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Robyn Brown

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All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned Interviewing Celebrities

Posted: 03/19/2012 6:49 pm

In my years as a women's magazine journalist, I interviewed a number of celebrities, from the A-list all the way down the alphabet. And I learned a hell of a lot from them.

I don't mean how they got those killer abs, or what's inside their makeup bags, or where they go for raw vegan ice cream when they're having a so-called cheat day. I'm talking about real, honest to goodness revelations, people. The kind of game changers they don't sell at Sephora.

Here, the four most important things celebrities taught me -- things that can enhance the quality of your life, not your figure. (And if you believe the two are entwined, you need to read on even more than you think.)

It Wasn't Her Diet That Did It

You don't need me to tell you that most cover girls have been thoroughly airbrushed. You know that, already. Everyone does. So, why the willing suspension of disbelief when you hear somewhere that the same star recently dropped three dress sizes thanks to a new diet?

Well, I've met her -- or, several someones like her -- and it wasn't her diet that did it. Not unless we're talking about a grueling-slash-cleansing "detox" regimen with laxative effects.

Those abs, those legs, that backside you could bounce a quarter off of? They're usually the product of a strict diet (frequently an expensive, calorie-controlled meal delivery service) and five to twenty-five hours a week with a personal trainer costing anywhere from $100 to $250 a pop.

Sure, the occasional singer or TV star swears by something more egalitarian, like a favorite group dance or spin class. But odds are that she's sweating it out in there on an almost daily basis, too. Bottom line, the time and money that's being invested to create those sculpted curves can be tremendous.

And that makes sense, actually, because it's all part of the job. These women are professionally pretty.

Personally, I wish that weren't the case. I feel for the artists out there who are compelled to devote so much time to their appearance in order to practice their craft. But I feel more for the female doctors and lawyers and mothers and parking lot attendants and drugstore clerks across the country who constantly compare themselves to them. Somehow, a punishing message has crowbarred its way into American women's minds ...that we all ought to be doing our own jobs plus theirs.

As busy and relentless as Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie's schedule may be (and from what I've seen, it is), she is not squeezing forty hours a week processing dental patient invoices in between her workouts, or financing the cost of them on a receptionist's salary. And yet, I once listened to a whole pack of dentist's receptionists bemoan what they describe as their laziness and lack of willpower for not having Fergie's washboard abs.

I have seen those abs first-hand, and I'm going to give it to you straight: If you are not already Fergilicious, and you don't have the time and money to devote a good chunk of your life to achieving said Fergiliciousness ..you probably never will be.

You can, however, be your own damn fine self. You can eat real food that you enjoy, with reasonable moderation. You can find yourself some kind of physical activity that gives you the maximum amount of enjoyment and health benefits instead of merely the maximum number of calories burned. And most importantly, you can stop trying to stack Fergie's career on top of your own.

One life at a time is plenty difficult enough.

Must-Haves Are Just a Myth

Take it from someone who has written the same 'Must-Have Fall Fashions' story a half dozen or so times: There will always be a new season of non-essential essentials. There will always be greater and greater quantities of money you can drop in pursuit of a sense of fabulousness. The fashion industry will happily oblige with ever more breathtakingly expensive dresses, bags and boots until finally, you cry uncle.

Everyone has their own, personal threshold for that cry uncle moment, the number they find utterly ridiculous. I hit mine when a celebrity I had to interview for a magazine profile told me how smitten she was with her new $10,000 rolling bag. Not a hundred. Not a thousand. Ten. Thousand. Dollars.

I wanted to tell her she didn't need it, that she exuded fabulousness anyway, that she'd be every bit as talented and gorgeous with a $60 Samsonite. I wanted to reach over the cocktail table filled with rows of designer bottled waters and give that poor girl a hug.

Long after the photo shoot was done, long after the throbbing electro-funk music was turned off and the assistant to the assistant fashion stylist had gone home, and the catering table laden with quinoa salad and salmon niçoise and mini chocolate cupcakes had been cleared away, the moment kept nagging at me. Because, once you've once you've stared a ten thousand dollar carryon in the face, it becomes increasingly difficult not to turn that same critical eye onto yourself.

And I did. I looked at my belongings, things I'd convinced myself were worth the splurge, and felt ashamed. Not long after that day, I sold a mess of old clothes and shoes at consignment stores and on Ebay and made a promise to myself to use the money for something more meaningful. The experience left me with a giddy feeling even better than buyer's rush.

Personal style is important, I wouldn't argue with that. And there's real value in surrounding yourself with things that you find aesthetically pleasing. All I'm saying is, every now and then, it's a good idea to remind yourself of the line where style crosses into excess. It may be closer than you think.

Women Who Have It All Don't Do It All

Oxford scientists have discovered that subatomic particles can occupy two places at once. Sadly, we humans still cannot. But try telling that to the mothers I know who feel like failures for not being able to balance childrearing with a full-time job. They believe they should be able to plan, shop for and cook family dinners, drive carpool, schlep kids to and from doctor's appointments and simultaneously be clicking briskly down the office hallway to a meeting. It's not a time management issue that prevents them from achieving it, it's quantum physics.

This was never more clear to me than when I met a famous new mother, a former wild child whom I was interviewing about a new book of fiction she had authored in between charity work, managing a fledgling business and raising two young children. She clearly had it all. But listen up, physics-challenged mothers of the world, because I don't want you to miss this:

She was not doing it all.

Don't get me wrong, she was doing a lot. Her toddlers happened to be on set with her, and I witnessed first hand the kind of beatific warmth and patience that I wish I had with my own kids on my very best day. But there was also a nanny. And a cold-pressed juice delivery service. And a personal assistant to bring any non-juice sustenance she might want to ingest. And these are just the folks who happened to breeze through the studio that particular morning.

I think about that photo shoot every time I read an article about another successful woman balancing a major career with motherhood. You can do a lot. A whole lot. And a lot is a lot to be proud of.

But only a support staff can do it all.

Stars: They're Just Like Us. If We Had Slightly Better Bone Structure, A Personal Trainer, and 50+ Hours of Media Coaching

If you work with or around celebrities, the industry standard is either to profess abject adoration (Heidi Klum is uhmazing. I die for her. Obsessed!), or disdain (eye-rolling and griping about her lack of availability, less-than-sparkling quotes, whatever). Heidi, just in case you're reading this... you were uhmazing. I died. Obsessed.

There is rarely any grey area, and I'll tell you why: Grey areas don't make the storyteller look good. What's compelling about the middle ground? What's interesting about a celebrity answering your questions in a business-like manner? But often, that's exactly what an interaction with a celebrity is: Business. A celebrity in an interview is like a car salesmen with a really good blowout. They just happen to be selling you the finely honed brand of Themselves instead of a Toyota. They're doing their job, like everyone else.

So, when a certain weekly publication tells you breathlessly that stars are just like us, it's actually true. Sort of. Stars are Just Like Us... If We Happened to Have Slightly Better Bone Structure, A Personal Trainer and 50+ Hours of Media Coaching.

Once you accept this, the simultaneous sameness and difference between you and the starlets on the covers of magazines, you can stop envying them for their charmed lives. You can stop trying to become more like them, and learn something from them you can actually use.

Like how to be more gentle and generous with yourself. How to be more like you. In the end, that's a heck of a lot more valuable than someone else's favorite brand of lipgloss.