ACTRESS ALEXA PENAVEGA ON FINDING TRUE HAPPINESS THROUGH HER STRUGGLES
You probably remember Alexa PenaVega as the young Carmen Cortez in 2001’s Spy Kids, but now she’s all grown up and has a kid of her own.
After shooting to fame at such a young age, Alexa stumbled upon her own struggles. She’s had insecurities, she’s had internal battles, she’s had trouble defining what healthy means, but the one thing she isn’t struggling with today is keeping the conversation real.
Alexa opened up to us about everything from motherhood, marriage, and her career to how she keeps from losing herself along the way. And she taught us a few things too: there is no one way to be a mom, we aren’t alone in this thing called life, and most importantly, the path to true happiness is paved with struggle, but everything will be okay.
the void: what is one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
alexa vega: I’m incredibly insecure and it’s interesting because I feel like I come off confident in the sense that I can walk into a room, talk to anybody, and be happy. My problem is I have an extreme issue with people-pleasing to the point that it causes massive insecurity and anxiety because I am so concerned about whether or not someone is having a good time or if they’re enjoying the conversation. and I’m not really in the conversation because it’s almost like I’m watching it and critiquing it. It's actually one of my New Year’s Resolutions this year, to go out there and not worry about other people think. Be kind and giving, but don’t compromise who you are or the things that you want because you’re worried about pleasing other people.
the void: being healthy can mean so many different things to different people, but specifically for women in today’s day and age, how do you think "health" needs to be redefined?
alexa: I think this is a huge issue in advertisements and it’s not going to change until the people change. Basically, back in the day, it was all about being skinny, and now it’s all about being overweight. I don’t think either of those are what we should be striving for. What we should be striving for is understanding that our bodies are our temples. We’ve been given these amazing bodies to look after and take care of. We put the effort into taking care of our homes, our cars, our jewelry -- our things, but I feel like we always put our personal health last.
For me, healthy is strong. I just believe that everyone has the opportunity to have a strong body whether you’re curvy, have a hard time keeping weight on, or a hard time taking weight off. every single body is different.
the void: You've talked candidly before about your struggle with bulimia and how you didn’t let the struggle define you. What would be your advice to someone struggling with a similar illness?
alexa: My biggest fear for the longest time was that someone would find out. For the longest time, I lived with this secret and it caused so much anxiety that I became lonely. It was almost like food was my friend because it became such a fixation. I think my biggest thing was that it wasn’t even necessarily about control, I found that it I was trying to fill voids in other areas of my life.
When you deprive your body and deplete it of important nutrients (this went on for six years for me), you’re not even sure of the internal damage you’ve done to yourself. Even playing into my pregnancy, for me, it was one of my biggest worries -- us trying to get pregnant, knowing what I had put my body through for such a long time.
I was never worried that I would fall back into it either, at least during pregnancy. I know every person is different on their journey after an eating disorder, but for me it really went away. I never felt fearful that, even with morning sickness, that it would be triggering. I think because it was no longer about me, it became about the safety of my child. I so valued the fact that I was able to carry a child and create a little world for him that the last thing I wanted to do was jeopardize that in any way. So for me, I didn’t care about how much weight I gained, I was not dieting, I was just trying to do everything I could to create that world as safely as possible for my baby.
so my best advice for someone going through it right now would to be to ask yourself: “how do you value yourself right now?” I didn’t have much value for myself when I was going through it. When you are going through it, you’re not seeing the repercussions. the repercussions come later.
the void: You are role model for positive body image after having a baby and you’ve challenged the mindset that post-child you have to get right back into shape. how did you get to that place after having your child, Ocean.
alexa: It goes back to having it be no longer about you, and that is something so beautiful about motherhood -- it makes you view life in a completely different way. When you try to do things for yourself it’s really challenging because we often compromise ourselves for the sake of other people. I was so regimented about making sure my child was getting all the right nutrients when I was pregnant and that he was getting all the right nutrients when I was breastfeeding. I was never worried about getting back into shape, it was more about if he was getting enough. I think that took off a lot of the pressure to have to get back in shape immediately. If you’re breastfeeding, that should be the last thing on your mind. You should be worried about if you’re drinking enough water and you’re still taking your vitamins because you are still keeping this little baby alive and growing.
the void: You mentioned your faith is a lot of what has gotten you through your struggles. If you can talk a little about your journey to pregnancy when it wasn’t happening for you right away.
