New York City wasn't kind to Madonna before she became a pop icon, the star revealed in a frank essay in which she also discussed being raped at knifepoint.
In the Oct. 4 essay titled "Truth or Dare," the 55-year-old wrote in Harper's Bazaar magazine about her life of challenging society's conventions, motherhood, exploring her spirituality and the rise of her career.
As a nonconformist high school student in a Midwestern suburb, she wrote that resisted shaving her armpits and legs and came to be considered a "real man repeller."
She came to New York to pursue her goal of being an artist, but the city gave her a harsh welcome.
"New York wasn't everything I thought it would be," she wrote. "It did not welcome me with open arms. The first year, I was held up at gunpoint. Raped on the roof of a building I was dragged up to with a knife in my back, and had my apartment broken into three times. I don't know why; I had nothing of value after they took my radio the first time."
Madonna had previously revealed the rape in a 1995 interview with New Musical Express, a London publication. In the Bazaar essay, she wrote that New York both inspired her and scared her, in ways for which she wasn't prepared.
While she tried to be a professional dancer, she posed nude for art students in order to earn her rent. It was a tough living, but she described herself as being "hell-bent on surviving." To help her get through her loneliness, she posted on her wall a postcard of Frida Kahlo, the Mexican painter, writing that "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."
In the essay, Madonna explores her own personal and professional life by decade - at 25, 35, 45 and 55, and examines the reaction to her interest in Kabbalah, the mystical Jewish discipline - although she wrote that she's now studying the Quran.
She also addressed the furor surrounding her adoption of two children from Africa.
"This was an eye-opening experience," she wrote of the criticism and speculation surrounding her adoption of her son, David Banda. "A real low point in my life. I could get my head around people giving me a hard time for simulating masturbation onstage or publishing my 'Sex' book, even kissing Britney Spears at an awards show, but trying to save a child's life was not something I thought I would be punished for. Friends tried to cheer me up by telling me to think of it all as labor pains that we all have to go through when we give birth. This was vaguely comforting. In any case, I got through it. I survived."
The star also adopted a daughter, Mercy James, from Africa. She has two older children - daughter Lourdes and son Rocco.
"I have been blessed with four amazing children. I try to teach them to think outside the box. To be daring. To choose to do things because they are the right thing to do, not because everybody else is doing them," she wrote, adding that the idea of being daring has "become the norm" for her.