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Women Who Inspire: Actress Bo Derek

Think of Bo Derek and the dream sequence from the 1979 movie 10. Derek’s character races toward Dudley Moore’s in a risqué flesh-colored bathing suit, her cornrowed blond hair flowing slow-mo in the wind.

Moore’s character of a middle-age man who believes Derek’s character to be the ideal woman led many more men to feel the same, with a likely majority of that generation having a movie poster of Derek from the dream scene pinned to their bedroom walls. The movie launched Derek’s acting and modeling career. Today she enjoys her semiretirement surrounded by horses at her Southern California ranch, with actor and country singer John Corbett (known for his roles in Northern Exposure and Sex in the City).

When we chatted with Derek, now 62, about her life, her soft voice and laughter complemented her authentic beauty inside and out.

You titled your 2002 biography Riding Lessons: Everything That Matters in Life I Learned From Horses. How did a California surfer girl become horse obsessed?

I grew up on the beaches of Southern California surfing and sailing, and growing up always dreamed of having horses. I have been lucky to be able to surround myself with them. I’m looking at them now and can see them out of every window. My ranch home was designed with pastures around the house in a circle pattern. So every window looks out on the horses. I used to say it’s so important to live out in the country and be around horses and people who care much more about how I sit on a horse and how I ride than what I look like [she laughs]. That’s very healthy for me.

Do you ride every day?

I have five horses and a donkey, and while I take care of them all myself, I don’t get to ride enough — these days typically just twice a week. But they are so healing. I worked with a stable with a lot of disabled veterans for seven years and saw the amazing things that medicine and physical therapy and machines could do. But there was something about what the horses themselves did. I don’t know why. I’ve seen people with disabilities, including cerebral palsy, when someone comes and they’re so tight and they get on a horse and they loosen up. In about five minutes they’re decontracting; it’s unbelievable.

Is it ever too late to ride horses?

I encourage people to ride. It’s never too late. But if you have a fear of horses, don’t try, just leave it. It’s a very healthy fear. Horses are very powerful and can be very skittish, and that’s not for everyone.

Bo Derek with horse

Does living a life in the country riding after growing up surfing and swimming at the beach mean you’re naturally a healthy eater?

I’ve never been a healthy eater! I eat in moderation, a bit of everything, but I’m a pretty normal eater. I love desserts and a bag of Cheetos, but I do try and keep my weight within 5 or 10 pounds — not because of my work. It’s because I become very uncomfortable, even in my fat clothes. I love carbs, so have to make a point to get enough protein.

Do you take vitamins and supplements?

I’m not a big supplements person. My instincts tell me you’re not supposed to have the equivalent of 1,000 carrots a day in a capsule. I believe we can get all the nutrition we need from food. I’m not vegetarian. I have milk, and I have tofu. My instincts also tell me processed foods are not good for us. I’m not rigid with my eating and just really do believe moderation is the key.

Besides riding horses, what do you do for fitness?

When I had back surgery I took up swimming, and it feels good. A girlfriend and I made a promise to each other to do open-water swimming, and we do. We swim with hundreds of people and have done open-water swims in Turkey and Greece.

Bo Derek with pony and cart

If you enjoy open-water swimming have you done triathlons?

No. I love swimming, but I hate to run and hate to cycle!

You’re an iconic beauty with amazing skin. What does your skin care regimen look like these days?

I have very sun damaged skin, so I’m a big believer in slathering on sunscreen. I haven’t done plastic surgery, but I do see my dermatologist regularly to get the light treatments and things burnt off all the time. I love La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 60 and sometimes mix a little foundation with it. I use Biotherm Anti-Drying Body Milk, and also because my skin is desert parched and like a sponge, I use Shu Uemura Maxi: Hydrability Moisture Intensive Essence-In Cream. My skin also loves hyaluronic acid. I can’t take credit for my bone structure — that’s from my parents. And I just feel I was born for these times with a body shape and a metabolism that’s popular right now. Ultimately the script was always “if you do this, you’ll look like me.” I’m happy sharing what works for me, but I’ve never felt comfortable promising a miracle in a jar of something. It depends on your skin type and your chemistry.

No plastic surgery at all? Do you ever look at friends who’ve done it and want to say, “What have you done?! Why did you do that?!”

Plastic surgery is so personal. I’m fine with others doing it but find a great dignity in naturally keeping the wolves from the door. When you observe what makes people look better in still photos is brutal in motion. If it works for them, that’s OK. But in motion, having a conversation, I think that all of our natural animation and motion that comes with aging is preferable. When I go out, I’m sure some people think, Why doesn’t she do something?! You can’t have it all, and surgery can only do so much. You can’t beat time and aging. I live out in the country, and I just cringe when I see myself on the red carpet. But we pose in the mirror and give ourselves our best shot. Thank God our brain and our self-confidence gets better as our face and body goes. We have that brain and that happiness, and that’s what’s beautiful.

Read more interviews with women who inspire.

Photos: Kerry Perez

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