Tragic Details About Joanna Gaines

To many people, Joanna Gaines appears to be living the American dream alongside her husband, Chip, and her five children. Joanna, who is half-Korean, grew up in Kansas and Texas, and met her husband-to-be in college at Baylor University, where Joanna got a degree in communications. Although being an HGTV star wasn't exactly her plan, it's a role that she took on deftly. Her rise to fame began with HGTV's 2013 hit show "Fixer Upper," and skyrocketed as she and Chip built the Magnolia empire. 

One of the most impressive things about Joanna is her ability to juggle motherhood, TV, and what appear to be endless jobs and businesses, from writing books to opening restaurants. While Joanna's life seems pretty charmed and successful from the outside, that doesn't mean she hasn't faced hardships. Below, we'll discuss some tragic details about Joanna Gaines, from the bullying she endured to the backlash she faced from the media.

Joanna Gaines was teased in school

Looking at Joanna Gaines — a mother to five kids, the author of eight books, the owner of several businesses, and, oh, yeah, a reality TV star, too — one wouldn't think that she faced much bullying. She's known to be stylish, personable, smart, and accomplished — but things weren't always this way.

Like many other self-conscious kids and teens, Joanna tried hard to fit in. "I spent my younger years trying to fit in as best I could, dressing the way the other girls dressed," Joanna shared of her school years to Katie Couric Media. Though she tried to be like everyone else, she was still made fun of, but tried to cope by "acting as though I didn't get their jokes about my slanted eyes or hear their whispers when I'd opt for rice instead of fries in the cafeteria line." Other kids made fun of Joanna's appearance and the fact that she was half-Korean; in the rural South, it's likely Joanna didn't look like most of the other kids. She even went as far as to lie about her middle name: She told her classmates "my middle name was Ann because it sounded more American than Lea," she shared.

The bullying she faced made her feel like she wasn't good enough

Although the bullying eventually stopped, Joanna Gaines internalized the things that kids said to her when she was younger, and it continued to affect her confidence. She shared with Darling, "I let that [bullying] build up throughout the years. I was never completely confident in my skin." She deduced that, because other kids made her feel like she was different, she felt that "the person I was made to be wasn't good enough, that I'd have to learn to push aside the part of my family's history that didn't seem like it fit into this world" (via Katie Couric Media).

This insecurity reared its head when Joanna moved to Texas in high school. "My sophomore year I was the new kid at a high school in Texas and I had never been a part of a school that big," she said. When it came time for her to eat lunch at her new school, she looked into the cafeteria full of other kids — and bolted. "I just did not know what to do with myself," she told Darling. "So I literally walked in the lunchroom and walked out and went into the bathroom. My fear and my insecurities just took over and I felt like I'd way rather sit in the stall than get rejected."

She learned to hide half of who she was

After feeling repeatedly rejected for her Korean heritage, Joanna Gaines said that she just began hiding that side of herself altogether. "I got older, and eventually the teasing stopped, but by then I'd spent so many years hiding half of who I was from a world I thought wasn't interested that somewhat subconsciously I'd forgotten it was ever a part of me to begin with," she recalled to Katie Couric Media.

But she couldn't hide who she was forever — and she didn't want to. As she has gotten older, Joanna has learned to embrace her identity and help others do the same; this is clear in many interviews she's done, as well as in her memoir, "The Stories We Tell." She told Darling, "It's in those hidden places of the past where there are treasures and gifts we need to share with others. Our stories are powerful and in those raw and dark places there is light ... and that light needs to shine."

She faced homesickness when she moved to New York City

For some people, moving to New York City represents the ultimate way of finding yourself. After all, New York is known for its exciting and creative culture as much as it's known for its hustle and bustle. When Joanna Gaines moved to New York while she was in college, she had a bittersweet experience.

She describes visiting Koreatown and feeling a sense of familiarity: "New York is a mosaic of races, personalities, and cultures. I stepped into that city as a twenty-one-year-old and I'd never seen so many people who looked like me," she told Katie Couric Media. But on the other side of the coin, she added, "I'd also never been so homesick." Koreatown allowed Joanna to explore her "growing interest in the rich culture" she found there, but it also reminded her of her mom, leading her to miss her. 

