Now 70 and well past her one-dimensional sex symbol image, the iconic actress
has a lot to say about beauty—inside and out.
By Allan Richter
In her first starring role, Raquel Welch, then 26, played the cave girl Loana in the 1966 dinosaur epic “One Million Years B.C.” The film’s poster, showing Welch perched atop a rocky landscape and clad in a doeskin bikini, launched the fantasies of millions of men and cemented the actress’s sex symbol status.
Fast-forward four decades, and the photo of Welch on the cover of her 2010 book Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage (Weinstein Books) conveys an entirely different image. The face is still glowing and strikingly beautiful, but Welch is wearing a black dress that shadows any sense of curvature, save for her broad smile, round cheeks and Spanish eyes. A bit of shoulder is visible beneath tufts of shiny auburn hair.
In her book, out in paperback this month, Welch is part memoirist, part health guide helping readers defy the aging process and part cheerleader celebrating that very same process. She is highly attuned to her health and has worked hard to shed what she calls “the uncomfortable mantle of sex symbol,” though she sometimes still finds herself viewed through the prism of her iconic pin-up image. Yet, at 70, Welch is self-assured and radiates confidence.
Welch also exposes a sense of vulnerability. Today’s uncertain and turbulent times concern her. And, while worried about sounding “moralistically preachy,” she bemoans the loss of affection, intimacy and commitment in relationships. She applauds the personal freedoms achieved during the Sixties, but says the environment that helped spawn them “seems not to have leveled off, and it seems like in the age of the computer it just keeps getting more and more frenetic and more confusing to young girls, and they don’t know what kind of moral attitude they’re supposed to have about themselves.” Welch acknowledges that her views might surprise those who see her only as her one-dimensional screen image.
Her tone is decidedly optimistic. That upbeat outlook is especially true of her attitudes about women, no longer limited to the three life chapters of girlhood, marriage and motherhood. “We’re living longer and we have all these bonus years, and we should be able to enjoy them and do something productive with those years,” Welch says in an interview from her Los Angeles-area home that picked up on those themes and more.
Energy Times: You write in your book how very self-conscious you were early in your career. You felt that you were under scrutiny from the press and struggled for perfection. Then one of your film directors, Vittorio De Sica, gave you some life-changing advice: “Please, my darling, do not try to be perfect—because the defect is very important.” What did you take away from that?
Raquel Welch: That all those little things that we think of as our imperfections are not really imperfect. They’re the things that make us ourselves. Sometimes they may be the most valuable things we have but we don’t like them because they make us different. Being different in some way and thinking of the difference as a defect is kind of a misunderstanding.
ET: It was fortunate to learn that early on.
RW: It didn’t seem early enough but it was very helpful to me. It kind of made me relax a lot in my thinking and my approach. I started to realize he was so right. Nobody but a director could have said that to me. Primarily Vittorio, who was wonderful and directed Sophia Loren in so many of her famous movies.
ET: I want to ask you about your self-perception and the perception others have had of you. You write about your on-screen persona in the third person; you call her “she.” Were you able to separate yourself from your on-screen character immediately or did that evolve?
RW: That definitely evolved. I think there’s always a possibility of confusion when others perceive you as being the same as your public image when you’re an actress. So what you end up doing, because I think my nature and the nature of many people, is to want to please others and be in agreement with others. You get confused and think you’re supposed to be like that. Then at one point you realize, “That’s not me at all. This is something I try to do to live up to a certain standard or a certain perception of me. I use these different kinds of characterizations of this same persona I am called upon to use professionally.” I think I was in my 30s when that happened.
ET: Perceptions are important to you because you’re a big believer in the connection between mind and body. How would you describe the impact our psychology has on our health—on diet and nutrition, for example?
RW: Food is something we rely on for emotional support. We tend to relax with it. We nourish ourselves mentally and emotionally with food, and that’s why many people over-eat. It’s a very difficult thing to break free from.
If you have in mind to clean up your act in some way, and start a diet that you can keep true to for two weeks and be really strict during that time, you find that the whole body chemistry changes. When the whole body chemistry changes, you get a different energy. That affects your mood and that affects your whole physical being and your emotional being. It’s because there is a mind-body connection. It’s all one piece. Even if you’re concentrated on doing something for the physical self, it’s going to affect you mentally.
