Who wouldn’t like her? Jamie Lee Curtis on Image and Inspiration

Jamie Lee Curtis is a mom just like the rest of us (more on that later, doubters). She gets inspired by the cute things her kids come out with. In the case of her latest children’s book, it was her goddaughter who provided the impetus. Jamie sent her a dress for her birthday, and the happy youngster ran to the mirror, held the dress up in front of her, and declared: “I’m going to like me!” This was enough to send Jamie Lee into self-esteem heaven, a subject she knows well from the hellish point of view.

This current vantage point, a long time coming, is certainly the one that will inspire young children — and the grownups who read to them. I’m Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem (Joanna Cotler/HarperCollins, ages 4-8; $15.99) features two heroes — a bespectacled boy who wears a fireman’s hat, and a pig-tailed girl who likes dressing up. These two funksters joyously spout such declarations as: “I’m gonna like me when I grin and see/the space in my mouth, where two teeth used to be” … “I’m gonna like me when I don’t run so fast. Then they pick teams and I’m chosen last”… “I’m gonna like me when I open the box/and smile and say ‘Thanks’ even though I got socks.” Curtis’s “triumphant text” (as the publisher so aptly describes it) is again paired with Laura Cornell’s wonderful, whimsical artwork for a result that is as appealing as their previous four books. Their titles will give you an idea of the kind of stuff these two moms like writing and drawing about: When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old’s Memoir of Her Youth; Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born; Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day; and Where Do Balloons Go? An Uplifting Mystery. Artist Cornell, a New York City mom, is the reason the author went to HarperCollins in the first place. “Laura is a fantastic artist,” Jamie Lee says. “I first saw her drawings 15 years ago. She draws the way I see the world.”

While Jamie Lee and her husband of 18 years, English actor/director Christopher Guest, are the adoptive parents of two children — Annie, 15 and Thomas, 6 — deciding to try her hand at children’s books, happened, she says, “quite by accident — as most of the things in my life have happened.” This includes her longtime acting career. Even though she was born the daughter of two screen legends, Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, she was thinking about something like social work as a possible career when she ran into an old friend “who told me they were casting ‘Nancy Drew’ and that I would be perfect for the part.” “I went up for it. I didn’t get it,” she hastily adds. Nothing new there, as it turns out. It has only been in very recent years that Jamie Lee’s self-esteem has been anything more than lousy. Much of this, she admits, had to do with growing up in the shadow of her parents, who divorced when she was very young. Four years ago, she “got sober” — after several years of alcohol and pill abuse. Now, she says that when she hears people complaining, she asks them: “Well, have you done anything to change that (situation)?” Does this mean that Jamie Lee Curtis is complaining less? “First of all,” she replies, “I have nothing to complain about. Which is not to say I don’t have stress; I have quality problems. But most of the time, I’m OK now. Even sitting in traffic — I can find the pleasure in it.” Not too many people outside of her immediate circle might have known about her “natural evolving” out of the mires of low self-image, but the general public got the newfound Jamie Lee Curtis message in the face when More magazine hit the newsstands in September. Jamie Lee started appearing on newsmagazine shows, explaining the publication of the ‘before and after’ shoot. The ‘after’ is the usual Hollywood actress glamour shot — Jamie Lee styled with designer clothes, perfect hair and makeup, and the photo airbrushed to correct everyday imperfections. But the ‘before’ shows the actress and author in her sporty underwear, looking slightly chunky from the waist down. In these interviews, Jamie Lee told it like it was; the photo, she said bluntly, plainly showed her “soft tummy” and “not great hips”. After Botox, liposuction, and a bit of plastic surgery, how on earth did she get to this place? “It was merely an attempt to practice what I preach. I thought to myself: Here I am doing another magazine interview. It’s time to cop to my own issues of self-esteem.” Not an easy decision, by any means. “This has been a bodily progression,” she explains. “I had been really ashamed about my feelings of inadequacy, about feeling badly about myself. This happened through heart-thought acceptance. But I must say, it’s taken the heat off a little bit! I’m gratified by the response.” The man who stopped her in the street recently and told her: “Thank you. You made a huge difference to my teenage daughter,” is just the kind of response she’d like to see from the kids (and parents) who read her latest book. If they could step out of the pages, both young heroes would applaud the statement their creator made recently to Maria Shriver on Dateline: “(Hollywood) is an industry built on a lot of subterfuge and fantasy and fakery, and I think to tell the truth is brave.”

And despite past personal woes, it is being a parent, she says, that has been her one constant. “Parenting is everything in my life. It’s the only thing I’ll do in my lifetime that has any meaning. And it’s the thing I’m the least trained to do! You get to see your mistakes every day in your children’s lives. But I’m trying to be the best that I can, to learn from my mistakes.” No one would fault her on that when it comes to involvement with her children’s education, she believes. Both attend schools where there are not a lot of celebrity parents, and both schools are environments where Jamie Lee says she “can relish in the fact that I can be a regular parent.” How can this be? “I work hard. I just show up,” she insists. “And the parents are just grateful for me showing up. They don’t give a damn who you are — they just need you there to help. “It’s not about ‘me’. Actors are often ‘excused’ because of their ‘jobs’ and ‘schedules’. The celebrity parent somehow is given a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card. But my schedule is no more important than any other parent’s in that school.” Specific jobs? “At my son’s school, I’m responsible for the bulletin board — which the parents live by. I have to decorate it and keep it current every week. I’m also the book fair rep. “At my daughter’s school, I’m one of the three 10th grade reps. I go to meetings, and I take the minutes when it’s my turn.” And her children’s grandparents? What sort of a grandfather is Tony Curtis? Jamie Lee hesitates, then says: “A funny one.” And her mother? This time, the reply comes faster. “She’s a cheerleader for them. She comes to my daughter’s volleyball games … and she screams!”