Even the most cynical and bookish Gen Xer can admit that the 2000 comedy Bring It On is a modern-day guilty pleasure classic. (Two words: spirit fingers.) And while Kirsten Dunst was the star of the sunny flick, Gabrielle Union was the fierce heroine.
Nearly 20 years later, the 45-year-old actress and author has gone from the no-nonsense East Compton High cheerleader to a cheerleader for women’s issues. In her 2017 best-selling memoir, We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True, Union gets real about her past romance woes and her sexual assault as a teenager. She also recently spoke at the #BlogHer18 Creators Summit in New York City about self-empowerment and love.
Union, who married NBA star Dwyane Wade in 2014, still acts as well. She starred in the BET series Being Mary Jane between 2013 and this year, and her films include Almost Christmas, The Birth of a Nation and Think Like a Man. Her new series with Jessica Alba, L.A.’s Finest, will premiere in 2019 on Charter Communications’ Spectrum.
In another installment of The Girlfriend Interview, an ongoing series with inspirational celebrities, Union talks about the ups and downs of being in her 40s, her advocate role and her “Regina” network of friends.
How do you like being a 45-year-old woman?
People have misconceptions about women in their 40s. We are magically undesirable. We stop being sexy. We stay home. We should all be in sweater sets. We should have kids and our kids should be of a certain age. There should be a certain level of domesticity and docile-ness. Me? I live. I don’t realize that people think these things until I get pushback. Oh, I’m not supposed to be dancing on a table? I didn’t know there was a cutoff and I was supposed to get off the table. I’m in a bikini and I read a photo caption that says “Gabrielle Union, in her 40s, dares to bare!” What am I daring? I’m just living my best life.
Women put so much pressure on themselves to be perfect. What’s your advice?
Perfection doesn’t exist. You are competing with a Snapchat filter. We’re all on this wheel and we feel like if we hop off, we’re going to be judged. Guess what? No one has died from judgment. If someone says to you, “I don’t think that’s a good parenting move,” you’re not going to drop dead. So live your life, whatever it looks like. Whatever you do, it’s perfectly imperfect to you. Your journey doesn’t have to match anyone else’s journey. I’m not a great cook, so what am I going to do, arrange Eggo waffles with a piece of parsley so people can think I’m a good wife? We’re trying to live up to perfection that isn’t real. Stop living in a constant state of worrying about what everyone else is thinking.
How can women learn to value themselves?
I’m 45 and still figuring it out! I always want someone to see me as worthy. I’ve been worthy since birth! I keep forgetting that. In my first marriage [to former NFL player Chris Howard], I went with the first man that wanted to dance with me. I didn’t realize that I wasn’t going to like all my dance partners. It’s the same thing in business. Great ideas will have a number of suitors. Don’t agree with the first person that says yes. Believe in yourself and don’t sell yourself short.
Why is advocating for women so important to you?
I’m trying to give voice to people who haven’t found their voice or found their way to a microphone to try to speak the truth as I have from traveling the world and listening to people share experiences with me. I want people to be their own advocates and not live in fear. If you feel like I’m not speaking your truth, here’s your mic. There are enough to go around! I want to create a bit of compassion that you might not have had for the next person because the girl from Bring It On said something that resonated with you.
How important is your circle of girlfriends during this stage in your life?
I’ve always played team sports so I’ve always had a gang of girls that were like-minded and Type A and very ballsy. Or whatever the female equivalent of ballsy is! I like being surrounded by leaders. While I don’t have as much time to kiki with all these dope women now that I’m older, they’re still there. And we check in constantly. We’re all going through our own things and we have this safe space to be real and take off the mask of perfection and be like “I let my kid cry through the night!” There are very few spaces where you can just share your truth and not live like you’re a tea kettle ready to explode. I have at least four Reginas in my network, including Regina Hall and Regina King and a few writer Reginas. If I pull up a Regina in my phone and I’m going to send, oh, a dirty limerick perhaps, I’m like “Oops, that Regina might not find it so amusing!”
Everyone needs a girlfriend!
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