ET: For 30 years, you have adhered to what you call a customized diet that your nutritionist, Eileen Poole, put you on. What are some of your typical meals and how are they customized?
RW: For lunch I had some leftover turkey, steamed snow peas and asparagus. I can have an apple afterwards if I want, but that was my lunch. Eileen took me off a lot of raw food. I know that raw food is considered healthy for many people, but I have a high acidic condition and it used to make me very uncomfortable during the digestive process. She said I just have to steam my vegetables. It’s a light steam. And she said to stay away from the starchy veggies. My Eileen diet and the one I’m on when I’m very good is a low-carb, high-protein diet.
The first meal of the day is usually a grain of some kind. I can have three fruits a day, but I’m limited with fruit. I don’t eat pineapple, I don’t eat watermelon. I don’t eat many melons. There’s something about the acidic content of those fruits that just causes my system to be uncomfortable and it makes it more difficult to digest. I can have papaya. I have yellow apples. The idea behind Eileen’s diet is that when you can make it easy on your digestive system, the better your whole system is going to run.
It wasn’t fun when I first started it. But when I got used to it I had so much more energy and fewer problems with weight gain. It kind of cleaned my palate. I didn’t have an appetite for cheating so much.
ET: What supplements do you take?
RW: I take vitamin C every day. I do believe as a woman you need to take calcium and magnesium, and I believe you need to take vitamin D. I also feel that, because I do have some minor arthritis in certain parts of my body, especially my hands, that if I don’t take glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM, the triple joint formula, that affects me and I start to have aches and pains in my hands.
I like to take my digestive enzymes. I tend to be excitable, I get emotionally invested in things that I do, so I’m using adrenals a lot, and it can be exhausting. I also like to keep the B12 on hand; I think that’s excellent for me, especially when I’m working long hours. It keeps me from getting exhausted, then possibly getting sick because when you’re down, that’s when that happens.
Licorice root helps me with the adrenals. I don’t have an adrenal-type system. Ayurvedic medicine classifies the body into different types, and there’s an adrenal type of body. But I am definitely not an adrenal type; I’m more of a hyperthyroid type. So my adrenals tend to get beat up by too much excitement, which is probably why I need my yoga to calm me down.
ET: You resisted yoga at first, but you’ve now been practicing it for more than 30 years.
RW: I stumbled upon yoga. Up to that point I was relying on my previous dance training and I used little ankle weights when I was performing live at the Las Vegas casinos; I was doing two shows a night and would try to keep in shape with that. A girlfriend who was one of my backup singers suggested I try yoga. I said, “Oh no, they’re going to do the incense thing and I have to have a mantra—I don’t think so.” She told me it wasn’t what I thought, took me to the class and it turned out to be a revelation for me.
I learned so much more about my body once I was in yoga. I could understand so much about it. You become aware of your internal organs once you start yoga. It’s great because that sensitizes you. You can stop bad things from happening.
I do the Hatha yoga, which is what I call active meditation, and it’s anything but sedentary. You really are totally involved. My trainer and I just hiked up a huge big hill here for my exercise today because it’s beautiful weather, but it’s not as satisfying as doing a yoga routine. I still need to do the cardio and the weight training because of my age, but it’s not as fulfilling as yoga in lots of ways.
It’s interesting how sometimes when you stand still you see the wonders of the body or the universe or in some cases the world or God, whichever it is you believe in. It’s very difficult to be still.
Hiking up a steep hill is very active, whereas part of what you do in yoga does not look as energetic but it really is very effective and everything is being stimulated. There are a lot more internal things going on. You go from one posture to another very slowly, so it doesn’t look as energetic as, say, some kind of calisthenics or hiking or some kind of cardio.
ET: You wrote that yoga opened the door to “new choices” that were based on “a more profound self awareness and a fresh sense of priorities.” What were those new choices?
RW: It’s hard for me to put myself right back there, but I do know it had a life-changing effect on me. I felt many emotional blocks had just broken away. I think that as we grow up there are many experiences we have that leave an emotional memory on our internal organs and they stay there as old wounds, a little hurtful and a little sore. We don’t even know that we’re carrying them. I felt there was a kind of a block between the way I felt and my real self, like there was something unresolved.
Yoga really helped me release those emotional blocks that had been stored up someplace in my body. They all seemed to heal as I was doing this yoga routine. It was miraculous to me.