On her Instagram, Joanna reflects on this time in her life, sharing, "I'd just moved to NYC and was missing home, and everything about these streets — the food, the smells, the language—reminded me of my mom. It was the first time I can remember truly feeling connected to a culture I grew up believing I needed to hide. It was beautiful to watch people live out the fullness of their story. Finally, I was seeing the beauty of being unique and realized that what made me different was actually the best part about me."

She felt the need to apologize to her mom for 'living in halfness'

Joanna Gaines has been candid about her early struggles to accept her identity, particularly her Korean heritage. This difficulty in accepting oneself and fitting in appears to be a somewhat common experience for multiracial individuals, with studies showing that about 1 in 8 multiracial people sometimes feel like an outsider due to their multiracial background, as reported by Pew Research.

However, as Joanna learned to embrace herself, she realized that she felt sadness over rejecting her Korean identity, as she feels that she was also rejecting her mother, who is Korean. "I always wanted to say I was sorry, for living in halfness, and not fully embracing the most beautiful thing about myself which was you, the culture that was half of me as a Korean little girl, as a Korean teenager, as a Korean woman. That I felt that guilt and that regret," she shared on her podcast, "The Stories We Tell," with her mom.

She has faced backlash from the media

Joanna and Chip Gaines have been in the middle of quite a few controversies. The first thing to know about them is that they're devout Christians; though they don't speak publicly about their faith often, they have mentioned it a few times, such as in this interview with the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. One of the biggest scandals surrounding the couple broke out in 2016 when it was revealed that Gaines' pastor does not support same-sex marriage but does support conversion therapy. Yikes.

HGTV quickly released a statement after a story about the Gaines' questionable beliefs came out, claiming that they don't discriminate against anyone on their shows. But that statement doesn't change the fact that the pair has never worked with a same-sex couple on any of their shows. To make matters worse, the couple donated $1,000 to Chip's sister's Texas school board campaign in 2021, just a few months before Chip's sister denounced teaching critical race theory.

These scandals have led some people to call the Gaines' racist and homophobic; while that may not be exactly the case, it's unquestionable that the two are not particularly progressive politically. In any case, the media backlash has been tough to cope with. "The accusations that get thrown at you, like you're a racist or you don't like people in the LGBTQ community, that's the stuff that really eats my lunch — because it's so far from who we really are," Joanna told The Hollywood Reporter.

Her relationship with Chip hasn't always been smooth sailing

One of the best parts of "Fixer Upper" is the chemistry between Chip and Joanna Gaines — Chip making endless dad jokes, and Joanna shooting each one down with a chuckle and an eye roll. Having been married for over twenty years, it makes sense that the two just get each other. But things haven't always been easy for the couple. According to Joanna, they have "experienced a little bit of all of it" in their relationship: "Losing a loved one. Shifts in friendships. Bills we couldn't pay. Moments where our hearts were broken. Times when all hope felt lost and circumstances were out of our control. When all I could think to do was lay facedown on the floor in surrender," she wrote on their blog, Magnolia.

Especially at the beginning of their marriage, the couple faced challenges due to stress and life changes. "We pretty quickly had to say, 'We're either going to go at each other and blow this thing up, you and I trying to fight each other about every nook and cranny, or we can figure out how to come together as a team,'" Chip shared to People.

But the couple never let the hurdles eclipse the bigger picture. On her blog, Joanna mused, "Sometimes, in order to move forward, we have to surrender ourselves to the promise of growth that follows the fall."

Joanna Gaines was ready to leave Chip in the early days of their relationship

Though Chip and Joanna have shared some small challenges they've faced in their marriage, they've kept many of their issues private. However, we do know that, in the beginning of their relationship, there was one situation that nearly led to the end. In Chip's book, "Capital Gaines," he reflected on a time in his mid-twenties when he decided to take a three-month-long trip to Mexico to immerse himself in the culture and learn the language. Chip going away on this adventure meant that Joanna would have to take over Chip's landscaping, laundry, and house rental businesses, all of which Chip was running on his own, and in his own way. "I was pretty much self-taught in all my operating procedures as a business owner," he said in the book.

