Molly Ringwald: On Growing Up, Growing Older, and Growing Confident

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Every once in a while, you get lucky in life. Like, you know, despite billboards proclaiming the opposite, the world doesn't end. Or, even better, BlogHer makes it possible for you to meet, interview and photograph Molly Ringwald.

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Recently, my life got very lucky.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to do it. I've been a fan of Molly's for years, from the moment that I saw the movie The Breakfast Club, and my love for her only increased with Pretty In Pink. Her book, Getting the Pretty Back, was recently released in paperback, and I read it on my flight out to Los Angeles. It's quite lighthearted -- any book that begins with a recommendation for fondue for celebrating your 40th birthday would have to be -- but it's also surprisingly intimate, providing personal details of her life as a teenager, as a young woman in France, and as a wife and mother. It's a great read.

Molly met me at my hotel the next day and quite willingly answered all of my questions about her thoughts on getting older (note: Molly and I are close to the same age -- I'm 7 months older). The following is our conversation, for your enjoyment -- and I'm sure you're going to be as charmed by her as I was.

 

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Have you been writing a long time? Have you always been a writer?

Yes, actually, I've always written, ever since I was little; ever since I could basically write, I've been sort of making stories and writing journals. This was the first time I ever felt confident enough to put it out there, but it's something I've always done.

What sparked it? What made you decide, "I'm going to do this; I'm going to get published"?

You know, what's interesting is that I was going to write a book years before this one -- I would say about 10 years ago. I got a literary agent, and I was about to go forward with it, but then I decided it wasn't the book I wanted to write.

It was actually about -- well, I sort of allude to it in this book, I have a section about friends, and I talk about a late-term miscarriage -- and out of this horrible experience that happened to me, I became this incredible gardener.

Really?

Yes! And all my maternal energy went into this wonderful garden that I had on a rooftop in New York City. So my idea was to write about gardening through loss, you know, how you can sort of take one thing and sort of channel it into this other thing. But then, as I started to heal and start my life again after this tragedy, I found I didn't want to back there, I didn't want to write about it. But I still had an agent, and she was very committed to me! [Molly laughs.] And a couple of times a year, we'd get together and go out for lunch, and she'd say, "Soo ... how's it going? What are you thinking about?" And then she would say, "Don't worry about it -- you will know what you want to write about when the book comes to you."

And it's true: This whole book, this whole concept -- including the illustrations, everything -- sort of came to me as I was turning 40 years old. I had looked around and felt like there were no books out there that I wanted to read about this time in a woman's life.

You know, it's funny: I interviewed someone recently about this topic, and she described turning 40 -- which I thought was so brilliant -- as a "second adolescence." She said that there's this sort of awkwardness of going from one stage of your life to this next stage of your life. I was wondering -- since, you know, in many people's minds you're sort of "America's Teenager," that's how people have freeze-framed you, and you talk about this in the book -- did 40 feel like that for you? Like it was almost another adolescence?

In a way -- I was thinking about that the other day -- you know, there was a time when I was a teenager when I remember looking in the mirror and sort of being very hypercritical of myself and wishing I could change certain things. For one thing, I really didn't like my freckles when I was younger. I was always trying to sand them off my face.

Oh my gosh!

Yes! It turns out I was a pioneer in microdermabrasion -- I actually have a little patch on my nose where I don't have any freckles! Of course, I love my freckles now. But I still find myself sort of in this place again, where I'm very critical, and I have to make sure I kind of temper that and respect my body for where it has taken me and how strong I am. But yes, I do feel like there's something that hearkens back to being a teenager. I sort of had this blissful moment, somewhere in my thirties, where I was totally fine! [more laughter] It probably lasted all of 10 minutes, and now I'm right back to being a teenager.

 

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I know exactly what you mean. And actually, this same friend I was telling you about, she said that when she's out and about, she tends to scan and look for older women who she thinks are really living comfortably in their own skin. Is there anybody you can think of, that you think, "Oh, when I get there, that's the kind of older woman I'm going to be?"

