Melissa Gilbert wants to provide 'examples for young women of what aging well looks like'

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Unapologetically is a Yahoo Life series in which women and men from all walks of life get the chance to share how they live their best life — out loud and in living color, without fear or regret — looking back at the past with a smile and embracing the future with excited anticipation.

Melissa Gilbert, 58, credits seeing a photograph of herself on the red carpet for waking her up.

"It was a red carpet for the Season 4 premiere of Nip/Tuck," the Little House on the Prairie star tells Yahoo Life. "And I was all done up. And I, it was at the height of all the fillers in the Botox and my hair was very, very colored … And that really knocked me for a loop, because I was looking at thinking, 'Who's that person? That's not me. That's like a shell over what the real me is.'"

Gilbert, who just released the memoir Back to the Prairie: A Home Remade, A Life Rediscovered, then went on to compete on Dancing With the Stars in 2012, where she was thrown into a whole world of glam. But she never quite felt comfortable with the glitz — in fact, it all reminded her of how much she desired to feel grounded again.

"I was having a real hard time living my life from a place where the external mattered more than the internal," Gilbert says. "I really wanted to reverse that. I wanted to become more spiritual, more grounded, more at peace, more connected to my community, to my family, to my friends."

Mostly, Gilbert was tired of "fighting the aging process."

"You're literally fighting nature and I just don't have the energy for it anymore," she says.

Gilbert pushed back. In 2013, she wed actor Timothy Busfield, and the two moved out of Hollywood to Michigan before renovating a home in the Catskills region of N.Y. to live.

"I actually feel like Little House on the Prairie was sort of the bait that opened my eyes to what could be," she explains. "I would be on the set, especially when we were outdoors with the chickens and then the frogs and the pond and horses and cows, and everybody had their dogs with them … I was outside in Simi Valley on the ranch and it was always dusty, always dirty, but [I was] just gleeful and happy."

Connecting with nature helped Gilbert recognize what wasn’t so important about her Hollywood days: the intense focus on women’s bodies, especially as they age.

"There are so many things we need to do to allow women to age. It's so systemic and endemic and so much a part of the fabric of who we are," she says. "We have designers who are designing clothes for people who are, you know, size two or a size zero, which is not the average size."

Gilbert, who was once president of the Screen Actors Guild and considered a run for Congress in 2016 before dropping out due to health issues, also pointed out that women aren't equal in the U.S.

"We don't have equal pay. We don't have equal rights," she says. "We've come a long way from where we were a while back, but we need to keep moving forward and we need to change the conversation."

She wants women to see their significance beyond their looks.

"We need to provide examples for young women of what aging well looks like, and what being healthy looks like, as opposed to telling them that it's okay to lose 16 pounds to fit into Marilyn Monroe’s dress," Gilbert says, referring to Kim Kardashian's Met Gala moment. "I think that is a dangerous destructive message. Hopefully, I'm here to inspire other women to join this movement, to be who we are and know that this is not only is this enough, it's more than enough."

–Video produced by Anne Lilburn

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