Book Excerpt: Ricki Lake's 'Never Say Never'

PHOTO: Never Say Never: Finding a Life That Fits by Ricki Lake.Atria Books
Never Say Never: Finding a Life That Fits by Ricki Lake.

Ricki Lake has lived her life as an open book since making her star turn in the 1988 hit movie "Hairspray." The TV host and actress has been honest about her weight struggles (she once weighed 260 pounds before dropping nearly half her body weight) and her struggles for love (she divorced her husband and the father of her two sons in 2005).

Lake, 38, challenged herself in the public eye again by competing on "Dancing With the Stars" last year with partner Derek Hough, making it to the finals and losing more weight again.

Now, the newlywed star, who tied the knot with boyfriend Christian Evans in a surprise wedding April 8, has put her life in a book, a new memoir called "Never Say Never: Finding a Life That Fits."

In the book, Lake, who will return to TV as host of a new daytime talk show this fall, opens up about everything from her molestation at age 7 to her lifelong struggles with her weight.

Read below for an excerpt from Lake's' memoir, "Never Say Never."


Three days before I performed live for the first time on Dancing with the Stars in the fall of 2011, I stared into the floor-to ceiling mirror in the dance studio where I'd been training with my partner, ballroom pro Derek Hough, and tried not to hyperventilate. Had I really decided to attempt to learn to dance on national television, wearing a sequined bathing suit? Was I hallucinating? Was there a loophole I could crawl my way out of? Does somebody have a copy of my contract?

I wasn't worried about whether I would be able to pick up the complicated dance steps. I wasn't worried about going back on TV in front of millions of viewers after such a long hiatus. I wasn't worried about performing well enough to keep my spot on the show.

I was worried about looking fat.

Even after twenty years of slaying my demons, I was still most concerned with how I looked. When a professional dancer sees her own reflection, she's not looking for double chins or figure flaws; she's studying lines, steps, and timing. The relationship between a dancer and her mirror image isn't about emotions or self-punishment; the mirror is simply a crucial tool that promotes her progress when it is used correctly. Most of us try to avoid confrontations with our reflections whenever possible, seeing the looking glass as the enemy. The dancer calls the mirror her friend and teacher.

But when I catch a glimpse of myself in a store window, I quickly avert my gaze.

Staring at my hips in the mirror, in an effort to make them move like a dancer's, was awkward for me, plain and simple. The very first day we worked together, Derek commanded me to stare down my own image and truly believe, deep down in my gut, that I was a beautiful dancer. Only if I was able to do this, he said, would it become true. I knew that he was right, but I doubted that I'd ever be so confident.

The first week of the show, I pushed past my fears and strutted out onto that dance floor in a skintight dress. I danced pretty darn well for a girl with no ballroom experience, earning high marks and tons of applause. But my performance didn't really impress me. The thing I was most proud of was getting a little bit thinner.

I'm not comfortable being a role model. I'm well aware that what works for me does not necessarily work for everyone else. And I find nothing to be less helpful to my own personal growth and development than having to listen to some well-known person preach about how good he or she is at doing something really, really hard—something that people all over the world are struggling with. What's more discouraging than being told that someone else has found the answer to a dilemma you've never been able to solve? It just makes you feel like even more of a failure.

Take what many refer to as my weight-loss "success."

Instead of thinking of my shape shifting as a success—something I've already accomplished—I see staying fit as more of a process. It's a practice that will never come to an end—meditation for the body rather than the mind. Controlling my weight requires compromise and sacrifice, but I don't mind the ongoing effort to keep my body healthy and comfortable—a place I actually want to live in. In fact, I feel lucky to have the strength, stamina, and support to keep improving my physical condition and the capacity to forgive myself when I slip up and gain a few pounds. I've finally accepted that there's no such thing as "finished" when it comes to being fit. Even the most immaculate house requires regular cleaning, and you have to keep training your muscles and appetite in order not to lose ground in your fitness battle.

I am so far from being "perfect" (thank God for that—"perfect" people bug the shit out of me) that it amazes me whenever anyone asks me for advice. I've made so many mistakes. Perhaps you're familiar with one or two of them? Maybe you noticed my name while you were scanning the tabloids in the grocery checkout line. I've gone on crash diets. I've tried crazy exercise regimens. Once, while working on a film, I ate so little in my effort to slim down that I became dehydrated and was forced to check into the hospital until my blood chemistries stabilized. In the film I was working on, I was playing the role of a cancer patient, and I was doing my best to look like one. Sick. I still get just as desperate and insecure about my body as anyone else, even though I achieved what many call a weight-loss milestone many years ago when I lost over 100 pounds.

When I talk about my experiences with weight loss and the transformation, inside and out, that can result from it, I'm not presenting myself as an expert. I'm trying to offer solidarity and maybe an insight or two. This book is my effort to be totally candid and honest about my experience gaining, then losing,and finally recapturing control of my own body.

First and foremost, there was no one magical moment—no trick, no fluke of chemistry or psychology. Many things came into play that enabled me to finally feel empowered, rather than hopeless, when it came to my weight. It was a perfect storm of need, luck, and determination.

