Valerie Bertinelli Says a Fifth Grade Teacher’s Comment Spurred Lifelong Body Image Issues

Kayla Blanton
Photo credit: NBC - Getty Images
Photo credit: NBC - Getty Images

From Prevention

  • Valerie Bertinelli has always had a complicated relationship with her weight, thanks to a comment made by her fifth grade teacher.

  • The comment, in addition to a young start in Hollywood, spurred a constant pressure to lose weight.

  • At 60, Bertinelli is still working to unlearn that way of thinking.

Valerie Bertinelli has long been open about her complicated relationship with her weight. And in her latest interview with People, the Food Network star explained how it all began.

“The very first time I became really aware of my body, I remember my fifth grade teacher patted me on the belly and said, ‘You might want to keep an eye on that,’” Bertinelli recalled. “How dare he? At that age we’re so full of joy, and then to have someone slap you for nothing. For just standing there.”

That conversation began a long road of highs and lows for her self-esteem, exacerbated by her young entry in Hollywood. At 15, she landed the starring role of Barbara Cooper on the beloved sitcom One Day at a Time. “I look back at pictures and even in the first season, I felt big next to (co-star) Mackenzie (Phillips). I wasn’t,” she said. “I was 15 years old. But I was made to feel I could stand to lose a few, like, ‘Let’s see if we can get you into a smaller size.’”

Those influences sent her on a toxic journey of “always trying to be better,” she said. “Thinner. Nicer. Prettier.” Now, she understands how she was made to feel, and at 60, is still working to unlearn that way of thinking.

“Now I can be angry for that little girl,” she said. “It feels like so much time wasted.” At the start of 2020, she announced a resolution to achieve inner-peace and self-love on Today. Her ultimate goal is learning to accept herself at any size.

“It became, ‘I’d like to lose the weight but I may never lose the weight,’” she explained to People. “How do I love me for who I am right now? Today. At this body. At this age.” She continued, “That means you have to do the internal work. I’ve been really good at covering it up and eating through it.”

That type of introspection takes time, but she’s found inspiration in the body positivity movement trail blazed by celebrities like Lizzo and Ashley Graham. “It doesn’t freakin’ matter what size they are. They glow from within,” Bertinellii said. “If someone does say something about their body, they can say, ‘Screw you, I’m beautiful.’ I would love to be able to say those words.”

She’s working on that, and finding other helpful strategies along the way. “I don’t weigh myself as much anymore,” she added. “I’ll put on some jeans once in a while to see how they feel. Why do I have to know the number I am?”

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