For this new column inside the September issue of InStyle, on newsstands now, we partnered with the nonprofit organization I Am That Girl. We want to chat frankly with celebrities about issues affecting women’s self-esteem. This month Lea Michele, author of the new book You First, sounds off on body image, the pressure to fit in, and why she sometimes needs alligator skin to get through the comments section of Instagram. She spoke with I Am That Girl co-founder Emily Greener.
If your mirror could talk back to you, what would you program it to say?
I don’t really give my mirror enough time, you know? It’s not about that for me really. Any time I leave my house, I never wear makeup. Any paparazzi picture you see me in, unless I’m coming out of an event, I’m not wearing makeup. I don’t do my hair, it’s usually up in a bun. And I’m in my workout clothes. So looking in the mirror is really not an everyday thing for me. My mirror would probably say, “You’re doing good.” That’s it.
How does your style reflect who you are?
My style reflects who I am because I basically wear workout clothes every single day. I really feel that I live a very healthy lifestyle, so I always like to have workout clothes on because I’m very active. I get up at sometimes 4 in the morning, or I’m coming home at 4 AM from work, so I need to be in stuff that’s comfortable and I can wear while I’m rehearsing scenes or while I’m getting my hair and makeup done. That’s my day-to-day lifestyle.
What is your greatest invisible accessory?
My father always told me just be happy, and growing up it would frustrate me because when I was a teenager I’d say, “You don’t know what I’m going through, Dad!” But that was just his constant advice growing up. There was always a lot of laughter in my house, and so for me, my invisible accessory would be that I always find a way to find humor, or to just find happiness in the moment. I know that might feel like the last thing you want to do sometimes, but I just keep that in my back pocket and that really does work.
What is the best compliment anyone has ever given you?
Telling me that I look healthy. We women are constantly saying things to each other like, “Oh my god, you look good! Did you lose weight?” For me, someone saying, “Wow, you seem healthy—your skin is glowing!” is a better compliment. I’m very health-conscious but not in a calorie-counting kind of way. I love hiking, yoga, meditation, green juice. I see how it affects my hair and skin: I don’t look as tired as I used to, and I have more energy. As women, many of us invest a lot of energy in trying to fit in.
Do you ever struggle with [feelings of insecurity or selfdoubt]?
Every day. Obviously there are areas in my life where I feel like I don’t have to worry about fitting in: with my family, with my friends, in my daily routine. But at the end of the day, I am a girl from the Bronx. I did musical theater my whole life before moving out to L.A. seven years ago and my life completely changed. And I still view myself as this girl from New York who’s just in this town and some people know my name, and it’s kind of crazy. Going to an event, or going to a red carpet, I’ll definitely feel like, “Do I belong here? Do I fit in here? Do people like me?” All of those things go through my head, but briefly. I think that it’s completely normal and natural for everybody to have these feelings. The best thing we can do when they happen is to decide how long they can stay, and that’s when we can take control of ourselves and over our feelings. And so even if those things go through me, I don’t let them overwhelm me and I don’t let them control me. I try to breathe it out, put a smile on my face, and before I know it, I’m inside having the greatest time.
Who has been your biggest inspiration in terms of self-worth and confidence?
My good friend Kate Hudson. She’s such an incredibly strong and beautiful girl on the inside and out. She is the kind of person who will just start dancing in the middle of the street, singing at the top of her lungs. She is an amazing role model: I really admire her carefree attitude and confidence.
How would you define confidence?
Not caring what anyone else has to say about you.
What do you do to stay focused on who you are in a world obsessed with what you do?
I try not to read all the negative comments online. I love Instagram, but it does create this sort of blurred line between my public and private self. Social media opens the door to your life, so everyone thinks they know you. I’m extremely open with my fans, and I love sharing. At the same time, being a celebrity is weird. People feel like they have the right to critique how you should look, how you should be. The comments can be brutal; there is no understanding that I am a real person, not just a character. Thankfully, I have a strong backbone.
On the days you’re not feeling awesome, how do you deal?
Again, with acceptance of those feelings. I grew up with really amazing values and really incredible self-worth and self love. I want [my parents] to write down every single thing that they did so I can just copy it completely to my children. One of my favorite things that my mother does is, I could be feeling any way—sad or angry or whatever—and she just always let me be however I needed to be. Knowing that I could feel however I needed to feel made me feel better and made me feel better quicker. And I’ll also include that on those days, for whatever reason, my mother would always make me scrambled eggs with cheese and toast. There would definitely be some sort of reality TV situation and a nice bath in the evening.
What’s your biggest fear?
The reality is that I’ve been through a lot in my life, and I definitely have a strength in me that I feel is pretty darn impenetrable. So my fears are just really psycho, gnarly, crazy fears that are so random. I know I could get pretty deep, but I feel like at the end of the day, there’s a lot that I can handle. Still, if you put me in water at night or in a car with more than four people, I definitely would freak out.
What lights you up from the inside out?
Is it really bad that the first that comes to mind is food? [Laughs] I would honestly say it’s the combination of sitting and eating food with my family. That makes me so happy. Just being able to sit around a table, cook delicious food, and then eat it and laugh and drink wine. I’m Italian. I love pasta. I love cheese. I love red wine. I love bread. And 90 percent of my life is spent eating well and taking care of myself and that food generally makes me light up from the inside, but the foundation of that is my family and that Italian food. I could not be happier.
If you could tell every girl in the world one thing, what would it be?
No one knows you better than you. Except maybe your mother.
Your first book, Brunette Ambition, was a New York Times best seller. You have just written your second book, You First. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
It’s a journal-slash-workbook designed to help women achieve their goals. Journaling has helped me so much in my career. It gave me a safe space where I could write about my dreams without anyone telling me what I could or couldn’t do. I still have all these old notebooks with me writing about wanting to get a TV show. This was back when people were telling me I wasn’t pretty enough and I needed a nose job and I would never play the pretty girl. But I didn’t care. I wrote it down, and I made that s— happen.
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