Q&A with Teri Hatcher
The Desperate Housewives actress opens up about why beauty isn't defined by a dress size, what she learned from her mother about aging and how women can stop criticizing—and start embracing—themselves.
Q: What is your definition of beauty?
A: Beauty is a combination of qualities. I don't think one can deny that certain people or things feel aesthetically pleasing. But without an equally pleasing being behind that form, there is no beauty there.
Q: When do you feel most beautiful?
A: When I'm my most healthy. And by that, I mean eating right, exercising, lifting weights and also sleeping well, experiencing joy, seeing friends, camping, hiking, laughing. When that combination is in balance, I feel strong, focused, happy and definitely my most beautiful. It is certainly not based on a scale or a dress size.
A: When you look in the mirror, your "appearance," that outer you, is what you see first. We are bombarded with and marketed an "anti-aging" message that doesn't focus on anything but how to either stop or reverse the "damage" life has done to you. There are no ads that say, "Spread this cream on your body and be a beautiful human being." "Wear this girdle to squeeze away your short temper and jealous acts." We are groomed to be "prettier than her" or "not as pretty as her." There is no message to teach us to stop comparing and just deal with ourselves. There are only few voices out there teaching self-acceptance. Acceptance is different than apathy. It is important to strive to be your best self, your healthiest, most productive, joyful self. But that is going to be a different answer to everyone. There is no "one right look" for that. So it's a harder thing to sell.
Changing what you don't like about yourself can be empowering, and that's not a bad thing. Feeling secure enough to own what is weak and missing from either your body, mind or spirit and to commit to action to change it is a good thing. Feeling not good enough or "less than" is not a good thing. And spending energy trying to change in order to feel like your innate human value is higher is an endless trap. That esteem we women look for is not going to be in a bottle of cream; it's going to have to come from inside.
Q: How can women stop criticizing—and start embracing—themselves?
A: Well, one way to do that quickly is to get outside of your daily world. Do something different, like donate some time at a school or shelter that is not a part of your regular community activities. Bringing new people and perspectives into your life while you are giving back is a quick way to build up good feelings and feedback about yourself. When you are helping a needy child with homework or reading to a lonely person stuck in a hospital, you are not thinking about how many wrinkles you have. On a daily basis, we need to work hard to acknowledge that it's a total waste of energy to be mean to ourselves, to continually criticize. If you do want to change something, then take that energy and work toward changing it. If you don't need to change anything, then choose to be kind to you. Role model that behavior to your children and the other women in your life. Show, actually demonstrate, that it's okay to put yourself first sometimes. That your value is equal to anyone else in your family.
A: I wish the circumstances of my childhood had allowed me to think that I was inherently good. That my being, that the essence of me was good. Children need to have experiences that leave them with a great sense of trust in that they are good, capable, talented, smart, valued people. That they have hope and are inspired to affect the world in a positive way. If they have that, then beauty and the perception of beauty in themselves and others will follow. If you are confident, then you can be beautiful no matter what you look like. If you are not confident, you won't be beautiful to yourself no matter what you look like.
Q: What messages do you think should be communicated by the media?
A: I think first and foremost we should be managing our expectations. We can't hope to live to be 100 years old but look 30 doing it. We need to hear that beauty is encapsulated in the whole of a being, not just a flawless, perfect moment captured for the cover of a magazine.
Q: Do you see any positive examples being put out there?
A: Well, Oprah of course. And Dove tried a campaign with different-aged women of all walks of life. I applaud them for exploring that new ground. I have no connection to that company, nor do I know if it was "successful." We've spent decades being sold on an idea of perfection equaling beauty. It will take more than one random campaign to shift that perspective.
A: This is interesting to me. I love my mom, let me start there. She's a brave woman who's done the best she could with the tools supplied growing up motherless in a poor area of Chicago in 1940. She is 75, and she has never put herself first. To a fault, she has taken care of everyone else in her life before her. I think concentrating on controlling everything around her has an illusion of creating safety. But that left her little time or energy to choose herself. Therefore, she's spent 40 years of not eating right, not exercising, not resting or finding joy beyond ironing till 1 a.m. with a glass of wine. Like many, she's had an emotional connection to food, junk food, and now struggles with joint and muscle issues that make it painful to get around.
My mom is a beautiful woman. I've always thought this even though she never acted like she was or even believed she was. But the truth is, she has lovely skin and deep brown eyes and when a joyous occasion compels it out, her smile and is glorious and honest. I wish with all my heart that she had spent time taking care of her health, and I'm glad she is doing that now. She's eating healthier and getting on a reasonable exercise program. It's never too late. Recently she told me she wants to get her "chin done." Aging women collectively seem to hate their necks, that's a fact. When I asked her why? She said—and I think this is brilliant—she said: "I don't feel 75. I don't want to look it." So maybe that's at the core of some of our aging issues too. We are aging, we can't stop it, stopping it means death, but inside we still remember our first kiss, our first raise at work, our sexy honeymoons. We don't feel ourselves old, so we don't want to look that way either. I try with conscious effort to take care of myself so my daughter sees the value in her taking care of herself. I want to teach my daughter that she is worthwhile by feeling worthwhile myself.
A: I'm not in great shape now. People think if you're thin you're in shape. Not true. I have been in better health and am working to get back to that place. It's been a difficult year to make exercise a priority. Try to find something you enjoy so you can stick to it. Reward your accomplishments; don't punish your slipups.
Q: What are your top three tips for looking and feeling healthy?
A: Water, sleep, laughter. (Closely followed by exercise, travel, love and organic vegetables, fruits and protein.)
Teri talks to Oprah about aging, beauty and her inspiring Facebook photos
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