alexa: I think that in every aspect of my life -– whether it’s family life, career-wise, or especially through pregnancy for me -- I had to understand that there was something bigger at play and that his timing is better than mine. There have been plenty of situations where I wanted things to happen and it didn’t work out. I was super bummed only to realize later on that this was God’s way of protecting me from something I couldn’t even know. So whether or not my body was still preparing itself for pregnancy, or whether the timing wasn’t right for my husband and I and I just didn’t understand it, I had to know that his plan was greater than mine. it gave me so much reassurance because I knew it was going to happen for me, but it was going to happen when my body was ready for it.
the void: What is your best piece of advice for women who are in the early stages of pregnancy and motherhood?
alexa: I would say there is no one way to do pregnancy or be a mom because every pregnancy is different and every kid you have is going to have a completely different personality and respond to you in different ways. I think the best advice I would give is that there is no right or wrong way to do your pregnancy other than just trying to stay super, super healthy. I was so beyond excited getting pregnant, but I ended up having severe fatigue. I would wake up from a night’s sleep and need a nap because I was so exhausted; my body was changing so much. I would just say roll with the punches. Your spouse is not going to understand what you’re going through. No matter how much he says he gets it or explains it, he’s not going to get it and that’s ok. You’re just going to have to give them a pass on that one.
the void: How has your perspective on life changed since becoming a mom?
alexa: I would say that life just feels fuller. I always felt my life had a purpose, but it’s just so much more purposeful now. My heart has grown so much and it sounds super cheesy but it’s the truth. You just feel like you’re on a mission every single day -- it’s amazing and you feel like a warrior. Giving birth is one of the coolest experiences you could ever have and becoming a parent is just beautiful, because it’s no longer about you it’s about your family. I think it just puts things in perspective.
the void: a lot of people struggle with their marriages after having a baby, but this experience is something you've mentioned has strengthened your marriage.
alexa: Before a baby, in our marriage, we would have taken jobs apart and thought “we can figure it out.” We felt like it was ok to compromise then, but it’s never really ok to compromise. Ocean has just brought us so much closer because we realized we no longer wanted to compromise. So if anything, Ocean taught us that family is the most important thing, and while there are so many great opportunities out there, it’s not worth the sake of pulling us apart.
the void: You and your husband both live fast-paced lives. Are there moments you feel overwhelmed, and how do you manage situations like that?
alexa: we do live fast-paced lives, but our faith is a huge key player in that. After we had Ocean, we made some really big changes. One change was that we would no longer take on projects that would separate us as a family. So, if Carlos is working, I don’t work and we both go to set with him. if I’m working, Carlos doesn’t work and they come to set with me. This way, Ocean is growing up with two parents. he’s not by himself with just one of us and that was super important for us in raising him. It’s very easy to allow opportunities to take precedent in this industry and we were not going to let work rule our lives any longer.
We actually made the decision to leave L.A. and move to Maui, hawaii. The quality of life is just completely different and it’s the best decision we’ve ever made. Now when we’re not working, we get to go home and lead lives that are the opposite of the business we're in.
the void: In this new chapter of your life, what are the things you make sure to make time for and why are those specific things important to you?
alexa: I think I’m still figuring that out. As a mom your focus totally changes and I think that is an area I really need to work on. This also plays into what we were talking about earlier with people-pleasing. I know my family makes me happy, but I haven’t found what I like to do for fun.
I think there was a scene in “Runaway Bride” where she doesn’t know how she likes her eggs because she’s always ordered them the way her spouse orders them. I feel like I fall into that weird place that I don’t really know what I like to do because I’ve always just done what everyone else wants to do to keep the peace.
So this year for me is really about figuring out how I can still be a good mom while also doing things for me. Learning how to take time for myself is super important and it’s much easier said than done. I have learned so much this past year.
the void: If you could share three things that have led you to a happy and more fulfilled life, what would they be?
Not allowing jobs or opportunities to dictate my life
if you’re not happy, get out
Where I am in my life now, it wasn’t handed to me, it was something I worked really, really hard for and I’m so thankful for that. It’s not just something that happens overnight. Go and live life and explore. go surfing, go hiking, and get out there and be sure to enjoy the beautiful world that we do have.
by lo bosworth
"I’ve been learning and practicing different tools to help me overcome my moments of anxiety for a while now. The following list is certainly not extensive or complete, but simply my go-to toolbox when my mind starts to race and I’m feeling like I could use support beyond just a tight squeeze from my Mom."
by melissa brownback
"I’m good with whatever. This phrase has been a mantra for the majority of my life. When I am at my best, I can be adaptable, spontaneous, and free-spirited. At my worst, I am a relentless people pleaser."
by elizabeth grace saunders
"If you’ve always felt a compulsion to meet everyone else’s needs before your own, it’s hard to imagine being different. People-pleasing is not only what you do, but a strong part of who you believe you are.