There's a neighbor who lives about a block from where I live, and she used to be a professor at Harvard, and she lives by herself -- I think her husband passed away a few years ago -- and I look at her, and I think I want to talk to her. That's who I want to be around. I want to absorb as much information as I can from women -- and men! It's hard sometimes to have conversations with people a lot younger than me, you know, because I really do feel like I'm in a different phase in my life.

I would imagine that it's tougher to grow older in L.A. Is that true?

You know, I think it's just tougher in America. Everywhere. I mean, I think Hollywood just represents what is prevalent everywhere in the country. We're a lot different than other countries. I lived in France for quite a few years, and here there is definitely a different point of view on aging.

And your husband is Greek, right?

Yes, my husband is Greek.

Is it the same there?

Yes. I do think that America fetishizes youth a little bit. Well, not a little bit, a lot. And I think that definitely shows up in films. The fact that you have these 65-year-old men, and these 20-year-old wives, you know? It's like, where does that happen? [laughs] So yes, I wish it wasn't the case. But I tend to be optimistic, I feel we do have quite a few ... I mean, you know, look at Meryl Streep's career ...

... sure, or Susan Sarandon ...

... or Diane Keaton ...

... right ...

... you know, I think there are women who have sort of managed to somehow transcend that. I mean, look at Demi Moore, I think she looks better now than she ever looked ...

... yes, or Michelle Pfeiffer. There are some people who just grow ...

Yes! But I think that they are women who really do sort of focus less on the physical, and really devote themselves more to the mental. A friend of mine said that aging is sort of like a beautiful tree: When you get older, rather than the flowers, it becomes more about the roots, you know? The roots are really what's more important.

That's just an image that has really resonated with me.

To that end, you mentioned in your book that there's a difference between being "youthful" and "youth-obsessed." I loved that line -- could you talk a little bit more about that?

Yeah, it's true, whenever I look at women who are older and look good, there is a difference in the way they dress. And I don't believe that means you can't still be whimsical or flirty, but, you know, there comes a certain point where you have to say, like "the Daisy Duke cutoffs? NO." It's just not going to look good!

It's time to retire them!

[Laughs] Yeah! There are certain things that, you know, I can see look good on my daughter that are just never going to look good on me.

 

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How old is your daughter now?

My daughter's seven.

Seven. So's mine.

Really? It's a great age.

It's an awesome age.

It's really exciting, because she's right on the precipice of being too cool for school, but she's not there yet, you know?

Right!

There's still enough of the little goofball about her, and I'm just savoring it, every moment, because I know that that's going to change.

But don't you find ... like, my daughter came home one day from school not too long ago and said that a friend of hers said she was "sort of pretty" but would be "much prettier if she put blush on." At seven. I feel like I'm already teaching my daughter not just about self-image, but about youth, and age, and ... well, do you talk to your daughter about all that stuff?

I do. I try not to talk to her too much about the physical, because I think she just gets that everywhere, so whenever we talk about nutrition or anything, it's to make her body strong, it's to keep her brain healthy -- you know, she needs to eat her vegetables because that's what's going to keep her brain healthy -- and I neversay, "don't eat this, because it's going to make you fat."

Right.

You know, because she literally gets that enough from everywhere. And we can't control that. We can't control what they talk about at school, or we can't control what they talk about in her classes, you know, or these extra-curricular activities. I did pull her out of ballet, though, when she came home and said that her tummy was too big.

Yeah, no.

Right. I decided it wasn't worth it to me. I had wanted her to get some of the grace that comes with ballet, but I know too many ballet dancers who have to fight that body image self-loathing their entire lives, and I just won't do it.

Right.

I just can't do that to my daughter.

Of course.

So one of the things you also talked about in your book -- and I thought was really interesting, because of course, the Molly Ringwald of 16 years old was known for her lovely, quirky sense of style -- I was really sort of excited to find out that a lot of the characters' styles in your movies was actually you.

Yes.

And I was wondering how you did that! Because I know for me, as an immigrant from the Caribbean who moved back and forth to Houston, I did everything I could to fit in. How did you get so comfortable dressing the way you wanted -- and really, sort of trendsetting -- at such a young age?

