Bia­lik: Be­ing a girl is more com­pli­cated now

Big Bang The­ory star’s sec­ond book of­fers ad­vice to teenage girls in need of guid­ance

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BOOKS - By LINA DAS

Mayim Bia­lik is one of the high­est-paid ac­tresses on tele­vi­sion, but she is res­o­lutely un-Hol­ly­wood. For the past seven years, she has played Amy Far­rah Fowler, the so­cially awk­ward, cardi­gan-wear­ing neu­ro­sci­en­tist in long-run­ning sit­com The Big Bang The­ory. Yet she claims to be “a very low-main­te­nance fe­male” and, for some­one who re­port­edly earns $500,000 per episode, in­sists on do­ing all her own house­work, even down to clean­ing her own toi­lets — which is un­heard of in Tin­sel­town.

“I don’t have a house­keeper or nanny or chef, ei­ther,” says Bia­lik, “and I use a babysit­ter less than once a month.”

In the United States, the 41-yearold is as well known as an ac­tress as for her unortho­dox and out­spo­ken ap­proaches to mod­ern moth­er­hood. Her sons Miles, now 11, and Fred, eight, were raised with­out wear­ing nap­pies, a process called “elim­i­na­tion com­mu­ni­ca­tion”, whereby the par­ent learns to in­ter­pret sig­nals from their baby that they are ready to use the toi­let. They were also breast­fed un­til they were aged four and two re­spec­tively, and the fam­ily adopted the prac­tice of co-sleep­ing, with Bia­lik and her hus­band shar­ing their bed with their sons. She also ini­tially re­fused to have her chil­dren vac­ci­nated, although they sub­se­quently have been.

These, and a myr­iad other in­tru­ig­ing de­tails, were laid out in her par­ent­ing book, Be­yond the Sling —a ref­er­ence to the hip­ster­ish prac­tice of baby­wear­ing, whereby the child is held in a sling close to the par­ent’s body, from new­born to tod­dler, rather than a pram or pushchair, to “pro­mote a con­tent, calm, and se­curely at­tached baby-par­ent re­la­tion­ship”.

De­scribed as a “real-life guide to rais­ing con­fi­dent, lov­ing chil­dren”, the book un­sur­pris­ingly elicited a mixed re­sponse, with Bia­lik’s views on breast­feed­ing seem­ing to cause par­tic­u­lar ire — es­pe­cially af­ter she was pho­tographed breast­feed­ing Fred, then three-and-a-half years old, on the New York sub­way.

“But that’s the way that mam­mals feed their ba­bies, so I don’t re­ally know what the fuss is about,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of stan­dards of what we want women to do and what we don’t want them to do, and breast­feed­ing is a dif­fer­ent way of pre­sent­ing breasts — ie, not sex­u­ally. There will al­ways be peo­ple who don’t want to breast­feed and those who do. I’m a lac­ta­tion ed­u­ca­tion coun­sel­lor as well, so I coun­sel women who need as­sis­tance, the way women did for me.”

When Bia­lik and her hus­band divorced shortly af­ter the book’s pub­li­ca­tion five years ago, some sur­mised that the in­tense style of par­ent­ing might have been in part to blame. She later re­leased a state­ment clar­i­fy­ing that the ad­her­ence to at­tach­ment par­ent­ing was not the cause of the mar­riage’s demise and that, “re­la­tion­ships are com­pli­cated no mat­ter what style of par­ent­ing you choose”.

But as she says now: “I was pre­pared for a strong re­ac­tion to the book, be­cause peo­ple who par­ent the way we do have al­ways had that kind of re­ac­tion af­ter putting it out in the pub­lic arena. But I’m very con­fi­dent that the way we de­cided to raise our kids works for us. And,” she adds, “other peo­ple don’t have to agree with that.”

How to be strong

It’s clear, then, that Bia­lik is per­fectly con­tent march­ing to a beat en­tirely of her own mak­ing. She was, by her own ad­mis­sion, a “so­cially awk­ward late-bloomer”, which is one of the rea­sons why she de­cided to write a fol­low-up book, Gir­ling Up: How to be Strong, Smart and Spec­tac­u­lar — a guide for teenage girls that dis­cusses ev­ery­thing from friend­ships and fam­ily to body im­age, sex, love and the stresses par­tic­u­lar to ado­les­cents in to­day’s world.

“I wrote it be­cause I didn’t have this kind of re­source when I was grow­ing up,” says Bia­lik, “and I think that be­ing a girl now is even more com­pli­cated, with so­cial me­dia and pre­sump­tions of women and beauty.”

