Taraji P. Henson on Body Positivity, Self-Doubt, and Cereal
"Food should be enjoyable. You should be able to eat guilt-free."
If you had to make a list of confident women in Hollywood today, Taraji P. Henson would probably be near the top. The actor is a powerhouse, starring in the TV show Empire and countless movies, like the Academy Award-nominated Hidden Figures, and she's become known as an inspirational figure in her own right, rallying for pay equity and unity and generally being a badass woman. But being a superstar doesn't mean being invincible, and recently, Henson had a health scare that shook her into taking better care of herself.
That's part of the reason she's partnering with Kellogg's Special K, as part of the cereal's #OwnIt campaign, to empower women to make healthy choices and stop worrying about what they eat. (According to a survey commissioned by Special K, 90 percent of American women spent 61 minutes a day second-guessing or questioning their food choices. That's longer than an episode of Empire, every single day.)
So I met up with the award-winning actress in New York City's Time Square to talk about learning how to ditch self-doubt, body positivity, and her favorite way to eat eggs.
Extra Crispy: What inspired you to get involved with Special K and with this campaign?
Taraji P. Henson: I’ve always been a fan of Special K. Their interest is women. I’m a woman, so they had me at that. At women and nutrition for women. I had a health scare. I didn’t know I was killing myself with stuff I was eating. Who knew caffeine can kill you on an empty stomach? Years and years of just doing things wrong, not eating the most healthy things for myself. And I thought I was doing healthy, because I’m small. I look good, I work out, I have energy. But I was killing myself. Who knew?
While I’m healing myself, learning to be a better, healthier version of myself, Special K calls with this campaign. And I go, wow. This has gotta be God, because I had to go through that experience for a reason, so I could go out and use my testimony and hopefully help save someone else’s life, you know? So I’m passionate about that. It was a no-brainer for me.
And the statistic: 90 percent of women spend 61 minutes a day doubting food, doubting their choices, wondering what I’m going to eat next. Who has time for that? That equates to 15 days out of a year. I don’t have time to do that! Look, food should be enjoyable. You should be able to eat guilt-free. Men can go to eat burger, fries, milkshake, slice of apple pie à la mode, and not feel guilty. Why do we [women] feel guilty? Because society puts such pressure on us, body shames us. We have to look a certain way.
Well, how about we own how we look? That’s why I love the hashtag: #OwnIt. Own it! Own yourself, own you, own how you look, own your body type, own your food choices because you know you’re making the healthiest food choices for yourself. Own it. If you own it, then society can’t shame you.
In the same way that you learn that shame and learn that guilt, how do you un-learn it? How do you break out of that?
You know when you get into your head about how you look? I know you’re comparing yourself. You compare yourself, and we live in a society where it’s hard not to do. But I want to tell you something, my babies. They use filters, OK? Don’t believe what you see on Instagram. They’re filters. Don’t believe everything you see in magazines. They have Photoshop! [Laughs] You know? So it’s all smoke and mirrors anyway, so stop comparing yourself to things that aren’t even real. Stop it.
Can I ask you a few quick-fire questions?
What was your favorite cereal as a kid?
Oh, one?! I loved Fruity Pebbles, I loved Cap’n Crunch Berries, and I loved Sugar Smacks. And Frosted Flakes. Those are the four I would go for. One week it would be Honey Combs, one week Sugar Smacks. I had a system. [Laughs]
How do you like your eggs?
Lately I’ve been eating them boiled. Very simple. Hard-boiled. Hard-boiled eggs. I’ve been killing ‘em.
Do you like waffles or pancakes?
Both. At the same time.
Coffee or tea?
How do you take your tea?
Sometimes I put a little honey in it, sometimes I drink just the tea. If it’s a great tea leaf, I won’t have anything in it.
Do you like your cereal crispy or soggy?
Crispy. You gotta eat it as soon as the milk hits it. [Laughs]
And that’s it. Those are my questions!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.