“When you’re one of the ‘hot girls’ of the moment, you’re making choices that define you. I was defined first by choosing to go on hiatus, and then I was very quickly defined by pregnancies and babies.”

By Jennifer Garner, as told to Laura Brown
Aug 06, 2019 @ 8:00 am
Jennifer Garner in Nili Lotan top. Max Mara trousers. Anita Ko jewelry. Photo by Emman Montalvan 

My first InStyle cover was in 2004. I cut my bangs for the shoot in Hawaii, which was not very nice because I was in the middle of an Alias episode. I came back to L.A., and I was like, “Oh, I have bangs now.” Rude! Unprofessional! But I really love that young girl on the cover. Bless her buttons. I had been working professionally in the industry for 11 years, and I thought, “Wow, I have been through some things.” I thought I’d been around the block. Fifteen years later I realize, “My god, I hadn’t even been through anything bad yet.” My life is so intact, and I have so much respect for how fragile that is.

I feel a lot less stressed about the industry and my place in it now than I used to. When you’re one of the “hot girls” of the moment, you’re making choices that define you. I was defined first by choosing to go on hiatus, and then I was very quickly defined by pregnancies and babies. Now my choices are defined by different things. I don’t have the offers coming at me that I had during that first cover, but I know that what does come my way is because someone really wants to see me take a shot at a role.

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Early on in my career I realized I was attracted to projects that weren’t your run-of-the-mill movies. There were a ton of big hits that I would have loved to have done, but those scripts weren’t coming to me. I look at all six of my InStyle covers, and I was promoting films like Butter, The Kingdom, Catch and Release, and The Odd Life of Timothy Green. They’re movies that no one has heard of. They’re not big blockbusters or Oscar movies. But everyone who did see them, a combined total of 25 people, really loved them. They’re all pretty quirky—even 13 Going on 30 was a quirky choice to make at the time; it wasn’t a hot script being pursued by many people — and they all just require accepting the world from a different angle. That common thread makes me realize that I know myself. I am who I am.

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I’ve always pursued other interests outside of acting too. In 2008 I started working for Save the Children to help kids growing up poor in rural America. I thought I’d be going to school-age programs, but Mark Shriver — who’s been my boss there for 11 years — said, “If you want to help kids growing up poor, you have to help them starting at birth.” So I got involved in early-childhood education, and I’ve learned so much about brain development. I wish I could go back to do it all again with my kids and fix whatever I’m sure I screwed up. [laughs]

It’s so gnarly to be a kid now. I guard my kids’ privacy as much as I possibly can, and I’ve never posted pictures of them on Instagram. I used to refuse to say their names during interviews — but everyone knows their names! I would just say “my eldest,” which I still do out of habit a lot. I’m sure there are times my kids would really love to see themselves reflected on my social media in a fun way and to have the attention they would get from that. But I’ve fought too hard against it. It would feel hypocritical. There’s no implied judgment of people who do put their kids up there; I just don’t think most kids have been hounded in the way that mine were when they were little. We were completely hounded 24/7 for 10 solid years, and it changes you. You no longer take things like being able to go to your mailbox for granted. I even stopped going to the farmers market because I was being photographed there constantly. I realized, “I’m ruining the farmers market for everyone; this is selfish.” [laughs]

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I’m grateful I came up when I did and I didn’t have to deal with social media. It’s a whole other job. I know, cry me a river. But I’m glad we didn’t have the pressure on us that girls have now. I was such a baby about having to join [Instagram] — I kicked and screamed. Whatever I post has to feel authentic to me, like getting dressed for a red carpet. You’re in control of whatever you’re putting out there, and it’s got to be you. My stylist showed up today in something I could never pull off in my entire life — because I’m just not that cool — and she said, “Well, I would never bring it to you. I know you better than that.”

Close female friendships are everything to me. I’m still friends with the same people I was when I shot my InStyle covers. I’ve spoken to most of them in the last 48 hours. So I feel pretty lucky as far as the girlfriend thing is concerned. The few times I’ve been able to get together with groups of women thanks to #MeToo and Time’s Up, it’s been life-changing. I used to see Reese [Witherspoon] mainly because we have sons the same age. But she was really the only person in that kind of position in Hollywood that I could call. Now there are so many other women in the industry I can reach out to. Feeling like part of a whole instead of thinking “Oh my gosh, I’d better hold on to my spot as tightly as I can or we’ll all be subsumed” has been the hugest gift and the biggest game changer.

It’s important to find the beauty in everything, even when it’s hard. Looking back at my earlier InStyle cover shoots, especially the one [from 2005] when I was pregnant for the first time, I was naïvely confident that everything would be fine. I knew nothing, and I still know nothing. But now I know that I know nothing. And I’m comfortable with that.

How I'd describe myself:
In 2004: Optimistic, Empowered, Flat-stomached
Today: Optimistic, Humbled, Seeking wisdom, Grateful

Photographed by Emman Montalvan on July 1 in Malibu. Styling: Jill Lincoln & Jordan Johnson for The Wall Group. Hair: Bridget Brager for The Wall Group. Makeup: Kara Yoshimoto Bua for Starworks Artists. Manicure: Hang Nguyen for Nailing Hollywood. Location: Nobu Ryokan Malibu.

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