Molly Ringwald at 47: The Teen Icon Looks Back

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Molly Ringwald, shown here circa 1986, talks about setting beauty trends at 16 and growing up in Hollywood. (Photo: Getty)

Growing up in Southern California in the ’70s and early ’80s, actress Molly Ringwald didn’t feel that she fit in with what was considered beautiful. “The beauty icon was blond hair, blue eyes, and tawny skin. It was everything that I was not,” Ringwald explains. While some would internalize that into feeling less than, Ringwald rose above it, falling in love with who she was. “It was really intimidating for me, until I realized that I was never really going to be that, so it was better to just take what I was and pump it up,” she says. “Big lips were not in when I was a teenager, so I decided to make mine look bigger. If I didn’t have the tawny skin, I would make my pale skin look paler. I would make my reddish hair look redder. I just took everything that I was and just kind of made it even more. That just kind of worked for me.” 

Ringwald’s unique looks not only worked for her, but they helped turn her into a teen icon. With her flame-red hair, pouty lips, and pretty-but-approachable looks, she offered a cooler alternative to the blond, blue-eyed actresses and models who ruled the era. Ringwald was soon the one setting beauty trends when she starred in Sixteen Candles at age 16.  

Ringwald credits her early confidence to how she was raised. At the Dove Beauty Stories Event in celebration of the new Dove Beauty Bar campaign, Ringwald, now 47, spoke about how having a blind father made her see the world differently. “Both of [my parents] were attractive young people. My mother was fair, beautiful bone structure, deep expressive eyes — but none of this mattered to my father,” Ringwald told the audience. “It was my mother’s spirit, the essence of her, that mattered. And it’s occurred to me that it’s also shaped the way I think about beauty,” she said. Ringwald, who had been particularly close to her dad, was making the connection between her self-acceptance and her father’s unique perspective on the world. “Growing up, my father would measure me next to him to see how tall I was growing, feel my fingernails as a child when I first attempted to stop biting them, ran his hand across my head and laughed when I gave myself that unfortunate buzz-cut during my teen years,” she continued. “But I always knew that these physical details had less merit than the sound of my voice, the clarity of my writing voice, the tenacity I inherited from my mother to survive and to thrive.” 

Ringwald did indeed thrive in a tough industry. While she went on to star in some of the most beloved coming-of-age movies of all time — The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink — she left Hollywood at age 24. Ringwald started an entirely new chapter, moving to Paris and acting in foreign films. She has continued to act in theater, along with starring in the popular TV series The Secret Life of the American Teenager; she has a singing career; and she has published two books. 

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Ringwald, pictured here with her husband, is now a mother of three. (Photo: @mollyplusfour)

Meeting Ringwald, who is smart and self-possessed, it’s impossible not to notice what a different path she’s taken than countless other teen stars. It’s apparent that her family’s values helped her transcend the traps of fame. A snippet from her remarks at the Dove event offers a key: “My parents taught me by example to think of the big picture, the long run,” she says. “Any kind of physical beauty is ephemeral. We are always changing, evolving. And beauty, like love, has to have its basis in something real in order to endure.” As her looks have evolved (the iconic redhead is currently blond), as she’s been going in and out of the spotlight, aging, and navigating motherhood (she is the mom of three), Ringwald’s confidence is clearly a quality that has endured. 

The power of self-acceptance is a lesson she tries to pass on to her daughters: “There is an importance of being yourself and being different,” she says, making the link to The Breakfast Club and why the film has resonated with so many generations of teens. “The message is it doesn’t matter who you are and what you do, everyone feels different and an outsider. We’re all different, but there is something that unites us, and it is a message that’s powerful.” She recently watched the film with her 11-year-old daughter, Mathilda. “I just showed my daughter the movie, which is funny as a parent because it shows how awful parents are. Some of the mature content went over her head, but it was the message we talked about.” 

When I ask Ringwald what she knows about beauty now at 47 that she didn’t know at 17, she pauses for a moment and smiles. “It really sounds corny, but the biggest thing is being happy. You know, because when you’re happy, you’re more active; when you’re more active, you have blood flowing,” she says. “It’s just like happiness is the best beauty fire, more than anything. I feel like I’m in a really good place in my life, and I have a family, and we love each other. That really is what it’s about for me.”

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