09/14/2006 07:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Interview With Arianna


Arianna Huffington is one of my most wellknown publishers -- but her original identity is as an author. We saw each other at the BlogHer conference this summer, and I asked if I could interview her about her new book, On Becoming Fearless, her most autobiographical work to date.

SB: Your book speaks to self-esteem, self-knowledge, and encouragement. But what about those of us who are already galvanized -- yet thwarted? I'm not fearful, I'm stymied!

I'm discouraged by the apathy I see around us . . . our ability to lead is hampered when our peers are wandering around asking, "Do-I-look-fat-in-this?"

AH: Thank you for giving me the idea for my next book: "On Becoming Stymied-less."

I think you can find hope in the thought that at least some of the apparently apathetic women who are the cause of your discouragement aren't actually indifferent -- they just haven't seen how big the range is of the life they could be leading. Maybe -- because of apathy, fear, lack of experience, whatever -- it hasn't occurred to them that they don't have to care whether they look fat -- or at least, that doesn't have to be a preoccupation.

SB: Do you get exasperated with public scrutiny of your appearance? Do you ever want to "embrace the muu-muu" that you said your own mother "gracefully transitioned" into? ;-)

AH: Only every night! And sometimes in the morning. And afternoon.

I don't actually feel much public scrutiny of my appearance. And I have no problem accepting getting older.

When I speak about fearlessness, I always say, "Okay, I'm 56. And I don't believe you can be fearless if you're afraid to tell people how old you are!"

One of the nice things about accepting getting older is that you can enjoy the good things that come with it: wisdom, experience, peace.

Our culture is obsessed with trying to be younger, but really, think back to your younger years -- most likely they were full of a lot of ups and downs. They were great, but do you really want to go through all that again?

Once you come to regard getting older as not-a-bad-thing, as natural, (even the word "accept" implies that's it's something terrible), you free yourself.

In my book I wrote about going to an Oscar party and seeing Hugh Hefner surrounded by women showing off the best plastic surgery has to offer. How extreme the contrast was, when I saw the Danish actress Connie Nielson at the same party, aging beautifully -- and naturally.

I hoped at the time that it's the beginning of a renaissance of soulful women with no facelifts. But I'm not holding my breath.

SB: There is also the dilemma when one does have a love affair with beauty, with fashion, with art... and yet is turned off by the typical sales pitches that these things are reduced to.

Instead of falling in love with beauty, we get tyrannized by its marketing. How do you save the beautiful part of beauty?

AH: Great question. And the answer -- easier said than done -- is to be very deliberate, to take charge and be responsible for that part of your life.

You should be the head curator of your life, not someone at Conde Nast. Appreciating the visual, and fashion, and art, doesn't have to be on the terms set by marketers and salesmen.

SB: I read with interest you and your daughter's scare with her weight. I am amazed how this dominates the minds of my teenage daughter's peers, both male and female.

It occurred to me the other day that it was beyond an "eating disorder", it was a byproduct of infantilization. Young people today are afraid to grow up, to be big, in the metaphorical as well as physical sense.

Peter Pan narcissism is epidemic at every age. The weight of responsibility and initiative is feared. There is a sense of being abandoned when one is asked to grow up. What do you think about that?

AH: That's an interesting way to put it, and I think you're on to something. Our culture is such a consumption-dominated one.

It's incredibly efficient at fulfilling every wish we have, exactly when we want it. And when that's the case, adulthood -- which is practically defined by the ability to not have one's desires instantly fulfilled -- is easy to stave off.

I don't have a magic bullet, but, as I write in the book, one thing I've tried to do with my daughters is show them a larger world, to help give them perspective on whatever problems they are experiencing. Volunteering, giving back, are great ways to do this.

SB: How do you deal with the Phyllis Schlafly-types, the "fearless" right-wing females? Ann Coulter also comes to mind, although she's certainly a different type than Phyllis!

AH: Not everyone expresses fear by becoming quiet and retreating. In Ann Coulter's case, the kind of rage she directed at the 9/11 widows could lead one to conclude she might have some issues with fear.

SB: How do you think conservative women have changed in the last 30 years?

AH: They've changed with the times -- not many of them (except Schlafly and a few others) argue anymore for the 1950s conception of marriage and the work place.

It's more subtle than that, though the underpinnings are still the same -- a fundamental lack of empathy (which, as I've written, was one of the primary reasons why I left the Republican Party ten years ago).

SB: How do you respond to sexist attacks on leaders like Hillary, without compromising your differences with her views? This happens all the time in American politics, it seems... why do you think? How does one avoid getting cornered?

AH: One way to do that is to not pull any punches. That's my approach to Hillary. I disagree with her on a lot of issues -- particularly the war in Iraq -- but I respect her enough to say so forcefully. Not doing that would be to accept the negative cliche of women politicians as being more delicate than men. Hillary can take it.

SB: You listened to a lot of misogynist-baiting yourself when you were running for governor. How does one get out of the political business of defending ones feminine virtue 'round the clock?

AH: When someone is attacking you that way -- the way Cruz Bustamante did to me during the gubernatorial debates with his sighing and eye-rolling -- they're trying to control you by controlling the terms of the debate.

The way you get around this is to not accept it, to throw it off as they try to gently, and condescendingly, cover you with it.

SB: What can the Dems possibly do IN 2008 that won't put GOP back in office in 2012? It's like some Rovian plot!

And speaking of Rovian... every American election, we see people's fears of "race" and "sex" exploited to the Nth degree. Class issues, which now include the eradication of the middle class, are lost in the "panic ether." What do we do to escape the "gotcha" cycle?

AH: When it comes to dealing with 2008 and 2012, Rove and his cronies are going to do what they're going to do, but I truly think that the public has begun to catch on.

The majority of Americans no longer believe, for instance, that Iraq and the war on terror have anything to do with each other. It's taken longer than I would have liked, but Rove and his tactics are beginning to be seen for what they are.

To stop the gotcha cycle, we need leaders who are, forgive me, fearless. We need leaders who simply don't accept the gotcha cycle. And I truly have faith that when voters are confronted with authentic, fearless leaders, they will respond to the call. And we, as engaged citizens, have to do what we can do manage our own fears, so when that appeal is being made to our fear-driven, lizard-brains, we can resist it.

(Courtesy of Susie Bright's Journal.)

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