Jessica Alba: EW's Celebrity Mom Chat
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The busy actress, entrepreneur, and mom of two told us what daughters Honor and Haven are watching and reading these days, why the name Nicki Minaj was big in her house last month, and why the portrayal of girls and women in media matters to her.—As told to Abby West
ON WHAT HER GIRLS ARE INTO THESE DAYS
The baby is into kind of touch-and-feel books, cardboard tactile books. In the kitchen, once and a while when I’m cooking, I put on Little Pim, super basic language learning DVDs that have little characters. And Honor, she’s into movies, nothing too scary. She did see Brave, wearing her costume and everything. She said there was one scary part, when the mom turned into a bear, but she brings up Merida all the time. She made quite an impression. She also likes Nick Jr. and is really into Dora. She watches most of her kind of movies and television on the planes. And we travel a lot, so she gets into it on the planes. And I’m so appreciative of it.
As far as the iPad goes, she has a princess dress-up app or the Cookie Doodle, make your own cookie app. But I always make her do an educational app too, like a spelling app. She doesn’t have a great attention span when it comes to that. She usually ends up going to the photos and taking photos of everything and video.
She loves anything with a princess or a mermaid or a fairy. She has no discretion. We could just go on and on with that. And the princess books we have are all about princesses also helping people who are in need, who don’t have the things we have. I try to give her a spin on it so it’s not just about a prince coming in and sweeping you off your feet and that’s the best day of your life. A princess’s job is to help with the children who don’t have clothes. Or to help clean up the planet. That’s something I talk to her about. Real princesses give back to the earth and they’re kind to animals [laughs] and I try to tell her that’s what being a princess is. Not just that you’re born into that family.
She loves Dr. Seuss books, obviously, and is into Olivia. But Dr. Ted is another book she’s obsessed with. It’s about a little boy who pretends he’s a doctor for the day.
We’re really into trying to do as much of an educational spin on it as possible. We encourage her to ask questions along the way. We’re not into propping our kids in front of the television and letting that be the time they spend at home. I’m really into arts and crafts and mixing up the media and pop culture we expose them to.
ON POP CULTURE SEEPING IN
I guess the most recent issue was that she saw Ice Age 4 the other day with her cousins and one of her cousins was like “Nicki Minaj!” So all Honor talked about all day was that Nicki Minaj is a voice. She was like “Even though they’re animals, they’re really people who are inside of the animals helping them talk. And Nicki Minaj.” I was like “You don’t even know who Nicki Minaj is!” She was messing up the name. But she got really fascinated with it because her older cousin told her all about the fact that Nicki Minaj was the voice. She has no idea who Nicki Minaj is or any of her songs. All she knows was that her cousin was saying it so she was just on it.
ON TRYING TO KEEP THEIR CHILDLIKE WONDER INTACT
We were flying to New York and Honor asked, “How does the voice get inside the animals’ body? Or is he inside making the mouth move?” And I was like, “Um, it’s complicated?”
I did try to explain it to her. Then she asked, “Is the real Cinderella the Cinderella we see at Disneyland? Or is it the one that you see in the movies?” And she’s really into the fairy godmothers. She really wants to see Merryweather from Sleeping Beauty doing real magic with a real wand. So every time she sees a wand, she’ll ask if she can really fly? Is it real magic? I’m like, “Weeeelll. Probably.” I love the idea that anything is possible and I want her to hang on to that as long as she can. But I don’t have great explanations for it.
So it’s funny with what you expose kids to in media and where the line sort of crosses with what’s actually real and what isn’t. What’s attainable and what isn’t. Because with their imagination, they’re gonna ask. And they want to know. And if they don’t see people flying about but they see it in movies, they’re like what’s going on? When do people get to do that?
And yet there are times it works for you. She’s obsessed with The Little Mermaid. So we went to the Amalfi coast and they have a lot of mermaids everywhere, statues and whatnot. And Honor asks if there are mermaids in the sea and I’m said, “Yeah! This is where they are.” And she was like, “Can I see them?” And I said, “I don’t think mermaids want to be seen.” “Why not, mom?!” Like she was thinking “I’m gonna find one!”
So before that trip she had a fear of going into the ocean, any big body of water really. She was cool with the pool but with the ocean, she was like no-way. “There’s fish. I’m scared.” We live in Southern California and we’ve been to the beach so many times, but this girl would get her toe wet and then run away.
But because of The Little Mermaid and the idea that she could possibly see a mermaid, she went into the ocean. Then she spent the whole entire time we were there in the sea. Or wanting to go into the sea. Which I thought was really cool. It was kind of a breakthrough moment for us. So there is something positive about media. [Laughs] Even if it is to trick her into thinking she could possibly see a mermaid. I didn’t try to trick her, mind you. It just sort of… happened.
ON TRYING TO SHAPE HER DAUGHTERS’ VIEW ON WOMEN IN MEDIA
I’m obviously sensitive to the portrayal of women in what she watches because that’s the industry I’m in and I also know how impressionable little minds are because I have a little kid and I remember how impressionable I was. I also like to filter information and have control over how she consumes that type of information. I think leading by example and setting that example that I want my girls to look up to a woman who’s independent, has opinions, learns by trial and error, and is willing to take risks. I think it is powerful.
And when she goes to my office [at The Honest Company], she sees as many women there as there are men. Sometimes more women than there are men, depending on the day. So she’ll never feel what I think I felt when I was growing up, that perception that men dominated the workforce and women still kind of played a different role. And when they didn’t, it was sort of a hyper, over-the-top man-eater mentality. I think that has certainly shifted in pop culture, the way that we portray women. We have women like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Julia Roberts , these iconic women in pop culture who are mothers and are powerful women in their fields. I think all of that shapes the way that our girls are going to feel about themselves. And I think that’s all positive.