “I was held up at gunpoint. Raped on the roof of a building I was dragged up to with a knife in my back,” she explained in an interview with Harper's Bazaar. Too afraid to tell anyone what had happened but determined not to let it scare her away from her dream of being a performer, she says she used the experience to make her "daring," a characteristic that has since come to define her both professionally and personally. 

"I was defiant. Hell-bent on surviving. On making it," she said. "But it was hard and it was lonely, and I had to dare myself every day to keep going. Sometimes I would play the victim and cry in my shoe box of a bedroom with a window that faced a wall, watching the pigeons shit on my windowsill. And I wondered if it was all worth it, but then I would pull myself together and look at a postcard of Frida Kahlo taped to my wall, and the sight of her mustache consoled me. Because she was an artist who didn't care what people thought. I admired her. She was daring. People gave her a hard time. Life gave her a hard time. If she could do it, then so could I."

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Kate Winslet

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Kate Winslet has played a hero both on screen and in real life. Winslet was visiting Necker Island back in 2011 when a devastating house fire broke out in Richard Branson's mansion, where she was staying with her then-boyfriend and children. Not only did she get her own loved ones safely out but she's also credited with pulling Branson's elderly mother out of the inferno as well.

That was where Winslet met her future husband Ned Rocknroll, and in a beautiful example of a new life rising out of ashes, when their son was born in 2013, the couple wanted to name him after their dramatic meeting. "The house burned down and we survived," Winslet explained. "But we wanted something of the fire, and so [Bear] Blaze was the name that we came up with." (Kate Winslet shares her healthy getting-ready routine in Top Stars Reveal How They Prep for the Red Carpet.)

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Pamela Anderson

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Known for her vivacious sex appeal, Pamela Anderson made headlines earlier this year when she explained that she'd been sexually molested from ages six to 10. Then she says she was raped at age 12 and gang-raped at age 16. "Needless to say I had a hard time trusting humans and I just wanted off this earth," she confessed.

Since then Anderson has found healing and solace in protecting other vulnerable creatures through her animal-rights foundation. "My affinity with animals saved me, they came to me naturally. The trees spoke to me, I wasn't sure why I was alive, a burning question, a quest. My loyalty remains with the animal kingdom. I vowed to protect them and only them," Anderson said in a speech at Cannes. "I prayed to whales with my feet in the ocean, my only real friends until I had children. Then I realized humanity was suffering and our children were born perfect."

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Mary J. Blige

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"When I was five years old I was molested. I just could not believe that this person was going to do this to me," said Mary J. Blige, of the tragedy that destroyed her childhood. "That thing followed me all my life. The shame of thinking my molestation was my fault; it led me to believe I wasn't worth anything." Growing up believing she was worthless impacted her whole life as a newly minted R&B star. "I had no self-respect. I hated myself. I thought I was ugly. Alcohol, sex, drugs—I'd do whatever it took to feel better," she said in an interview with Parade.

She credits her friendship with rap mogul P. Diddy with helping her realize her true worth and giving her the strength to open a shelter for abused children. This month she released her latest music video, "Whole Damn Year," as a tribute to survivors of all types of trauma and abuse. (Learn more about the singer by reading up on 6 Things You Didn't Know About Mary J. Blige.)

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Nigella Lawson

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Domestic abuse is a form of "intimate terrorism," said Nigella Lawson, by way of explaining her abusive marriage to Charles Saatchi. After enduring years of emotional and physical violence her relationship exploded and her "dark secret" was splashed all over the news when paparazzi photos surfaced of the gorgeous chef being choked by her husband while eating at a restaurant. "Somebody walked by with a very cute baby in a stroller and I said 'I am so looking forward to having grandchildren', and he grabbed me by the throat and said 'I am the only person you should be concerned with. I am the only person who should be giving you pleasure'," she explained in a court hearing. "That is what happened."

Yet even after that horrible moment, the abuse didn't stop as Saatchi "threatened to ruin" her unless she cleared his name in court—a blackmail she did not succumb to, choosing instead to speak publicly about all of it. Now free from both her husband and the pressure of keeping all those secrets, Lawson has moved on and is starring in the second season of her new show The Taste. 

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Kesha

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When Kesha checked into a rehab facility in January 2014 for treatment for depression and an eating disorder, it quickly came out that the source of her problems wasn't her wild-child fame but rather the man who got her famous. "Dr. Luke", her producer since she was 18 years old, allegedly repeatedly drugged and raped the teen. But as if the sexual and physical abuse wasn't bad enough, she says he called her a "fat f—ing refrigerator" and also told her, “You are not that pretty, you are not that talented, you are just lucky to have me."

After her doctors told her the abuse had left her "physically and psychologically damaged" the singer sued Dr. Luke, who promptly responded with a counter-suit of his own. Both lawsuits are still ongoing but in the meantime Kesha's lawyer says "Kesha is focused on moving her life and her career beyond this terrible time." (These days she's been focusing on healthy eating and taking her fitness routines seriously. In fact, her trainer shared with us How Kesha Got in Warrior Shape.)

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Gabrielle Union

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Before she was an internationally known actress, Gabrielle Union was just a teenager working an after-school job like the rest of us. But one night as she was closing up the store, a man forced his way in and raped her at gunpoint. She immediately reported the assault to police and credits them with taking her case very seriously. Her attacker was caught and eventually convicted of multiple rapes before being sent to prison.

Today, Union says she refuses to let the experience define her. "When something catastrophic happens in life everyone rallies around you but it's not for something positive and I hated that," she explained on The View. "'I hated feeling like a victim, it makes you lazy. I wanted to embrace being a survivor. I was raised to be an independent woman. That's the road I decided to take." She went on to go to college and get her degree in sociology before becoming an actress and model.

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Shia LeBeouf

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People often think men can't be raped by women but Shia LeBeouf recently shattered that notion when he courageously shared how he was sexually assaulted while he was participating in his #Iamsorry art exhibit. During the show he would sit in a room with a paper bag over his head while people would come in one by one. Most, he said, just wanted to talk to him or hold his hand but one woman went much farther. "One woman who came with her boyfriend, who was outside the door when this happened, whipped my legs for ten minutes and then stripped my clothing and proceeded to rape me…. There were hundreds of people in line when she walked out with dishevelled hair and smudged lipstick." Rather than pretending to be a "tough man", LeBeouf confessed how it can be just as traumatic for a man to be raped as it is for a woman. "It was no good," he explained, adding that his girlfriend was also at the exhibit and came to see him as soon as she heard something had happened. "When she came in she asked for an explanation, and I couldn’t speak, so we both sat with this unexplained trauma silently. It was painful.”

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