The Brat Pack's
Molly Ringwald Grows up
The former child star says women should embrace their inner child
for health and happiness.
by Allan Richter
In “The Breakfast Club,” one of actress Molly Ringwald’s signature coming-of-age films, tough guy John Bender (Judd Nelson) confronts Ringwald’s high school princess character Claire. Marriage and motherhood, Bender predicts in more colorful language, will surely make Claire obese. Fast-forward 25 years: If there are consequences to making predictions that fall flat, Bender ought to head back to detention.
Not only is Ringwald (and Claire by extension) a slim and attractive redhead, the former Brat Packer is the mother of year-old twins Roman and Adele, and big sister Mathilda, 6. A self-described ex-smoker who once drank too much coffee and ate too little, the star of the 1980s hits “Pretty in Pink” and “Sixteen Candles” is now doling out health tips. “I just try to be sensible and try to be moderate in my eating and in everything. I just aim to have a balance,” Ringwald, 42, tells us.
That may summarize Ringwald’s philosophy about wellness, but there is more to it than that. In Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family, and Finding the Perfect Lipstick (It Books), Ringwald waxes poetic about eating good-tasting and good-for-you food—expertise she picked up after attending culinary school in France. It was in France where she also developed a taste for red wine, a boon to health for its resveratrol.
Getting the Pretty Back is filled with bite-sized, palatable tips and lists, like the biggest mistakes home cooks make (fear of experimentation is No. 1) and the perfect dinner party (it’s key to keep the meal simple). Beauty tips also abound, but as affirmed by Ringwald, who spoke to us from Los Angeles, where she lives with her writer husband Panio Gianopoulos and their children, beauty is indeed more than skin deep.
Energy Times: In your book, you write that “getting back in touch with the pretty girl that you once were might just make you realize that she really isn’t so far from the woman you are today.” “Pretty,” then, is a state of mind.
Molly Ringwald: Yes, absolutely. When I talk about “pretty” I’m really talking about a feeling that you have when you’re younger that’s easy to lose sight of. With life and your responsibilities and your children, you’re sort of giving to everyone else so it’s kind of getting back in touch with what was important to you. I just call it “pretty” but you can call it any number of things.
ET: You joke that the chapter on fitness is the shortest chapter in the book. Tell me about your philosophy about keeping fit.
MR: I am on a pretty strict gym routine even though I jokingly say at the beginning of the chapter that it’s going to be the shortest chapter. Exercise is really an important part of my life. As much as I say that it is drudgery, if I don’t do it for a couple of days, I feel it not just in my body but mentally as well. I’ve been moving this last week so I really haven’t been able to go to the gym.
I need to be active, so I try to stay on a pretty strict routine. I work out with a trainer at least three times a week. I do strength training. If I’m doing upper body training, my trainer incorporates lower body in some way. It’s kind of a circuit. He keeps my heart rate up so I’m constantly moving from one thing to another. He switches up all the time so my body doesn’t get too used to it and I don’t get too bored.
The times I’m not working out with him I either do yoga or run. I took up running at age 41. Who knew? All my life I thought I can’t be a runner. Then I took it up and I really love it.
ET: Why didn’t you think you could be a runner, and what prompted you to take it up?
MR: I didn’t think that I was ever in good enough shape. I didn’t really have the stamina for it. But I had already been working out for awhile when I took it up. I took it up because my husband likes to run so we started running together. I ran like 10 minutes the first time and that was really challenging and I moved up to 12 minutes, to 15 minutes, and I kind of kept going from there. Now I usually run about a half hour, which isn’t really long, but it’s enough for me. I have run on the treadmill but I prefer to run outside.
ET: Running is said to be tough on the knees. How do you deal with that?
MR: I just have a really good pair of shoes and I stretch before and after. That seems to help. Also rolling really helps.
MR: You have these Styrofoam cylinders that you lay down on and roll out the adhesions on your calves or on your quads and that really helps a lot. When you have adhesions in those areas it puts a lot of strain on your knees. I sort of learned that from my years of working with dancers on Broadway. Dancers roll all the time. Every time they go offstage they hit the floor and roll out their legs because that keeps their knees in shape.
ET: You attended culinary school in France so you have a highly discerning palate. Is there enough great-tasting, yet healthy, food to consistently satisfy someone who is looking for both great taste and nourishment?
MR: I think so. It definitely takes more planning. It’s really a lot easier to grab that pre-packaged item or do fast food. But I think that if you just plan a little bit, yes, it’s totally possible. My husband cooks a lot, too. We kind of switch off who does the cooking, and we cook together. It’s something I enjoy.
