Jamie Lee Curtis Gets Real
The first thing I notice is her hair. When she greets me at the door of her Santa Monica home one overcast afternoon, Jamie Lee Curtis’s hair is cropped, as it has been for as long as anyone can remember. But instead of the golden brown she maintained for years with the help of a colorist, it is now mostly silver and 100 percent chemical-free. At 47, this actress turned children’s book author makes no secret of her desire to get real. Her hair is only the latest sign of how well she’s succeeding.
Four years ago, Curtis and I collaborated on a piece for More that set off a tidal wave of publicity. The article was titled "True Thighs" — a twist on the title of Curtis’s 1994 movie True Lies — and in it, Curtis did what actresses almost never do: She admitted her flaws. In the accompanying photographs, the woman who once starred as an aerobics instructor with a Barbie doll silhouette in a film titled Perfect, revealed she was anything but. Wearing unflattering spandex underwear and not a dab of makeup, Curtis looked straight into the camera, a big smile on her face, her midriff pooching slightly. Tired of the hype, she said, she wanted to reveal herself, thighs and all.
The article was pegged to the publication of her fifth book for children, I’m Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem, a funny, wise primer on the importance of being your own biggest fan. But Curtis’s decision to expose herself was more than a publicity stunt. It was an earnest attempt to remove herself from the swirl of celebrity that makes so many women — including Curtis — feel they can’t measure up.
This time when we sit down in the dining room of the home she shares with her husband, actor-director Christopher Guest, and their 10-year-old son, Tommy (their older daughter, Annie, is away at college), the occasion is Curtis’s seventh book, Is There Really a Human Race?, which hits stores this month. Before we get started, I have something for her: a copy of a pricey college textbook, The Meanings of Dress, in which the 2002 More article is reprinted. I assume she has seen the book before, but flipping to the page that shows the photos of her, she’s clearly stunned. I realize that for all the accolades she has won as an actress and as a best-selling author, Curtis is still surprised to discover that she has been taken seriously.
The Impact of Curtis in Spandex
Curtis: Wow, Amy! Wow! Well, that makes me feel like this may have some life. This has some legs.
Wallace: It does indeed. It has some thighs.
Curtis: It has some big old chunk thighs.
Wallace: So, the last time we met, you decided to take on the oppression of body image and, through your own example, debunk it. The reaction was astounding. Tell me about the aftermath for you.
Curtis: The piece was a way of making amends, of saying, "I’m sorry I made you feel less than. Because I am just like you." That was my goal. I knew that on some level, women who had struggled with that would appreciate it. I did not anticipate for a second the bigger reaction to it and the continuing reaction to it. It turns out it will probably be the single biggest contribution I may ever make as a public figure.
Wallace: Do people still mention it to you?
Curtis: Probably once a week. Just today, in the market, somebody came up and said it was important. Because I think it gave them a bit of permission to be who they are.
By the way, I do Pilates, I do yoga, I exercise, I eat very carefully. I’m not saying obesity or lack of exercise is fine. I’m saying, "This is what I look like and I do that." I’ve had to accept that part of me. I have a name for my middle here. [Pats her tummy] Her name is Midge. When I do Pilates, we talk about Midge. "Pull in Midge."
Some critics misunderstood the More article a little bit. They thought of it as being psychobabble — analysis-driven action. But it had nothing to do with some need on my part to expose. That photo shoot was tied to my book about self-esteem. How can I sell a book about self-esteem if I’m not willing to acknowledge that I too have self-esteem issues?