Barbara Corcoran, 74, would consider posing in a swimsuit for a magazine, just like Martha Stewart: 'That's what airbrushing is for'
Barbara Corcoran may have a reported net worth of $100 million, a to-die-for New York City apartment overlooking Central Park and enough power to make or break eager entrepreneurs as co-star and executive producer of ABC's Shark Tank. But she’s also prone to feeling vulnerable and insecure, believe it or not, as was the case with a recent shoulder injury that shook her to her core.
"I really thought my world was ending," Corcoran, 74, tells Yahoo Life. "I know it sounds a little dramatic, because I'm not a dramatic type, but it was affecting my work. It was affecting everything I did."
The super-active Queen of New York Real Estate and host of the Business Unusual podcast fist tore half of her rotator cuff while skiing, but she learned to live with the pain. When she then tore the other half while playing tennis, that became much harder to do. Still, she tried to ignore it, as she was "so afraid of shoulder surgeries."
Meanwhile, the pain and stress of feeling like she was falling apart put her in a fragile headspace. She began planning for the end of her career, thinking maybe she'd settle down and write a book.
"It was a great symbol to me that I couldn't be the self I used to be," Corcoran says of her injury. "I was trying to work on accepting it, and in accepting it I became less energetic … and less able. I was losing my confidence… In my mind, I got old overnight. I got incapable overnight. And I did a whole head number on myself."
Corcoran did eventually have shoulder balloon surgery, which went off without a hitch and came with a quick recovery. And now she's "stronger than ever," having gone on a cycling trip and racing people "up hills," and skiing "60 days a year" instead of her usual 20.
"I felt like someone gave me my 20-year-old-self back," she says.
That feeling, though, can be fleeting, as Corcoran admits she struggles with aging.
"I find it very painful, especially in the business where so much is depending on physically looking good and physically looking useful," she admits. "So, I fear it for my occupation … I fear it because I remember only yesterday, only last week, didn't I look better? Yes. The answer is always yes."
As for her seemingly taking it all in stride — as evidenced by her regular "get ready with me" TikToks in which she appears makeup-free, and by the lighthearted mock funeral she threw for herself when she turned 70 — those are coping mechanisms, she says.
"I think I do my own therapy of trying to confront it. But am I more comfortable with it? No," she says, to the point that, two years ago, she decided to play a little visual trick on herself, switching out all her bathroom's white lightbulbs to a more flattering pink.
"I look so much better," Corcoran says. "I dropped, like, 10 years right away. Boom! Oh, wow, I look pretty good! I know the bulbs are pink. But who cares?" She'd even consider posing for a magazine cover in a swimsuit, as Martha Stewart just famously did for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit — and in fact took to Instagram with her own inspired recreation just a day after speaking with Yahoo Life.
"I'm sure she's airbrushed to death," Corcoran remarks about the Stewart cover, noting, "I look great in a bikini from a distance, honest to God. However, if you get within like 15 feet of me…you see that I'm creped everywhere … But that's what airbrushing is for."
Beyond the physical struggle, which she battles religiously by working out with a trainer ("I hate it. It's like getting punished three times a week," she says), there is something "great" about getting older: "the sheer satisfaction that you lived a good life." It's one she's shared for the past 35 years with husband Bill Higgins, crediting her long marriage to "tolerance," and for appreciating him for being "a wonderful father."
Of that good life, she says, "I really stay focused on that versus to take it for granted — the satisfaction of knowing you raised two great kids, that they turned out great. I love that part of aging."
It’s even more impactful considering that she "almost missed the boat" on becoming a mom. She gave birth to her first child, son Tommy, when she was 46, and, at 56, adopted her second child, daughter Kate.
"I always assumed I could have as many children as I wanted. There was no deadline," she says. "Most women, when they approach around 40, they start to panic. Not me. Because my mother and all of my sisters had children like they were rabbits — they pop them out." Corcoran is the second oldest of 10 children, something that's had "everything to do with who I am, in every way," particularly because it gave her what she says has become a lifelong role, "to entertain people."
Because of her big family, Corcoran assumed she'd have no trouble conceiving. But at 41, she discovered it was not going to happen. "Wow," she recalls. "What a blow that was to just find that out, you know?" It set her on a path of "trying so diligently," through IVF, which was unsuccessful. "For me it was like a death knell, the idea that I couldn't have children."
She even blamed herself, she says, for feeling like "I messed around so long with my career and didn't even try. It was devastating to me." She turned to her five sisters to ask if anyone would be willing to donate their eggs, and all volunteered. Her "baby sister" wound up being the donor — of a whopping 47 eggs, the result of being "overstimulated by a bad doctor," she says. "But that misfortune turned into my good fortune, and from those eggs, I had one son, Tommy."
She adopted Kate 10 years later, despite people telling her she was "too old" to do so.
"Everybody always tells me, in front of them, 'What beautiful grandchildren you have,' you know?" she says. But being an older mom is something she's felt proud of, despite their occasional misgivings while growing up. "I always say, 'Do you know how lucky you are to have someone who's so filled with so much knowledge on how to do kids right?'"
That was especially the case when, as it turned out, both of her kids had dyslexia — since Corcoran herself has the language-processing disorder.
"I'm a great dyslexic mom because I was dyslexic, I get it … I constantly pumped them up on what their gifts were, and there are a lot of gifts. You automatically get empathy, because you can never … make fun of anybody once you've been that kid that gets made fun of. It changes you. You learn how to smell trouble."
Corcoran even believes her high achievements are a direct result of having struggled with reading and writing.
"It was everything," she says. "If I didn't have dyslexia, I'm convinced, I would not have been a success in business — honestly, for so many reasons. I'm insecure because of the dyslexia … When you learn in the classroom at a very early age that you can't read out loud and the kids laugh at you…and you're judged by arithmetic and reading, you're a failure, right? I'm not going to get a violin out here, but you go one of two ways: Either you become a loser for the rest of your life and accept the fact that you're loser, or you do something about it. And what I do is I'm always proving to the world: I'm not stupid."
It's all given Corcoran her current life, "and the appreciation now, in hindsight, for not being a loser anymore — even though, in a dark hour, I sometimes think I'm a loser," she admits. "Once in a while, when I'm really tired and not quite secure, everything comes back out. But I've really hammered it out, for the most part."
She adds, "I'm fooling everybody now."
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