She may hold the title of the world’s youngest female billionaire, but Spanx founder Sara Blakely — like many success-driven women — has experienced her fair share of anxiety and uncertainty about balancing marriage and motherhood with career. Even though she’s now hitched and a mom of four, Blakely isn’t quick to forget her uncertain beginnings. And as a role model for young women, she’s often refreshingly honest about her past struggles in an effort to spread hope and encourage perseverance.
Sunday night, the 46-year-old businesswoman posted an image and epic caption to Instagram that inspired thousands who look up to her. She held up a cocktail napkin bearing the multiple-choice questionnaire “Single, Taken, Building My Empire,” and the last option was checked. She captioned the photo, “In my 20’s and 30’s, I felt a lot of pressure to get married. At every wedding (and there were lots of them), some nice lady would inevitably say, ‘hang in there, someone is going to figure out you’re a good catch.’ The set-ups by friends, the sympathetic looks from couples as I dined alone, my biological clock ticking … for women, it’s a different kind of pressure! I met my husband at 35, got married at 37. Oh, and built my empire too.”
Blakely amplified the message using the empowering hashtags #WorthTheWait, #WomenEmpowerment, #FollowYourDreams, #FollowYourEmpire, and #YouGotThis. Hundreds of kindred spirits piped up in the comments to thank Blakely for her encouraging, relatable post. “Role models like you are needed for our young girls. Times are changing. Enjoy your 20 and 30’s. Create the life of your dreams. It’s different for everyone,” wrote one. “This is absolutely amazing! Building my empire has been a true blessing, especially when I can focus so much time on it and not worry about a relationship till later!” another chimed in.
Blakely certainly has been the architect of her own life. At 27, an age when many women feel pressure and the desire to walk down the aisle, the future entrepreneur’s star was just beginning to rise. She had moved to Atlanta, Ga., with $5,000 she had saved from selling fax machines door to door and an idea for a new kind of hosiery that she felt was sorely lacking in the market: shapewear. The idea first hit Blakely when she was getting ready to attend a party and craved the seamless feel of control-top pantyhose — but hated seeing the feet of her hose sticking out of her open-toed shoes. So she cut the feet off of her pantyhose.
Though she was satisfied with the smooth, sucked-in feeling of her control top, she couldn’t help but become annoyed by the legs of the hose, which were rolling up all night. That’s when the seed of Spanx was planted in her mind, and she was determined to turn her dream into a reality. “After landing a meeting with Neiman Marcus, Sara flew to Dallas with her lucky red backpack. Sensing the buyer was losing interest, Sara brought her into the bathroom for a live demo,” Blakely writes on Spanx’s website. “The buyer said, ‘I’ll buy 3,000 pairs,’ changing the lives of women all over the world.” The rest was history. After writing a patent for her own product, Blakely went on to found Spanx — and Spanx became a national phenomenon. Beloved by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, and Madonna, Spanx soon made it onto Oprah’s radar. After putting the footless shapewear on her famous “Oprah’s Favorite Things” list, the TV juggernaut launched Spanx into the stratosphere. Blakely’s business was booming, but her romantic life was still hanging in the balance.
Then, at age 35, Blakely met Jesse Itzler, an entrepreneur, author, endurance athlete, and former rapper, at a charity poker tournament in Las Vegas, according to the Telegraph. At the time, she says, he didn’t quite understand the extent of her success, and she worried it might intimidate him. “I was nervous,” she told the publication. “I said, ‘I think I make more money than you think I do.’ He looked at me and smiled and said, ‘It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.’ And then he started eating his spaghetti, and we never talked about it again. It didn’t change a thing, not a single dynamic in our relationship.”
Blakely and Itzler got hitched in 2008 — when Blakely, as she says, was 37 — and went on to have four children: three boys and a girl. Now that her empire is built, Blakely is enjoying the wife-and-mom life. “‘We tag-team a lot. If he’s getting up in the middle of the night with the children, then I get up first thing in the morning,” she told the Telegraph.
But that doesn’t mean she’s lost her sense of playfulness and ingenuity. The publication says the couple uses the game rock-paper-scissors to decide everything from where to send their son to school to which movie to see. Blakely’s Instagram post — an effort to appeal to her followers with a relatable message of hope and support — is characteristic of her personality and approach toward mentorship and giving back. As she writes on her site, “In an effort to pay forward her success and empower other women to reach their potential, Sara launched the Sara Blakely Foundation in 2006 and the Leg Up Program in 2010. In 2013, she signed the Giving Pledge to donate half of her wealth to support her broader mission of empowering women and remains dedicated to this call as an entrepreneur, a woman, philanthropist and a mom.”
As Blakely says, results speak for themselves. Of business negotiations, she tells the Telegraph, “When I say things like, ‘Well, let me think about it — I’m going to ask the universe for a sign,’ they don’t think I’m as crazy as they did 16 years ago.” Putting positive messages into the universe is certainly serving Blakely’s karma well. As she says in her Instagram bio, “I believe it’s my calling to support women.”
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