I like French cooking more. My husband’s Greek, so he cooks Greek more. It’s not very complicated. We grill a lot, and I’ve recently gotten into grilling fish. On one of our date nights my husband arranged for a cooking class because I felt like I was always making the same thing with fish because I didn’t know as much about it. We’re eating a lot of fish in our household.
ET: Your bouillabaisse recipe has many healthy ingredients, such as garlic, herbs and tomato paste. Some of your tips for the perfect dinner party similarly seem geared towards moderate consumption and good health: Keep the meal simple, for instance, and avoid a buffet.
MR: I’ve had a friendly argument with my mom over the years. Instead of a sit-down dinner, she’s decided we’re going to have our holiday meal buffet style. I really hated that because I love delicious food but I also really love the social aspect of it—people sitting down, relaxing and enjoying conversation. When people go to a buffet it takes that away. I also think if you have to have a buffet then that usually means you’re serving too much food.
If you keep the meal simple then you can really concentrate on what you’re doing and make it as great as you can. I would rather eat just a couple of things that are really well prepared than 10 things that are just so-so.
ET: Some of our readers who are mothers and grandmothers could probably appreciate the challenges you describe in getting kids to eat healthy. You cite a particular packaged baked puffed cheesy product that has little nutritional value even though the label reads “all natural” or “organic.” It seems that is kind of a warning to be aware that not everything branded as healthy really is.
MR: [That product] is a favorite of kids…but I don’t think there’s a whole lot of real health in it. Your child is not really benefiting from anything that they’re eating in that. It’s really like eating air, but, yes, it’s organic and they kind of promote it as being a healthy alternative.
My child is the pickiest eater of all time. This is my oldest daughter. She would probably be a vegetarian if I had to do it over again. I would have listened to her more when she was a baby because she really never liked meat very much. But the problem is that there are only a few things that she will eat, so it’s a constant battle to make sure that she gets the healthy foods that she needs. The doctors that I’ve talked to say to continue introducing her to food. Just because she says, “No, I don’t like this,” you can introduce it to them five times, seven times and then finally the tenth time she might try it and like it. That’s actually been the case with us.
ET: Why do you caution against assuming that all children’s behavior is diet-related, for example when parents curb gluten if their child is hyperactive?
MR: I just think that some parents just go a little too far with assuming that everything that their child does, if they cry or have a temper tantrum, has to do with their diet. They end up restricting their kids’ diet in a way that I think is a little punitive and also counterproductive. You just need to have common sense with your kids. Obviously [you have to take steps] if your child is having a serious reaction to something. I’ve taken [my children] to an allergist because they were having different reactions, so I had them tested. I think a lot of parents do a lot of self-diagnosing on the Internet, and I just think there are limits to what you can do.
ET: You have thrived when other child actors have struggled through the years. What accounts for your healthy development?
MR: I have a really great family and a really strong survival instinct. I was always very curious about life and I’ve always been a big reader. I’ve never really been into nightclubs or anything like that. I always preferred to be around interesting, intelligent people or by myself with a book and learning about something. When you’re like that you just don’t want to waste time going down that other road of self-destruction.
I think I instinctively knew that if I got involved in drugs and if I went that route it would just seem like self-destruction, and I was too curious about life. I have a really great family and loyal friends that have been my friends for years, so I’ve had safe places to go. That’s really important. A lot of these actresses who are in the press and who are just melting down it seems to me have families that are doing reality television shows. My family was always very private and very protective of me. I think that’s why I thrived as a human being and as an actress.
ET: How daunting was turning 40, and what did you learn from making the transition?
MR: I really felt that everything leading up to turning 40 was a lot more daunting then actually turning 40. My forties have been great thus far. It was really the idea that was the most frightening, and that’s just because of the societal stigma that is associated with turning 40. It’s sort of the moment when you feel like you no longer can call yourself an ingénue; you’re a real adult now. I was stressed out about it before, but once it happened it seemed like a non-issue. The best thing that came out of turning 40 was getting the idea to write the book and actually writing the book. That was huge for me because it always feels good to have an idea and actually follow it through to completion.
Also, 40 today really is very different than what it was in my mother’s generation. My mom had her kids so much earlier then I did, and life expectancy is longer. I mean I really am more like my mom was when she was 30.
It seems like kids are getting older faster, and older people are staying younger longer. My quality of life is great. I’m healthier now than I was in my 20s and 30s, but I think a lot of that has to do with really taking my health a lot more seriously. I don’t take it for granted. I feel like my life is just beginning in a way.