Grow­ing up in San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia, with older brother Isaac and par­ents Barry and Bev­erly, both teach­ers, there was lit­tle to sug­gest that the young Mayim would be­come a child star. She came from “a very tra­di­tional im­mi­grant Jewish fam­ily where roles for boys and girls were very dif­fer­ent,” she ex­plains.

“I had an ear­lier bed­time than my brother and I wasn’t al­lowed to stay up and watch shows he was al­lowed to watch. I never saw the In­di­ana Jones movies past the first one be­cause my par­ents thought they were too vi­o­lent. They were very care­ful about stuff like that.” An in­ter­est in drama at school how­ever saw her be­ing cast, aged 12, as the young Bette Mi­dler char­ac­ter in the 1989 film Beaches. The fol­low­ing year, she be­came a global sen­sa­tion af­ter she landed the ti­tle role in the hit teen TV se­ries, Blossom.

How­ever, her ado­les­cence wasn’t an al­to­gether happy time. “I was teased a lot [at school] — for be­ing short, for be­ing flat-chested, for hav­ing a big nose and pointy chin, and for hav­ing a stupid name, even,” she laughs. “I went to a very aca­dem­i­cally rig­or­ous school, too, so peo­ple weren’t im­pressed by my be­ing on TV, ei­ther. I wanted to dis­ap­pear a lot when I was grow­ing up.

“I ac­tu­ally don’t re­gret be­ing a late bloomer at all,” she says. “Most peo­ple don’t feel as though they fit in in some way and it helped me de­velop a dif­fer­ent sense of in­de­pen­dence and in­spired me to find ways to ap­pre­ci­ate who I re­ally was.”

Hav­ing achieved the holy grail of a hit TV se­ries in her early teens, Bia­lik could eas­ily have con­tin­ued with her act­ing ca­reer af­ter Blossom, but opted in­stead for a more un­usual route — drop­ping out of act­ing for 12 years to con­tinue her stud­ies, even­tu­ally earn­ing a PhD in neu­ro­science at UCLA. It was there that she met and sub­se­quently mar­ried fel­low stu­dent Michael Stone and, af­ter hav­ing her two chil­dren, de­cided to put her ca­reer on hold to look af­ter them while they were still young.

Look­ing back over this ca­reer de­ci­sion, she says that “women can have it all — but not at the same time, I think. And we have to make choices be­cause we can’t phys­i­cally be in more than one place at a time. The de­ci­sion I made to ex­clu­sively breast­feed, for ex­am­ple, elim­i­nated the pos­si­bil­ity of not be­ing at home. That’s a choice I made which I stand by, but it meant I couldn’t also pur­sue a ca­reer in the same way.”

Back to act­ing

She re­turned to act­ing in 2010, with her role on The Big Bang The­ory — a show about a group of nerdy sci­en­tists at Pasadena’s Cal­tech Univer­sity — which has given Bia­lik a plat­form that she has taken up with rel­ish. As well as pen­ning books, two years ago she set up her own blog­ging web­site, GrokNa­tion, where she up­loads videos on any­thing from open re­la­tion­ships to celebri­ties dis­rob­ing in the name of em­pow­er­ment. (For the record, she’s not par­tic­u­larly keen on ei­ther).

Last month, she took to the vlog to an­nounce that she had been or­dered by doc­tors not to talk for 30 days be­cause of a sprain to her vo­cal chords. In typ­i­cal kooky fash­ion, Bia­lik posted a silent video, with her sat at a com­puter screen, typ­ing and wav­ing at the cam­era.

Hope­fully, her voice will re­cover in time for the new sea­son of The Big Bang The­ory, though, es­pe­cially since it was re­port­edly her fel­low cast mem­bers’ in­ter­ven­tion that saw her pay upped from $200,000 to $500,000 an episode. “Our strength lies in be­ing to­gether on the show,” she ad­mits. “It’s some­thing we’re very grate­ful for.”

The se­ries, which at­tracts around 15 mil­lion view­ers a week in the States and is rou­tinely the most­watched pro­gramme on E4, re­turns for its 11th se­ries in Septem­ber. How­ever, there will be at least two peo­ple who won’t be watching: her sons who, she ad­mits, have never seen it.

“I don’t have a TV,” she says, per­haps in­evitably — be­fore adding: “Maybe I’ll let them when they’re a lit­tle bit older.”

CBS PHOTO AR­CHIVE / GETTY IM­AGES

Mayim Bia­lik is well-known for her unortho­dox ap­proach to mod­ern moth­er­hood.

CBS PHOTO AR­CHIVE / GETTY IM­AGES

A scene from The Big Bang The­ory.

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