You might be surprised at some of the answers.
They range from guilty pleasures close to home (the domestic goddess Donna Reed) to Olympian heroines of ancient times (the Greek goddess Athena).
Check out the first answers here; we'll be publishing more responses all week.
I wish I could say that I fantasized about growing up to be Billy Jean King or Eleanor Roosevelt or an English teacher like Molly Peacock, the wonderful poet, who taught me in 7th grade. My mom was a social worker, and though I barely understood what that meant, I knew she was helping people for no money. While her life's work is so impressive to me now, at the time she was just my mom who was cranky and brought us take-out chicken on her late days in the Bronx.
The truth is that I wanted to be Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon. My sister got mono when she was about 10 and I was 8, and my parents rented a Betamax so that she could watch movies while she was sick. A babysitter brought home The Blue Lagoon, and we watched it over and over again. I'm not sure why I was so mesmerized by it, and by her. Maybe part of it was the idyllic setting, and her being stranded with Christopher Atkins. But the most compelling part for me was how tan she was. That's right, I really wanted to be tan all the time. Soon enough, this segued into wanting to become an actress.
I guess it's strange, then, that many years later, Brooke's memoir about her post-partum depression, Down Came the Rain, pretty much saved my life. When my daughter was about six months old, and I was out of the woods, I approached Brooke, whom I'd never met, at a fashion party. I told her how harrowing the shame was, and how if it hadn't been for her book, I wasn't sure I would have been able to accept what had happened to me. I remember hurrying down the steps of the Met after our talk, eager to get home to my husband and baby, and feeling a deep sense of peace and closure now that I'd finally been able to thank Brooke Shields.
Even while training in gymnastics, I wanted to someday become an undercover FBI agent. I was always intrigued by criminal law and criminal justice. My mom was a big fan of Nancy Drew, so we had every book from the series around the house. I also remember being intrigued by the Jodie Foster character in The Silence of the Lambs (I watched a lot of scary movies back then, even though I avoid them today), and thinking that could be me someday.
It wasn't an ambition I spoke about to anyone—I didn't feel like I could go up to my teachers and tell them I wanted to become a secret agent. Eventually I opened up to my Olympic teammates, and we all joked that maybe my newfound fame would be a perfect cover: No one would suspect that the gold medalist gymnast was an undercover agent! Years later, in my 20s, I befriended two men sitting next to me on a plane who turned out to be FBI agents. I told them my plan, and they laughed. Apparently the cover story my teammates and I had forged would never work; I was already too familiar a face, they said, to make it as an undercover agent. Who knew a gold medal could hold you back from your dreams?
I really wanted to be Wonder Woman.