You know, I think all I could say is that is that I grew up in California, in the 1970s, when blonde hair and blue eyes were it. And if you didn't have that, then you weren't beautiful. And that's just the message I got all the time. You know, it makes me think of that Toni Morisson novel, The Bluest Eye -- I desperately wanted blue eyes. And my sister and my brother both had blue eyes, and I didn't. And all the time, I kept thinking, I'm not pretty, or I'm not what I'm supposed to be, and then suddenly, it just occurred to me -- and I don't know where it came from, because nobody told it to me -- I just thought, if I can't be that, then I'm going to be myself, but I'm going to be the best self. You know?

Sure!

I'm going to make my hair redder! And I'm going to make my skin paler! I'm just going to take whatever I can, and just accentuate it. And I really think that once I did that, I sort of developed this sense of confidence, and it really completely changed the way that I was perceived, and the way that I perceived myself. Suddenly, I just became so confident in school that nobody could touch me, you know? And before that, I was sort of bullied, and I was very shy, and once I developed that sense of confidence, it just changed everything.

And in terms of the vintage style, I think that came because I was very into F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I would read those books, and I would fantasize about ...

... the Twenties ...

... yeah! And so, I would go into these vintage antique malls, and at the time you could still find really good stuff for nothing. My parents kept me on an allowance all during my teen years, so I had limited funds to play with, and I found I could really get a lot more stuff in vintage clothing stores than I could at the mall. And so I just started putting things together. And then the costume designers would just use my style and pull from it for the characters.

Which was really brilliant on their part.

As you're talking, I'm thinking about a woman in my book, and when I interviewed her, she said something I love: She said, "You know, I finally decided that I needed to create my own story and not allow other people to create it for me." That's kind of what it sounds like you did.

Yes, exactly.

Do you find you still do it as an adult?

Absolutely!

Do you still dress in the same way?

Yes, but I think it's a little bit more refined. I still really ... I love things from other eras, and now, believe it or not, the Eighties is an "era."

Sure.

I think about when I was growing up and how the Fifties seemed like so long ago, and now the Eighties are like that, you know?

Man, that's depressing.

I know! It's kind of mind-blowing, but I do find myself dressing certain ways -- you know, not the whole thing, head-to-toe, but certain things that I liked about it -- you know, certain colors and layering and different ... but I would say that it's much more refined now. It was a bit of a crazy explosion in the Eighties, and now I just think that my style ... well, as you can see ...

... It looks very Forties Glam!

Well, it's more streamlined, you know?

Right.

 

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So what's good about getting older?

I think the best thing is just the confidence that comes with experience. I think that ... well, I never could've written a book like this when I was younger. I just didn't think I had the experience to be a role model for other people, but now I feel like I've lived a really successful life, and I've done interesting things and met interesting people, and I've learned a lot. And I feel like there's a certain amount of confidence that comes with that.

I know that's a word I use a lot -- in fact, when I was writing the book, and I was spell-checking and checking how many times I used certain words, I came across the word "confident" a lot -- like twenty-five times! And of course, I had to go back and change a few of them, but it really spoke to me, and I realized that it really is, for me, anyway, a lot about confidence. I think you can do almost anything if you believe in it enough.

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I told you that you'd love her! Thanks so much to Molly for spending time with me that day and allowing me to capture her image. If you're interest in learning more about Molly, definitely be sure to pick up a copy of her book. It's perfect summer reading.

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Own Your Beauty is a groundbreaking, year-long movement bringing women together to change the conversation about what beauty means. Our mission: to encourage and remind grown women that it is never too late to learn to love one's self and influence the lives of those around us - our mothers, friends, children, neighbors. We can shift our minds and hearts and change the path we follow in the pursuit of authentic beauty.

 

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Karen Walrond is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas, and the author of the book, The Beauty of Different, available at Bright Sky PressAmazon andBarnes & Noble.  You can read/see more of her life at Chookooloonks.

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