Julie Bowen, Emily Deschanel, Dana Delany: Real Beauty at Every Age
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Julie Bowen, Emily Deschanel, Dana Delany: Real Beauty at Every Age

Forget the makeup, the blowouts, the Jimmy Choos. These TV stars know that when it comes to looking good, it's how you feel on the inside that matters most.

Julie Bowen, Age 41

With three young sons and a busy job (she stars in Modern Family and this summer's Horrible Bosses), Bowen believes inner beauty means finding peace in the preschool pickup lane.

Going with the flow...

Not taking yourself too seriously. Laughing when things go wrong. My younger sister calls it "high-catastrophe living." Instead of fighting the chaos coming at you all the time, just accept it. I used to be a perfectionist. I hated things on the kitchen counter; I wanted them clean. Now my counters are storage space for things like diapers, dirty shoes, and food. As my counters -- and days -- get more and more cluttered, I see the beauty in learning to let things go.

I feel beautiful when...

I'm being myself. One Saturday morning I jogged to my oldest son's soccer practice while I pushed one of the twins [she has 2-year-olds John and Gus] in the stroller. It was sunny out, so I put a layer of zinc oxide on my face because I didn't want to get burned. I arrived at soccer practice and was chatting with one of the parents, who said, "Do you have any idea how stupid you look right now? You have white stuff on your face...." And I was like, "Yeah, but I got to run and I got to be with my kids." I didn't think about how I looked. When I moved to Hollywood I was swimming in a sea of beautiful people and realized that what might have been good-looking in my hometown was now just average. Very quickly I had to learn to love myself for who I am.

How I nurture myself...

I try to run every day, usually 45 minutes to an hour. If I don't run I get anxious and mean. I'm also learning to say no to a lot of things, even though it makes me feel guilty. I can't stand letting people down. But I've said no to good friends who were launching small businesses and wanted me to do an interview or photo shoot with them. They'd say, "What does it really cost you, Julie?" And I'm like, well, it would cost me my Saturday with my family. It would cost me a lot. Being able to say no makes me much happier.

The downside of beauty...

People can miniaturize your existence. I've had guys objectify me. They'll say things like, "Oh, she's the cute little blonde." But I don't want people to categorize me so I overcompensate. I'll quickly take control of the conversation and often surprise them with a shocking joke or an inappropriate comment so they'll know I'm not the girl next door. I won't let people look at me and think, "You're this way and I get to decide how I feel about you."

Feeling good in my 40s...

As a kid, I thought I was indestructible. I wasn't afraid to do sports. It never occurred to me that something I broke or bruised wouldn't heal. But in my 20s I was diagnosed with a rare heart condition, which caused a problem with the electrical impulses. My only solution was to get a pacemaker. For a while I felt fragile. I was afraid to go to sleep -- I thought, What if my pacemaker quits and I don't wake up? Now it's just a reminder to me that every day I have is precious.

Emily Deschanel, Age 34

What's behind the Bones star's gorgeous glow? A healthy lifestyle, longtime friendships, and the fact that she's expecting her first baby.

Real beauty is...

Being aware of yourself and honest about who you are. When you're comfortable in your own skin, you look beautiful on the outside, regardless of how many flaws you have. My flaws? I break out. I have cellulite. I have to cover up my gray hair. But all of that is just being human.

How I nurture myself...

Twenty years ago I saw a documentary in school called Diet for a New America that changed my life. I became a vegetarian that minute and worked on becoming a vegan [vegans avoid dairy, eggs, and meat and don't wear animal products like leather], which I've now been for 18 years. Saying no to meat makes me feel stronger inside; I feel aligned with my morals and ethics. I still have to defend myself because people don't understand it. As a pregnant woman especially, people will say to me, "You must eat meat and dairy." You really have to tap into your self-esteem whenever people try to convince you you're making the wrong choice.

The downside of beauty...

In Hollywood there's so much pressure to appear a certain way, to be skinny and to look young. When I was growing up I never cared about whether I was pretty or not. But when I was 12 a friend's mom told me I was flat-chested and had fat thighs. That really hurt my feelings and it kind of scarred me; I started becoming aware of how other people judged me. After that I never felt attractive. I was such a nerd in school; nobody ever wanted to date me. Now I'll do things to make myself feel prettier: I'll have my hair and makeup done. But I'm also trying to get back to that feeling I had as a little girl, of not caring what people think.

Feeling good in my 30s...

With every year I feel more confident. I've also had the same friends for a long time. I've known one of my best friends since I was 7 and my other friends are from high school and college. Knowing people that long is so valuable. I have a friend from junior high who's expecting a baby right before I am. Now we're sharing stories about our cravings and how our bodies are changing. We can compare notes. Having someone like that is so reassuring; it connects me to an essential part of myself.

I feel beautiful when...

I'm relaxed, like when it's a Sunday and I don't have any plans. I'm at my most relaxed when I don't have to think about what I'm wearing or what my hair looks like. That can come back to haunt you, of course. I went to the grocery store recently in yoga pants and no makeup. I always think nobody recognizes me when I look like a homeless person, but a fan spotted me. A friend told me her friends from Australia saw me on the street once and said I looked nothing like I do on TV. That made me laugh. I'm happy to show people I'm not perfectly made up all the time.

Dana Delany, Age 55

Her character on Body of Proof was written for a 35-year-old. But it was Delany, 55, who got the job. How did she defy Hollywood's ageism? By liking who she is.

Real beauty is...

Being quiet. That's what I do. I remind myself to just sit and be still. The older I get, the more I find beauty in stillness. I'll sit by my window for a half hour and look out at the world around me. There's too much talking and too many electronics vying for our attention. It really helps to remove yourself from the noise.

How I nurture myself...

I eat lots of fish and vegetables. I go to yoga every morning, so that sets the tone for my day. I've also learned it's good to have a support system of women friends. When I was younger I wouldn't want to bother anybody. I would be too embarrassed to ask for help. Now I've learned that people really do want to help you and they're honored if you call them up. It's okay to rely on people, so I have a group of friends I can call at any hour of the day or night and say, "Could I just complain for a second?"

Feeling good in my 50s...

I'm so happy I'm this age because when I was in my 20s I would have worried for months about having my photo taken for the cover of a magazine; I would have dieted and worked out. I would have been miserable. Now I look how I look. It is what it is and I just accept it. The idea that wisdom comes with age is true. Aging is all about harnessing that self-love. I'll see pictures of myself when I was in my 30s and remember how hard I was on myself at that time. I feel for that girl. Now I think, "You looked fine! What were you worried about?" I also find that the less I focus on the external, the more attractive I am. When you stop thinking about what you look like you naturally look better.

The downside of beauty...

I've never been a bombshell. I've always been sort of natural, all-American. Whenever I've tried to mess with nature or fix something cosmetically, it always backfired. Years ago I had never heard of Botox. My dermatologist said, "You should try it." He injected my forehead, hit a nerve and created a huge hematoma. The nerve has been dead ever since. It affected the muscles in my right eye, so my eye droops a bit. I've taken it as a sign that I should just leave well enough alone and be grateful. I don't judge people for having plastic surgery because the end goal is to feel better about yourself. But for me I feel like God has His own plan. I don't mean that in a religious way, but if you go to a plastic surgeon, you're ultimately going to look like his image of what you should look like. I have this fear that if I did something like that, I'd look in the mirror and go, "That's not me!"

I feel beautiful when...

I'm in nature, with bare feet, no makeup and being at one with the elements. Sometimes that means just sitting in my backyard looking up at the palm trees. That's heaven to me.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2011.

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