THE STATE OF AMER­ICA

Health (USA) - - Live Healthy - BY BETHANY HEIT­MAN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY MEI TAO

From fight­ing for what she be­lieves in to the im­por­tance of prac­tic­ing self-care, the ac­tress and ac­tivist

gives us an in­ti­mate glimpse into her life right now.

Catch Amer­ica on NBC’s Su­per­store on Thurs­day nights.

OVER THE PAST few years, Amer­ica Fer­rera has ac­com­plished a tremen­dous amount. She teamed up with her hus­band, ac­tor and writer-di­rec­tor Ryan Piers Wil­liams, and ac­tor Wilmer Valder­rama to co­found Har­ness, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that aims to sup­port vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties through con­ver­sa­tions meant to in­spire ac­tion. She spoke in front of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

She be­came a found­ing mem­ber of Time’s Up, an or­ga­ni­za­tion ad­dress­ing the sys­temic in­equal­ity and in­jus­tice women face in the work­place. She edited Amer­i­can Like Me, a book of es­says from prom­i­nent fig­ures about grow­ing up be­tween cul­tures. On top of all this, she’s been pro­duc­ing, star­ring on, and some­times di­rect­ing NBC’s hit show Su­per­store. Oh, and in May she gave birth to her son, Se­bas­tian (Baz for short). So she’s deal­ing with that whole newto-moth­er­hood thing.

It’s a lot. But if you think this is go­ing to be a story about how a busy mod­ern woman finds bal­ance, you’re wrong. Be­cause fo­cus­ing on how she jug­gles it all in­stead of her amaz­ing work would be re­duc­tive.

For Amer­ica, it was never an op­tion not to fight for what she be­lieves in. “I’ve al­ways felt a very strong sense of right and wrong, of jus­tice,” she ex­plains, in be­tween sips of her matcha latte at Dimes, an eclec­tic eatery in New York City. Even the 34-year-old’s act­ing roles are cen­tered around telling sto­ries that aren’t often told—from her first big role play­ing Ana in Real Women Have Curves, a movie about a teen girl carv­ing her own path while still lov­ing her im­mi­grant roots, to the work­ing-class Amy with real-life is­sues on Su­per­store.

Read on as Amer­ica dis­cusses be­ing a new mom, body ac­cep­tance, and why she strives to make the world a bet­ter place.

First, con­grats! You’re a rel­a­tively new mom. Was preg­nancy any­thing like you ex­pected?

It’s in­ter­est­ing. Ev­ery step of the way, ev­ery­body tells you what it’s go­ing to be like and how you’re go­ing to feel. I re­ally think that is so harm­ful to so many of us. I de­cided early on that I wasn’t go­ing to ex­pect my ex­pe­ri­ence to be what other peo­ple told me it would be like—good or bad. Ev­ery woman I know has a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence of preg­nancy and moth­er­hood.

Has par­ent­hood changed your re­la­tion­ship with your hus­band at all?

It’s ab­so­lutely changed us as in­di­vid­u­als. It changes what we talk about and what we fo­cus on. For so long, it’s been just the two of us, and we’ve had an amaz­ing life to­gether. I don’t know that ei­ther one of us could an­tic­i­pate how much we love him and how it makes every­thing new again. We’ve trav­eled to many won­der­ful places, and we’ve seen many things—and just get­ting to imag­ine that some­where down the line every­thing that we’ve al­ready done and seen, Baz will be see­ing for the first time... it’s amaz­ing.

Post-preg­nancy, where are you in the jour­ney of how you feel about your body?

Be­ing preg­nant, I felt re­ally pow­er­ful and healthy. You

cre­ate life. I found so much power in that. In terms of my re­la­tion­ship to my body, I’m still breast­feed­ing, so it’s still very much in ser­vice of my son. There are parts of it that I love and also parts of it that are su­per chal­leng­ing. I’m just now start­ing to feel like I want to feel strong in my body again.

I didn’t work out as much as I imag­ined I would dur­ing my preg­nancy. I was in triathlon shape when I got preg­nant.

I had so much on my plate and some­thing had to give.

And when it comes to eat­ing health­fully?

I have changed my re­la­tion­ship to food. I swore off scales a long time ago. More than any­thing, I just try to be aware of how does what I eat make me feel. Do I feel bet­ter?

Do I feel en­er­gized? Does this make me tired and not feel great? I try to go easy on my­self. I think that’s been one of the mantras for me in all of moth­er­hood—to try and not be so hard on my­self. Which is a chal­lenge be­cause, like so many women, I de­mand so much more of my­self than I would ever de­mand of some­one else.

You re­turned to work fairly soon af­ter giv­ing birth. Was it tough?