Chip's lack of organization and unconventional business practices put Joanna in an uncomfortable spot. Chip wrote in his book that on a long-distance phone call, Joanna yelled at him, "Your business is a joke!' All these people are coming to my dad's shop demanding to be paid, and there's no money! Lucky for you, your dad is bailing your sorry butt out."

Joanna was so done with the situation that she offered Chip an ultimatum: "You have three days to get back to Texas, or this relationship is over," she reportedly said. Chip made the wise decision to rush home, and fortunately was able to get the financial issues figured out and get Joanna out of the mess.

Changing family dynamics feel like loss for Joanna Gaines

Joanna and Chip Gaines have five children, from toddlers to young adults. Joanna is outspoken about her love for her children and the way motherhood has allowed her to grow and change; on her Twitter, she wrote, "In so many ways, motherhood has been the greatest teacher. My kids pull things out of me yet to be uncovered, and in the good AND hard, there's so much beauty to be found there."

But Joanna has also struggled to accept that her children will all grow up and create their own lives. When her oldest son, Drake, got his license, Joanna burst into tears. "It hurt to watch my son leave in such an obvious display of what it looks like to grow out of us," she wrote in her book, "The Stories We Tell." And when Drake left for college, she felt a similar feeling of grief: "Soon, our oldest son, Drake, will be leaving home for college. In the grand scheme of heartbreaking things, this one comes with a lot of gratitude and excitement. But still, my first child is moving away, and our family dynamic will change because of it, and that can feel like a loss of its own," she wrote in Magnolia. "I catch glimpses now of what that life will look like and wonder if — or how many times — that might bring me to the floor," she added.

She struggles with perfectionism

When life gets hard, we tend to grasp for things that we feel we have control over. If we're going through a hard breakup, we may find comfort in throwing ourselves into our jobs; if we're having a conflict with a family member, we may restructure our calendars to spend more time with friends.

For Joanna Gaines, the need to feel in control was enmeshed with her career. In Joanna's memoir, she shared that her anxiety was high at times: "I was fearing a whole lot of things: failure, our future, what people would think," she wrote in "The Stories We Tell." Because she couldn't just make the fear and anxiety disappear, she fixated on controlling her life's outward appearance to the public. But this effort to feel in control just made the anxiety worse. "I realized that I'd never felt so isolated, so alone, than when I was obsessing over making something go perfectly," she shared. Understandably, this charade could only go on for so long: "I was exhausted by my own obsession with trying to hide our reality and keeping all the balls in the air," she said.

Eventually, Joanna decided to become more candid, and writing her memoir — sharing her truth, being vulnerable, and releasing control of others' perception of her — aided in her healing. "There's something about that openness that leads to connection, which I feel like we're all wanting," she told Today.

She felt loved but unworthy

In her Magnolia blog, Joanna shared that, as she reflected on her life, she felt like she needed to catch her breath and take a good, hard look at her life. "I found myself jotting down memories and stories from my past, journaling about things I was still, years later, working through. Things had gotten blurry. I'd gotten blurry," she said. "The past 20 years have been a heck of a ride, but I knew I couldn't keep going the way I have. It's hard to explain how I was feeling. I was grateful beyond measure, but exhausted. Loved, but feeling unworthy. Full, but running on empty," she said. "And because my world kept me busy, I could still feel the wheels of my life humming. What became harder to tell is where they should be headed."

Joanna continued to reflect upon her life and how she knew she needed to make some changes. Writing her book, "The Stories We Tell," allowed her to refocus on her priorities — and heal old wounds. "I ended up discovering a lot in my story: clarity, healing, deeper truths I didn't know I could get to. But mostly, these pages brought me back to myself, back to those tender little moments I thought I'd lost. In writing down my story, I had the chance to relive some of the very best chapters of my life," she said.