Martha and I settle into her kitchen—at the very table where she and a few friends sat in 1988 to dream up her media empire. It is here that I discover the unexpected Martha—the real woman behind the icon of good taste.
Oprah: Don't you think it's amazing what you have become: Martha Stewart, the icon of good taste? I was just with a bunch of women friends, and we were talking about where women were 25, 35, 55, 105 years ago—and what your life has become based on baking cookies, basically.
Martha Stewart: I think baking cookies is equal to Queen Victoria running an empire. There's no difference in how seriously you take the job, how seriously you approach your whole life. That's why when people say, "Are you a feminist?" I say, "No, I'm not." I believe in a man and a woman being equal. I really believe that we can do anything we set our minds to. Sometimes that's a struggle; it's harder than it should be, and I think I have paid my dues. I certainly have worked extremely hard, and I've succeeded nicely.
O: More than nicely.
MS: It's very nice. But I'm not going to pat myself on the back and say, "You've really done it, girl," because I [still] work hard. Nobody knows better than I how many hours a day I put in. Today I got up at 4 a.m. to write two [newspaper] columns. I knew that you were coming, but I didn't bake you a cake because you and I don't need a cake! But I went to the gym, did work with my assistant and did another interview. So I did a lot of work today already, and it's important to me to be rewarded for that work. If I work that hard, I'd better have results. And that's how I've always approached my jobs. There had better be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, because [getting there] is really hard.
O: So what does the payoff need to be for you?
MS: Ease of living. A feeling that I can write a check without worrying, choking or fretting.
O: Are you a perfectionist, or is that just the perception the world has of you?
MS: I'm a maniacal perfectionist. And if I weren't, I wouldn't have this company.
O: So being seen as a perfectionist is not a bad rap?
MS: It's the best rap! Nobody's going to fault me for that. I have proven that being a perfectionist can be profitable and admirable when creating content across the board: in television, books, newspapers, radio, videos.
MS: Yes. All that content is impeccable. And that's what I would want to buy.
O: So all of this is what you intended it to be?
MS: Oh, yeah.
O: Isn't it wonderful to own yourself?
MS: It's a nice feeling, and I'm proud of it.
O: When did you start to take ownership of your life?
MS: In high school. I knew I would be able to put myself through college. I paid for college, and I got scholarships.
O: And you paid for it by modeling?
O: This month in O, we're focusing on the power of our thoughts to change our lives. How has the way you think about yourself brought you to this point in your life?
MS: I can almost bend steel with my mind. I can bend anything if I try hard enough. I can make myself do almost anything. But you can get too strong like that, so you have to be careful. You have to temper your strength. You're like that, Oprah, I know you are. And as an actress, you can really do that.
O: Yes, it's the ability to focus that gives you the power.
MS: It's putting your brain behind anything and making it happen.
O: Do you believe that as a woman thinketh, so she is?
MS: Yes. And it's great. But you have to temper it.
O: Is that because you know how strong you are?
MS: Oh, yeah.
O: Do you think you are stronger than you need to be?
MS: I'm even physically stronger than I have to be.
O: Everybody acknowledges you as the queen of exterior things. Do you have an inner life? Do you meditate?
MS: No, I don't meditate. I can't. I'm too hyperactive. But I do like to take treks [on Mount Everest, in the Amazon and in Acadia National Park, which is close to my home in Maine]. And those long treks are a kind of meditation.
O: So you use activity to give back to yourself?
MS: I probably think more about nature than I think about myself.
MS: I think about other things and people more than I think of myself. I don't like to think about myself a lot. If I think about myself, I'll get selfish. And I don't want to be selfish.
O: So you nurture your spirit by being outdoors?
MS: Through nature. And through other creatures—animals. That gives me a lot of pleasure.
O: You've said that building your company is one of your greatest accomplishments. But when you think about your attributes and what you have to offer, what are you most proud of?
MS: Giving information that will help everybody live better. That's a teacher's dream—to accumulate information and disperse it in a form that allows people to choose the way they're going to use it. That's what I think I do best.