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Katherine Heigl has a complicated relationship with her body after decades in the spotlight: 'I've spent a career being told that it's one of the most important things about me'

"I said the most awful things to myself and I was so hard on my body," Heigl says.

The 'Firefly Lane' actress gets candid about body image and aging. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Yahoo Life)
The 'Firefly Lane' actress gets candid about body image and aging. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Yahoo Life)

It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.

Katherine Heigl made her film debut decades ago, kickstarting a massively successful career on-screen — most notably as the "it" girl for rom-coms of the early 2000s. Looking back, one of her biggest regrets is how she treated her body.

"I can't believe how mean I was to myself. It almost makes me want to cry because it breaks my heart," the Firefly Lane actress tells Yahoo Life. "I was so f***ing mean. And I said the most awful things to myself and I was so hard on my body."

The 44-year-old recalls that she "hated" the way she looked at the time and would often compare herself to those around her. "I always felt I was like, so much bigger and heavier than everybody else," she says.

People in the entertainment industry also weren't shy to comment on her appearance. "I've been doing Botox since I was like 25," she says. "I had a co-star tell me I should, so I did."

Although she's never been against making small changes to look and feel her best, she recognizes how impacted she was by the superficiality of the industry.

"I am vain enough, I'm not going to pretend that I'm not, and I've spent a career being told that it's one of the most important things about me, if not the most important thing about me," she says.

In hindsight, however, she's noticed how skewed her perception of herself was as a result.

Within the past year, Heigl rewatched The Ugly Truth where she starred alongside Gerard Butler. She recalls being upset with her appearance at the time of the movie's 2009 release. Over a decade later, her perspective has changed.

Heigl at the film's Los Angeles premiere. (Photo: Getty Images)
Heigl at the film's Los Angeles premiere. (Photo: Getty Images)

"You looked great. You were in great shape. What was wrong with you? Why were you so hard on yourself?" she thought about her younger self while watching. "What were you expecting? Like what more could you have asked for? You were healthy, you were fit, you were trim, you were thin. How thin did you want to be?"

Heigl says that kind of reflection has been "really eye-opening," although she recognizes that it's "still really hard for me to stop" the cycle of negative self-talk.

"I think it's just like a really bad habit that I have to break," she explains. "But I expect something from myself in the moment and then look back years later and go, 'What? Why?'"

It's something that Heigl is cognizant of as her figure evolves. However, getting older has presented new challenges to her experience with body acceptance.

"February or so [in 2021], I started inexplicably gaining weight, like a lot of weight, like I think I put on 20 pounds. And I couldn't figure it out. Everything I had always done in the past wasn't working," she says, noting that she returned to old habits. "I restricted, I restricted, I restricted, I started working out more, working out more, working out more, giving up everything that I like and literally not losing a pound. Nothing budged."

She went on to say that she was "intermittent fasting," which she likens to "starving yourself for 16 hours a day." When she brought her concerns to doctors, Heigl felt dismissed.

"I started going to doctors and a lot of just like regular general practitioners, ob-gyns [told me], 'Oh, you know, just exercise more and restrict calories.' And I'd go, 'I am doing those things. I'm down to 1,200 calories a day. Any lower and I'm gonna pass out.' And they'd be like, 'Oh, well, you know, this is just kind of part of getting older.' And I was like, 'Really?'"

Heigl explains that she's learned to ask herself questions about how she's feeling in her body in an attempt to remain grounded and focused on her health, rather than her appearance.

"'Katie, if you weren't in front of camera, would you care? Would you care about your weight?'" she asks. "The answer was yes, I would care. Because I don't feel well. And I'm tired and I have no energy and I'm moody as hell. My body doesn't feel like my own."

Most importantly, she wanted to be given the opportunity to address the weight gain "in a healthy way," she says. "It can be done holistically, it can be done mindfully, you know. But this idea like, either live with it or stop eating just really pissed me off."

As she's found the means to approach her body in a more mindful way, she's attempted to apply the same mindset to other areas of her life. The difficult part is coming to terms with how she wants to see herself age versus what others might expect of her.

"I'm not against anybody doing whatever they feel they need to to feel their best, to wake up in the morning and have self-confidence and feel whatever best that is for them. It's so individual and so personal," she explains. "I want people to understand I am in the public eye. I made a choice to be. I feel it is part of my job to look my very best, within reason. But if I weren't in the public eye, I still think I would want to look and feel my best for my age, within reason."

And she wants to be as transparent as she can be as a person in the spotlight going through it.

"I get a little tired of the idea that like actresses just have genetically superior DNA. Maybe some do, I don't know. But I know I have made choices to maintain, as one will. I also have made choices not to go too far because it's not been worth it to me," she says. "I don't want to change my face, and I'm not interested in looking 25 anymore. That was a nice time, it has passed."

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