I took time off at the end of my preg­nancy and shut out so­cial me­dia and kind of went off the grid. I needed that for my­self. There was a part of me that was ter­ri­fied that I might never care about any­thing else ever again. I got scared. I was like, “What if I’m not as driven?” But as I gave birth... it was the be­gin­ning of the fam­ily sep­a­ra­tion com­ing to pub­lic at­ten­tion. When Baz was 2 or 3 weeks old, my friend started or­ga­niz­ing. I spent the whole day top­less in my apart­ment feed­ing my new­born, but had to be on the phone and help in what­ever way I could. It was a re­lief to know that who I am at my core was not al­tered. Ac­tu­ally, that’s not true. It’s not ac­cu­rate that I wasn’t al­tered. In a way, hav­ing him made every­thing more im­por­tant.

You pro­duce and star on NBC’s Su­per­store, and some­times di­rect. What do you love about the show?

The show is unique to any­thing else that’s on tele­vi­sion. It’s a show about work­ing-class peo­ple and how this so­cialpo­lit­i­cal mo­ment we’re liv­ing in is af­fect­ing peo­ple’s lives. We get to do it in a funny, smart way. It’s like the op­po­site of es­capism: How do we look at what’s true, but find a way to di­gest it? I love it.

You’re also a found­ing mem­ber of Time’s Up. What’s go­ing on with the or­ga­ni­za­tion right now?

Time’s Up has been find­ing its foun­da­tion. There’s a new CEO. Turn­ing it into an ac­tual or­gan­ism that can sus­tain and func­tion has been the work [we’ve been do­ing] since we came out in this ex­plo­sive way. There have been a num­ber of women ded­i­cat­ing them­selves en­tirely on a vol­un­teer ba­sis to cre­at­ing that struc­ture and fig­ur­ing out how it sus­tains and grows, and what its role in the larger move­ment is.

On top of all this, you also edited Amer­i­can Like Me. What at­tracted you to the project?

It felt very ur­gent that our sto­ries and nar­ra­tives be shared. For me, im­mi­gra­tion is such a broad is­sue. I never grew up see­ing my Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence re­flected back at me. I al­ways felt 100 per­cent Amer­i­can—as if I bled red, white, and blue. I had to learn that oth­ers saw me as some­thing dif­fer­ent. I be­gan to feel early on that I wasn’t sure where I be­longed—feel­ing wholly Amer­i­can but also know­ing that I was linked to my fam­ily’s cul­ture and the coun­try that my par­ents came from. Once it be­came clear to me that oth­ers saw me as dif­fer­ent, I had to try to rec­on­cile all the dif­fer­ent de­mands and expectations from all the cir­cles I ran in. That is an ex­haust­ing process and one where you never get to be quite sure what your iden­tity is, be­cause it’s based on what oth­ers are ex­pect­ing of you ver­sus truly know­ing who you are in all of its com­plex­ity.

Why did you ded­i­cate the book to your son?

Be­cause I feel like, to some ex­tent, every­thing I do is in­formed by my ear­li­est ex­pe­ri­ences in the world. So much of what I do now is about want­ing to make it bet­ter so that the next gen­er­a­tion can do and be so much more. Also, it heals some­thing in­side of me to be able to give what I never had—for him and for mil­lions of other kids.

Be­cause you have a pub­lic plat­form, do you feel you have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to use your voice for good?

I wouldn’t have a plat­form if I wasn’t rep­re­sen­ta­tive of so many peo­ple who wanted to see them­selves. My ca­reer started with Real Women Have Curves. Then Ugly Betty and The Sis­ter­hood of the Trav­el­ing Pants. Th­ese are all char­ac­ters and worlds that had never been re­ally seen and re­spected on-screen be­fore. That’s what gave me my plat­form. So for me, it’s not sep­a­rate from my ca­reer. I think we all have a re­spon­si­bil­ity, to a de­gree, to be thought­ful about the things we do and the things we cre­ate and the im­pact that those things have on the world.

“One of the mantras for me in all of moth­er­hood is to try and not be so hard on my­self. Which is a chal­lenge be­cause,

like so many women, I de­mand so much more of my­self than I would ever de­mand of some­one else.”

You have a lot of irons in the fire. How do you stay well and prac­tice self-care?

That’s a mas­sive con­ver­sa­tion within the ac­tivist com­mu­nity. There are peo­ple who wake up, day in and day out, and they are deal­ing with what­ever cri­sis has come up in their com­mu­nity. It is ex­haust­ing, and it’s so im­por­tant that we have the con­ver­sa­tion about how to pre­serve our­selves so that we can keep show­ing up. I don’t have any easy an­swer to this. I heard [some­one] say that it’s not a marathon; it’s a re­lay race. We’re in a com­mu­nity in which you can show up...and give every­thing you’ve got to give, and then it’s OK to pass the ba­ton and rest and sleep and take care of your­self.

How have you per­son­ally avoided ex­haus­tion?

I feel like I’ve been burn­ing my­self out for years. A men­tal shift that I’ve had re­cently is to not take it all on.... It’s a gen­er­a­tions-long bat­tle of con­tin­u­ing to show up. So be­ing kind to your­self and ac­knowl­edg­ing I’m go­ing to show up, be­cause that’s what’s in my heart—to show up, with­out ex­pec­ta­tion that once and for all it’s go­ing to be done.

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