“Your health shows on your face. If you take care of yourself — by eating the healthiest foods possible, drinking a ton of water, and moving your body every day — it shows.”
That’s how the “barely there” makeup icon Bobbi Brown introduces her ninth book, “Beauty From the Inside Out” (Chronicle Books), released in April. The 60-year old, who for 21 years was the driving force behind her eponymous cosmetics label (and who stepped down from its helmsmanship last year), shares her approach to life and wellness in the tome, which tackles everything from fitness and superfoods to yoga and skin care (the book intentionally spends little time on makeup, Brown admits).
“I wanted to do just the health and wellness book,” Brown says during a recent chat. “I’m more than makeup. For years I’ve believed in the holistic wellness approach to life. And for years it was all about, ‘let’s put makeup on so you can look healthy.’ My point is if you’re healthy, put on makeup to [accentuate] that healthy look. Radiance comes from health, not makeup. Even the makeup [tips] I included in the book, because my publisher insisted, is not instructional. I’ve done instructional books. Maybe one day I’ll re-do the [best-selling] ‘Makeup Manual.’ But I just can’t imagine doing many more makeup books.”
Brown’s departure from her cosmetics company, which started out in 1991 with a line of 10 essential shades of lipsticks sold at Bergdorf Goodman, and which ultimately fostered a movement that the natural look was the best look (one of Brown’s most famous quotes is “The secret to beauty is simple: be who you are”), was a life-changing moment on many levels, she admits. But it was a move she wholeheartedly embraced.
“It was not an overnight decision [to step down]. But it was the luckiest thing that happened to me because I now have the chance to redo myself, to start all over again. I started out as an entrepreneur 25 years ago and I’ll get to be an entrepreneur again. … It’s not scary because I’m not afraid of failure,” she says about starting a whole new chapter in her life. “If something doesn’t work it means it’s an opportunity to try something else. Turning 60 is not the end of the world. I never worry about it. Whenever you reach those ‘decade birthdays’ you have to adapt and change. I plan to be the best 70-year-old and best 80-year old and beyond that I can be.”
Born in Chicago, Brown says it was her Midwest upbringing that affected her profoundly, for better or worse, for years.
“My lifestyle has been an evolution, from growing up in the suburbs of Chicago and especially to the 1970s where everything was about diet food,” Brown says. “My mom would serve no-fat, probably nutritious food. That’s how I learned to eat.”
Brown admits she was very conflicted about her looks and self-worth through this period of her life.
“I was constantly on and off diets. I was losing weight and not feeling good. Then I was l was like, screw this. And I went back to eating hamburgers. Then back to my diet. … My parents were incredibly glamorous and gorgeous and I was never as glamorous as my parents. In my head I was never as beautiful as my friends in school. I never felt thin enough or tall enough — I was 5-feet tall. If you didn’t look like Cheryl Tiegs or Barbie, you couldn’t look attractive. (“When I eventually saw Ali MacGraw in “Love Story” that was a turning point for me because I realized I can look in the mirror and feel pretty.”).
“So what do I do? The Chicago kid moves to New York [Brown graduated from Boston’s Emerson College with a degree in theatrical makeup] and gets into the fashion industry where I work with models that have one name: Linda [Evangelista], Christie [Brinkley], Iman, and so I was constantly watching what I was eating. Because when you’re in the fashion industry, it’s all about what cleanse are you on? I did water and lemon for a week and I fainted.”
The bad health regimen only got worse, Brown says, as high-profile fashion shoots became her norm. “There was food everywhere, and I’d eat it,” she says. “And I would feel exhausted. It wasn’t even about my weight because that had [stabilized]. But I would be on a shoot and there would be bagels and I’d eat them and feel terrible. There were cookies and I’d eat them and feel terrible. Then I had my ‘aha’ moment: I realized I can’t eat like everybody else. Everybody’s different. So I just started bringing my really clean, simple food to work. Things like sliced cucumbers and turkey. I love food, but I realized when you eat that amazing hot dog in Chicago it’s so good going in, but it’s not good for you.”
Brown says she basically reinvented her entire approach to wellness and fitness. This involved completely rethinking what she ate, how she prepared foods (the book has an entire section devoted to recipes) and understanding that basic premise that you are what you eat. And accepting that fitness and good, healthy eating go hand-in hand.
“I was traveling a ton, but I made a point of scheduling exercise time into my day,” Brown said. “I still do three days a week of weight training and I do a lot of walking, and as much as possible I throw in a yoga class or SoulCycle.”