ET: Did it show up in your work?
RW: Yes, tremendously. The big project that I did that I felt yoga sustained me through very well was my debut on Broadway in the musical “Woman of the Year.” I had always wanted to do musical comedy on film, but it was not being done when I came into the business, and I got sidetracked into the sex symbol thing. All of a sudden I got this opportunity to go on the Broadway stage in this hit musical, and it became this wonderful new renaissance for my career. I ended up on the cover of Life magazine. It caused me to move out of California and go to New York for 10 years. A door opened for this particular side of my nature, the side that I really would not have been able to use at all had it not been for that opportunity. My yoga sustained me so well throughout the time I was on stage. I was dancing and singing really well, and I had enormous energy, flexibility, strength and stamina.
ET: Was “Woman of the Year” your most physically challenging role?
RW: Let’s see, gosh. “Kansas City Bomber” was pretty rough. Some of the westerns that I did, like “100 Rifles” and “Hannie Caulder,” were pretty rough. It was pretty much the 17-hour days.
ET: You said yoga helped you become more aware of your body. Did that insight help you wean yourself from the hormones you took during menopause?
RW: I found that I was having all kinds of mood swings on these hormones, and I was trying to find a balance. So I said, “I think I’ve gone through the worst of it now, and I’m just going to stop with all of it.” I’ve been fine the past several years since I stopped. It’s only been about three or four years.
I don’t recommend it for everybody, but I do think that if you’re very highly attuned to your physicality, to your chemistry and how we react to things, that many of us can feel these things and we do feel them. It’s preferable to be familiar with your body and understand what has happened so you then can help any healthcare practitioner diagnose you better because you’re adding to the information.
They just have lab tests, and lab tests are usually based on some kind of a mean. “If you fall into this category, then you’re this…” It’s important for each person to contribute when you’re in the doctor’s office: “When I took this, I noticed this.” Otherwise you’re feeling that as soon as something goes a little wrong with you, “Oh, I’m a victim. I must rush to the doctor. What does he tell me? Save me. Save me.” You need to pay attention to yourself.
ET: Our readers are going to want to know your beauty secrets. You say one of your big secrets to great skin is to moisturize.
RW: I’ve heard about new medical studies that say that you’re just blocking your pores and it harms the skin. I never heard such a bunch of nonsense in my life. Just about every month there is some new medical revelation that is absolute poppycock. Then it’s refuted like crazy in the next 10 days, or it just comes through the grapevine a year later: “Oh no, no. That was all disproven.” I do believe that you should moisturize your skin on your face and body.
ET: Now that you’ve recently turned 70, how do you expect this coming decade to be different than your 60s?
RW: When I hit 60 I became more introspective. I was looking at where I was in life and what I had done and at my relationships, especially those that were familial, like with my children, my brother and sister, my mother, who was then quite elderly and whose health was starting to fail. Those kinds of things affected me a lot.
I was taking an assessment of what I had done right and how those right things happened, because they weren’t all my doing. A lot of times things that I thought were going to be awful ended up being huge successes. “Three Musketeers” was a huge success for me, and I ended up winning a Golden Globe award. When I first got the script I thought it was nonsense.
There are other forces in the world besides your own self-determination. Many people don’t think that. They think they can craft everything their own way, and I don’t think that’s true. When you really have a chance to look back on your life, you see sometimes that you made a plan and you followed through to achieve some goal and you did or you didn’t. Then other times these wonderful things happen to you that you didn’t plan for and you didn’t have in mind at all. It just means there are other energies and other causes in the universe besides just you; you’re just one person. So you have to be able to go with the flow a little bit and you can’t always know.
Now that I’m 70, I tend to want to be much more with my family and be much more with my personal life and not so much out there in a way. I enjoyed doing the book. It was very interesting for me. I enjoyed the book tour and meeting the public one-on-one. It was very reassuring and energizing. I moved into a new home, and I’m interested in home life, entertaining my friends and nurturing my friendships and just making a reconnection with my children, which I have been actively pursuing in the last 10 years.
Now we have that and I want to be able to enjoy it. My younger years were spent gallivanting around the planet on different movie locations or being in New York and doing eight shows a week or being in Atlantic City or Vegas or some other place, and it’s a lot. So I’m kind of happy to say that maybe I’m slowing down a little bit. I don’t mind it a bit.