Meg Ryan on the Long Process of Becoming Herself

When I was in college in the ’80s, it was all about walking around like a rudimentary advertisement wearing designer labels. I didn’t like that at all. And I didn’t have a lot of money either. So I embraced grunge and thrift stores and big, heavy boots. I’ve always liked big, heavy boots. They made me feel grounded. It was also a way to dress like a New Yorker. And I’ve always been a New Yorker at heart.

That’s what I was still thinking in ’97, when I landed my first InStyle cover. Back then I was surprised to be on the cover of anything. I was just starting to learn how to find my angles. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is really good lighting!” All those stories you hear that make Elizabeth Taylor sound vain — guess what? I got it after that. [laughs]

Sally [Hershberger, who gave Ryan her famous shag haircut in the ’90s] did my hair for that first cover too. She used to say, “Piecey, not poufy.” She was irreverent and fun — but beyond anything, great at what she did. And she still does my hair today.

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It’s interesting to look back 20 years at anything, right? Because you can bet there’s been irony in your life. It makes me think of something Bob Dylan said: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” I have a lot of tender feelings about the process of becoming and creating. There are times when the page turns and you’re all of a sudden no longer married, or you’re no longer this, or you become that, and then you stand in front of your closet and go, “Only one of these outfits works!” [laughs]


By the time I did my second InStyle cover, in 2003, the page had definitely turned for me. I was divorced [from Dennis Quaid]. All of my expectations about everything had been blown up. And that’s a good thing. People think they should be this by the time they’re 20 and this by the time they’re 30 and accomplished by the time they’re 40. I was in my early 40s at the time of the cover shoot. And I said in the interview that I thought assignment of age was arbitrary. I stand by that — especially now when it’s all about pivoting, re-creating, and having multiple careers.

My movie In the Cut also came out in 2003. What I loved about doing that film was that I got to be a female protagonist in a story that a woman directed [New Zealand screenwriter-director Jane Campion]. Jane is such a beautiful, wild white horse. I mean, talk about somebody who doesn’t give a shit about what people think. I remember her saying to me once, “Oh, you American women, you’re so busy trying to please!” because my character was a woman who never cared about how to please anyone. Ever. Playing someone like that made me feel free.

In the interview for my most recent InStyle cover, in 2008, I said I had an inability to accept myself as lovable. That was harsh. I think it stemmed from starting over after my marriage ended. Divorce is hard. I wasn’t easy on myself around then. I retreated. But that tough time was necessary. I became a better person after all of that. And I grew up a lot.

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Now I think you can have more of a voice with social media. You have a direct relationship with your audience if you choose to, but that’s a double-edged sword. Like anything if it’s overindulged, then it’s a problem. But I appreciate hearing from — well, not everyone [laughs] — but hearing directly from people, because it allows for more of a complexity in the understanding of a person. It’s never black and white. No story is ever as simple as a headline.

Now I’m focused on producing. I’m also teeing myself up to direct, and I’m working on a fun e-commerce project with some of my friends. But most of all, what I’m ambitious for in the 12 hours a day that I’m awake is my kids’ happiness. I just am. I’m either figuring out how to provide for them, figuring out how to say it right, figuring out all those mom things. I want them to be happy. And today I’m happy too. Yes, I’m going to get married at some point. [Ryan got engaged to musician John Mellencamp last year]. But for now this engagement thing is a state of grace.

How I'd describe myself:
In 1997: I. Was. Surprised
Today: More wise and less sure

Photographed by Paul McLean on June 7 in New York City. Styling: Laurel Pantin. Hair: Sally Hershberger for Sally Hershberger Salons. Makeup: Christopher Ardoff for Art Department. Location: The Odeon, New York.