And Brown quickly dismisses the notion that fitness training is too expensive for the average person.
“… You can join the YMCA for classes, so just go and sign up! There are [phone] apps you can use. The easiest and most affordable thing you can do is walking. Even when I travel I put on my sneakers and walk. I wear the Apple watch so I can gauge my steps. One of the trainers in the book points out that 10,000 steps a day is for maintenance. You have to do 12,000. Seriously, you can get in about 6,000 steps if you take a walk in the morning or after work. Get up from your desk during the day and take a short walk. Consciously make that decision. Here’s one: Don’t buy your Starbucks for $3.50; put that money [toward] an [exercise class ] instead. It’s easy to make excuses.”
When it comes to food, Brown admits is still a love affair for her, though now she makes a point of eating right, eating food that tastes good and is good.
“I’m eating three meals a day. But I’m strategic about what I eat. I start my day with protein, but not a big bowl of oatmeal. It doesn’t work for me because it makes me want carbs all day. I’ll do a protein shake, or eggs with a big plate of steamed greens. Sometimes fruit, but it’s berries (they’re high in fiber). I avoid high-sugar fruits like mangoes or bananas. … Lunch is usually a salad, and if I want protein, it’s easiest to go with a piece of salmon. Do not put croutons on your salad. No Russian dressing. I always order dressing on the side, so I can add my own olive oil. Olive oil and lemon is the best dressing for a salad.”
Brown writes about one of her favorite lunch meals called a “basic beauty bowl,” chock-full of protein, healthy fats, beans, grains, and veggies. “It’s a meal full of fiber that fills you up. It’s easy to make and it’s good for you.”
“In the afternoon I always have some kind of a snack, whether it’s some nuts and half an apple or I make my own protein-infused hot cocoa (coconut milk, protein powder, chili peppers, cinnamon). It fills me up [and it’s delicious).”
Still, there’s one thing Brown says she simply won’t do without, even if it’s not exactly healthy.
“Dinner starts with a cocktail,” she says with a chuckle. “It’s my ‘doughnut.’ My cocktail of choice is vodka or tequila on the rocks because even if I have two, it’s only 150 calories. I’d rather have the cocktail than dessert. I don’t really eat dessert because it makes me feel awful the next day. I’ll take a handful of blueberries instead. Always start dinner with vegetables, either a salad or just steamed. I’m always in control of the amount of salt in my food that way. Steamed spinach with chicken or fish, as plain as possible, is one of my favorite meals. If I’m at a restaurant that has really good carbs like sweet potatoes or quinoa I’ll order one of those. I only eat the carbs that are worth it.”
Other tips Brown says are key to feeling and looking better:
— Breathing: My son happens to be a conditioning coach and he was my expert for that part of the book. You need to learn how to breathe to re-energize. It really calms you down.
—Water: If nothing else, I hope this is the one thing the book will impart about taking care of yourself. Drink plenty of water. Stop smoking. Stop eating fried foods and processed foods. Replace your sodas with water.
— Fat: Fat is good for your skin. I’m talking healthy fats. It’s incredible how different your skin looks when you put healthy fats into your body. You get full faster, so you eat less. And it’s god for your hair, too.”
— Makeup: Makeup has pretty much evolved from [my first book]. It’s not about every single thing you need to put on our face. For me, it’s a pair of lashes and lipstick. Find the makeup that works for your particular style and work toward having healthy, glowing skin. I personally like a nude face; not everyone does.”
— Exfoliating: It’s great because it gets the newer skin to come to the surface. I looked in my kitchen once and found a potato scrubber and I scrubbed my feet and legs with it. And that’s what I’ve used ever since. It’s from Williams Sonoma.
What three makeup items does Brown have in her purse at all times?
“Something to lighten under the eyes, some form of concealer. I don’t wear a lot of foundation so I just put creamy blush on my cheeks. (“The biggest mistake people will make is wearing the wrong foundation. And they wear too much of it.”) And a brow pencil to use for eyebrows and touchups on your [hair] roots.”
So how does Brown, who helped define the makeup industry, define beauty?
“The same way I always have,” she says. “It’s someone who’s healthy and happy and nice.”
NOTE: Bobbi Brown will host a shopping event & book signing from 5 to 6 p.m. June 15 at Lord & Taylor, Oakbrook Mall, Oak Brook.