America Ferrera rose to stardom at just 17, but these days, the Barbie star, now 39, is looking to shed the expectations that Hollywood has placed upon her. In Elle's 2023 Women in Hollywood issue, Ferrera spoke about how she's working to "let go of the myth of perfection" that previously consumed her.
"Early on, I thought my role was to be perfect, to be a saint, a model citizen, a model woman, a model Latina, whom everyone could be proud of," she shared. She said that she believed she was only worthy if she was "perfect in every way" and if everybody was "happy" with her.
"And so I feel now the work is giving myself the permission to be more of who I am, whether people like that or not," she said.
As she gained notoriety, thanks to roles in movies like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Real Women Have Curves, she said she felt she had unintentionally become the spokesperson for people with bodies that were deemed "curvy." Looking back, the actress said it was "ridiculous" that her "average-sized body" was viewed as something out of the ordinary in the looks-obsessed world of Hollywood.
“The idea that people were looking at me and saying, 'That’s curvy' is crazy. Not that I care, but it’s like, that’s insane that we thought that was so groundbreaking,” Ferrera explained, echoing the sentiments of stars ranging from Hilary Duff to singer Sam Smith, who have said they've changed their old ways of thinking when it comes to how they should look. "I was Hollywood’s version of imperfect, which seems so ridiculous."
Ferrera, says she wasn’t alone in that belief, either.
“There are so many women who were called brave, just because they are people in bodies,” she noted.
Looking back at her years of teen stardom during a 2019 appearance on The Kelly Clarkson Show, Ferrera said at the time, she was a “short, chubby, Brown daughter of immigrants dreaming of being in the entertainment industry.” But working in the industry meant being vulnerable enough to look comfortable on screen.
"I had to be in my bra and underwear and dance on camera, and I had to play this character with so much confidence about her body," she told Clarkson of her role in Real Women Have Curves. "And people watched that movie and gained so much confidence watching it and felt so represented. But at the same time, I was just a 17-year-old girl coming to terms with my own body image, and that was hard."
In 2018, the Ugly Betty star told Health that she no longer weighs herself, and "swore off scales a long time ago." When it comes to exercise, she said it's now about developing strength and feeling powerful, a strong contrast to how she previously saw working out as being about "fixing flaws."
Ferrera, who is now a seasoned triathlete, told TODAY Parents last year that she's done with the concept of punishing herself over the way she looked. Instead, it's about celebrating the tremendous capacity of her body.
"For years, I was in a cycle of beating myself up It took me a lot of work to transform that relationship into one that is based in deep gratitude for the ability to move my body in ways that make me feel strong, joyful and alive," she said.