I credit my initial weight loss to sheer professional desperation: I needed to work, and I was too fat for anyone to hire me. My career as the lovable fat chick had run its course, and executives and audiences needed something new to market. So I lost all my money, went into hiding, starved myself, worked my butt off, and scored my very own talk show.

But that initial transformation was only the beginning. Like all other people who have difficulty controlling their weight, I've been up and down the scale for most of my life, and it's only now, at the age of forty-three, that I honestly think the worst of my struggles may be behind me. (I do hope that writing that down doesn't jinx things!)

The reason for this change? For the first time in my life, I've been given the honor of feeling truly unconditional love. I'm not talking about "love" in some vague, spiritual sense. I'm talking about hot, sexy, uncompromising, passionate, emotional, terrifying, gratifying, mind-blowing human love. Love from a gorgeous man, for both what's inside me and what I look like on the outside. From the first time I went to bed with my fiancé, Christian, I realized I had never truly known what it was like to be inside myself experiencing real pleasure—the kind of pleasure that unifies the body, mind, and spirit in passion and total care for another human being. I'd always been watching myself from outside—acting out the experience of pleasure without truly feeling it.

Since the beginning of time, a woman has needed a man—in some form or another—to create human life. Even the creationists and the Darwinists have nothing to argue about on this one! In no way do I mean this to sound antifeminist, but I believe that I needed Christian's help in order to give birth to my truest, happiest self. We met each other at the wrong time in each of our lives to have a baby together, and for a while, this made me sad. But then I realized that Christian had already helped me to create a new life: my own.

If I could help women to achieve anything when it came to their bodies, it wouldn't be fitness or weight loss; it would be self-acceptance. I don't blame you if you're rolling your eyes right now: I would be too. People said it to me all my life, but I didn't really grasp the truth of the following statement until I experienced it myself: Unless you love yourself for who you are right now, you'll never become who you truly want to be. It may sound cheesy, it may sound paradoxical, but to me, it finally makes sense. Real, lasting change can't be negatively motivated; it has to be powered by positivity.

Before I met Christian, if you ever would have told me I'd agree to appear weekly on national television in skintight costumes, attempting complicated, athletic choreography in front of a live studio audience, I'd have said you were crazy.

"Never," I'd have replied.

But you know by now what I have to say about the word never: I've learned to never say it.

Chapter 1. I'll never be anything special.

I grew up in a middle-class Jewish family in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, a small town in Westchester County not far from Manhattan, but far enough away from the city that Manhattan always seemed like an exotic and magical place. We were the classic 1970s family of four. My father, Barry, worked as a pharmacist; my mother, Jill, was a stay-at-home mom; I was their firstborn; and my sister, Jennifer, came along just fourteen months after I did.

A few years ago, an interviewer for a parenting magazine asked me, "What's the best trick your mother ever taught you?"

"How to heat up a Hungry Man for dinner!" was my reply.

The person from whom I did get unconditional love was my father's mother, my Grandma Sylvia Lake. Doesn't the name sound as if it should belong to a famous person? It just belongs in lights:


Grandma Sylvia was nothing short of a movie star to me. She looked like a cross between Patricia Neal and Gena Rowlands—all rosy cheeks and lipstick and glasses—the ultimate glamorous matriarch. Her hair was always "done," her jewelry always big. She seemed to give off some otherworldly light, since she positively glowed with energy and vibrance. Even though I was short and rotund, and the details of my everyday life were often gray and average, Grandma Sylvia taught me to look at the world through a rainbow-colored prism. (To a big thinker like Grandma Sylvia, rose-colored glasses are for amateur optimists.) Grandma Sylvia was always telling me that I was the smartest, the funniest, the prettiest. She called me "the most talented girl in the world," even when all I could do was half a cartwheel.

Grandma Sylvia shared her love of the arts with my sister, Jennifer, and me, taking us to the theater in Manhattan almost every weekend. I can still recall every spectacle I ever witnessed with her—from the opera to the ballet, Annie to Pirates of Penzance. I remember the way my heartbeat quickened as the house lights began to dim, the pit orchestra weaved together the first phrases of the overture, and the burgundy velvet curtain started to twitch, then glide its way open to reveal the magic behind it.

I can still conjure up the cozy feeling of grasping my grandmother's elegant, well-manicured hand with my squishy, miniature mitt as I settled into the seat. Going to the theater offered all the magic of my imagination except I didn't have to close my eyes. And though Grandma Sylvia and I were part of the audience, she always made me believe I was the star of the show.

My friends often tease me that I see the world through the eyes of a Disney princess, that I open my curtains each morning to savor the sweet smell of citrus trees and the music of songbirds. They're right—I kind of do. No disrespect to Mr. Disney, but I inherited my sunny outlook from Grandma Sylvia, not some storybook princess. It was probably her positivity, both genetic and learned, that got me through her death from breast cancer in 1978, when she was only fifty-eight years old, and I was nine.

I still think of her every day because she was the person who enabled me to see the beauty in myself.