Mayim Bialik has come a long way since her days as a child actor. After starring on the 1990’s sitcom ‘Blossom,’ she went to UCLA for undergrad and grad school resulting in a PhD in neuroscience. She got married, became a mom, and is now a star on another hit show. While accomplishing all of that, she also found the time to write a book called ‘Beyond the Sling’ about attachment parenting.
Millions of girls, including myself, grew up watching Mayim play Blossom. The fast talking, philosophical, smartest-person-in-the-room character served as a great role model for young women. Unlike many child stars, Bialik managed to avoid the rabbit hole of fame. Now, she’s back to acting with her role as neurobiologist, and girlfriend to Sheldon Cooper(!), Amy Farrah Fowler in Chuck Lorre’s hit ‘The Big Bang Theory.’
I had the chance to interview the star and find out more about her upcoming book, vegan diet, environmental activism, parenting style and more. If you’re like me, after you read this interview, you’ll wish your name was Six and that you could spend your days trading vegan recipes, feminist philosophies and various forms of activism with the all too cool actress.
You practice attachment parenting, and even wrote a book (to be released by Simon & Schuster in March 2012) called “Beyond the Sling.” Can you talk a bit about your parenting style and the book?
Our parenting style relies heavily on intuitive knowledge that all mammals are born with: stay close to your baby as much as possible, sleep near them, breastfeed them as if there is no other option, carry them close to your body, and don’t force them to sleep when you want them to sleep or eat when you want them to eat. We believe in honoring the human body and its ability to birth naturally and produce milk, and we believe in not viewing a baby as a manipulator or a clingy dependent being that needs to be made independent as soon as possible. Healthy dependence leads to healthy independence in time. The book includes introductions to human hormones of attachment, birth, breastfeeding, and early bonding, but it basically opens up our home to readers by showing what these principles look like in action. I don’t sugarcoat anything; it’s exhausting to be any kind of parent, and I don’t presume to know how you should parent; I simply share what works for us and how you can implement even parts of an intuitive style to make your life easier and your kids hopefully confident and secure and loved.
People always seem shocked that your two young children don’t watch television, but the studies appear to be on your side. What kinds of activities do your kids do instead of watching TV and movies?
This is a funny question but a great one! The times that I could most likely see plopping them down in front of a television become times when they play with toys that have longevity: lots of LEGO, trucks and cars, and a fantastic wooden kitchen, washing machine, and fridge, complete with wooden fruits and vegetables and a set of small-sized dishes and silverware. We read books together, and they help us cook sometimes. We like to put on records from my youth and they dance in the living room (sometimes I join in!) or they lead each other (and me and my husband if hard-pressed) in “marches” around the house to music with their collection of instruments. Once you know TV is not an option, you simply find other stuff they play with. And as I said, toys that take a while to play with are best!
You lead a minimalist lifestyle, which I’m sure helps you and your family to leave a small footprint on the planet. What are some of the ways your minimalist philosophies help the environment during day to day life?
Well, eliminating paper towels is something that I never thought I would do but I did it! A few packs of simple cloth washcloths (and cloth diapers that have been sterilized) do all of our cleaning up. It’s a significant reduction in waste. We are vegan, which may not make a huge impact from just us, but the fact that so much of our world’s resources go to housing and feeding animals makes us happy to not be a part of that even in a small way. Elimination Communication (a method of learning a baby’s potty cues, thus reducing the need for diapers!) was a fantastic illustration for me of how much money and landfill space you save by not relying on disposable or cloth diapers! And teaching our boys that we don’t buy every single thing they ask for teaches them (and reminds us!) to simply consume less!!
When and why did you go vegan?
I was vegetarian from age 19 until I got pregnant with my first son in 2005. He was allergic to dairy in my breastmilk so I cut it out. After Fred was born, I read “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer and it convinced me that it was worth it to go ‘all the way,’ and so I eliminated eggs and all trace dairy (like in baked goods and my beloved candy bars I indulged in from time to time). My love for animals since childhood feels complete now that I am vegan, and it feels really right for every reason: health, ethical, environmental…It is an amazing lifestyle and I find it easy and inexpensive. Our boys eat a variety of foods that many kids have never heard of, and they also get sweets and fun foods in their lives, too. We make it work because it matters to us to do it, even if it’s sometimes challenging.
What’s your favorite vegan meal to eat at home with your family?
Well, it’s a Mexican-style casserole that I can hide a lot of vegetables in…It’s from one of navah Atlas’ cookbooks and it’s got cheese (we use Daiya vegan cheese) and beans and it’s layered and cuts nicely and the kids love it. Don’t tell them, but I put a ton of diced kale in the last batch I made and no one even noticed!
Speaking of all things vegan, your character on The Big Bang Theory, Amy Farrah Fowler, is a neurobiologist who is pro-animal testing. How do you, the vegan neuroscientist, feel about animal testing?
I chose to pursue research as an undergraduate and graduate student that did not use animals in any way. It severely limited my choices, but, again, it’s worth it to me. I know that animal research is considered critical to many scientists, and I guess this is one of the reasons I am happy to now be an actor and not a scientist; it’s not an issue I have to confront in my lab.
From child actor to neuroscientist to mother to writer and to actor again. You seem to have a really balanced life and have been able to follow your many passions. Do you ever struggle giving each passion the time it deserves?
Yes. All the time. Every day. My kids need to be the #1 priority. But sometimes I need to be reminded to get off the computer when I am catching up on emails at home…My social life has suffered the most with all that I do, but something had to give and that’s what sort of fell by the wayside. I have very close friends in our homeschool community and I am grateful we see each other while the kids play. But beyond that, I don’t get as much sleep as I’d like, and I don’t have girls nights out, and I don’t really do stuff for me…that’s my “secret!”
I recently read your blog on W Magazine’s disturbing hyper-sexual images of a model shown as an arrested protester. It seems we are being bombarded with more and more images of sexualized violence towards women in media. As an actress, you have played very strong and smart female characters. Have you found it difficult to navigate through the sometimes troubling ways women are portrayed in the entertainment world?
As a feminist who was educated about feminism from my mother, from Ms. Magazine, and from some amazing professors at UCLA, I am consistently astounded at what our society views as acceptable. I struggle with it personally and am confronted with it all the time. I have learned when to speak up and when to not; you have to pick your battles I guess. By choosing to dress modestly, I feel that is my own kind of statement, so that’s something I think about literally every day. The sexualization of girls and teenagers on TV and in movies should astound us. I’m not a fuddy duddy; I have traditional values, yes; but this is not about traditional values; it’s about how much we allow our young girls and women to be objectified and how early we encourage that to happen. Don’t get me started!!!
Whether it’s helping people, animals or the environment, can you give our Ecorazzi readers one of your favorite ways to make the world a better place?
Wow…Great question. Hands-on charity work. For kids, examples are: teaching them in age-appropriate ways about why some families become homeless, or about runaway teens, or about beach clean-up, and then finding ways for them to work towards helping…collecting clothes or toys and donating them IN PERSON to shelters (we took our son at age 4 to donate old baby things to a teen mom shelter and he helped unload the car, etc), or picking up trash at the beach. It does make a difference.
For teens, make them do something. I worked the kitchen at a senior citizen’s center in my Blossom years every Saturday morning. Talk about humbling. It was fantastic. Teenagers should “have to” do something like this I think. It’s part of their education about the world.
For adults, it’s never too late to start making a small difference in the world. Our money can help small charities start up. And we can lead by example and show that writing checks is not the only way adults make a difference: we too can clean up the beach, donate clothes or office supplies to shelters, and volunteer at senior citizen’s centers. Teach that one person can change the world because it’s true.