Martha Stewart Gets Candid About the Highs and Lows of Her Celebrated Life

The DIY queen — marking the 30th anniversary of Martha Stewart Living — talks business, beauty and getting through tough times

As the rest of the world slowed down this year, Martha Stewart remained busier than ever.

“My friends are all a little envious. They call me every day to say, ‘You’re so lucky. You have so much to do,’ ” says the lifestyle mogul, 79, in this week's issue of PEOPLE. “I could easily say, ‘Well, I’d like to be lolling around, doing nothing.’ But I’ve been going 24/7, and that's okay.”

The New Jersey native’s strong work ethic is something she’s maintained since she started modeling in high school. A successful stockbroker after attending Barnard College, Stewart left the workforce to raise her daughter Alexis, now 55, with ex-husband Andrew Stewart (they divorced in 1990) at home in Westport, Conn.

As Alexis approached her teen years, Stewart began her career as a caterer in 1976, opening doors to a world of cookbook writing (her 97th title, Cake Perfection, is out now), a bevy of TV shows (she filmed two seasons of HGTV’s Martha Knows Best during the pandemic) and her magazine Martha Stewart Living (published by PEOPLE's parent company, Meredith Corp.).

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Below Stewart reveals her approach to business, beauty and getting through tough times (in 2004 she served five months in prison after being found guilty on charges including conspiracy and obstruction of justice).

“I have survived the rigors of time, of marriage, of childbearing, of building a business from scratch,” she says. “I have survived very nicely, and I think I make the most of it.”

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Before she became a domestic diva, Martha Stewart (in the early 1960s) posed for brands like Clairol, Tareyton cigarettes and Glamour magazine. Courtesy Martha Stewart

Go where life takes you.

"My neighbor, a beautiful ballerina, was modeling for Stuart Models, and she had a contract. Her parents said to me, “Martha, you’re so pretty. You should be modeling also.” So I did. I signed with Ford Models and was immediately signed up for TV commercials. I was the all-American girl. I played married parts when I was 16 years old. I was so skinny and so perfect for modeling, but I didn’t know that I was beautiful. That was my only problem. I knew that I could model, I knew I could pose for pictures, but I was not sexy, and I was not provocative. That feeling never came. It still hasn’t come. I’m waiting for that day. I remember thinking, “God, I’m more beautiful than Ali MacGraw.” But I didn’t know how to be Ali MacGraw. I didn’t know how to lure the photographers into my bed. Everybody was sleeping with everybody at the time, and I never did any of that."

There are no limits—unless you set them for yourself.

"The most important of my early jobs was being a stockbroker, and I lasted in that business for about eight years, working in a firm of all men. Only one woman-owned a seat on the [New York Stock] Exchange at that time. I’m not intimidated by men, I never was—I had three brothers who were beating on me all the time growing up. But men actually welcomed me to their offices. We wore hot pants to work. I still have my pale, peachy-pink ones and my chocolate-brown ones. I wore them with either high heels, bare legs or tights. Elegant but also crazy. Like, how can you go to work in short-shorts? But I didn’t think twice about it. I was totally respected. I didn’t even know what a glass ceiling was until somebody explained it to me, because being a woman and being a businesswoman was all one and the same to me. I had a very successful career in the stock market, and I sometimes regret not staying in that business, because becoming an investment banker would’ve been pretty fabulous. But I was lured to the home."

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Martha Stewart with daughter Alexis. James Devaney/wireimage

There is no perfect way to be a mother.

"I was busy. At the time, Alexis was going to school in Westport, and I was commuting to New York. After I gave up stock-brokering, I started an at-home catering business, which was extremely time-consuming. One thing Alexis learned from that was how to cook. She’s a phenomenal cook and baker. I tried to involve her in everything, but the minute she could leave home and go to boarding school, she did. Our relationship has always been a difficult mother-daughter relationship. Difficult, but she would do anything for me, and I would do anything for her."

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Believe in yourself, even if others do not.

"[My company] Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia went public in 1999. I was the first self-made female billionaire. I had opposition, and that kind of opposition to a woman-built business was really outrageous. Even my own lawyers were negative about the possibility of success. I remember one lawyer sending me an orchid, saying, “Oh, you did it. Wow. What a surprise.” What a piece of garbage that guy is. I think I helped so many other women believe in their own ideas and their own business plans and their own paths to glory. Many other women have built amazing companies and done very well. I think I had a good part in that, without being an overt feminist."

It’s okay to feel sad, but keep carrying on.

"Getting divorced was a terrible thing for me, because we were the first to divorce in my family. And that we haven’t spoken since the divorce is even more painful. But I’m very strong, and I’m very motivated to get on with life. Even when I went away [to Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia] for five months, I got through it. I learned how to crochet. I still have the gorgeous crocheted poncho [that I wore leaving prison]. It’s in the attic. And I reupped my ceramics there. I had done a lot of ceramics as a child, and we had this fabulous ceramics studio in West Virginia, and I made an entire crèche scene. That’s my best memory."

Martha Stewart

‘There’s nothing tough about being 79, other than a number that stares you in the face’

— Martha Stewart

Surrounding yourself with different types of people is the best school.

"I learn a lot from my friend Snoop [Dogg], just about his whole world. Rap had always interested me. That kind of poetry really resonates with me. I listen to the words, although some of them might be pretty hard to take. Early on I started inviting rappers to my daily show. I had Snoop, P. Diddy and Usher. The only one that wouldn’t come was Eminem. I still have not met Eminem, and that is just ridiculous."

Social media can be a blast.

"I took a pool selfie photo by mistake [see sidebar]. I was trying to take a picture of the beautiful turquoise planter at the end of the pool, but the camera was on me, so I just snapped it. It looked so good, so I posted it. I didn’t know what a “thirst trap” was, but now I do. Now I’m looking for the next thirst trap. I love doing those promiscuous, provocative things, because it’s just fun."

Practice self-care. You’ll thank yourself later.

"I work primarily with two very excellent dermatologists, who are very conservative about anything that they would do to my face. A little Juvéderm injections here or there every now and then, maybe twice a year, and that’s basically the skin treatments that I get. I’ve never had a face-lift. I have the same lady doing my pedicure for many years. And my feet are like a young person’s feet because of her. I have all my own teeth. I really care about maintaining an aura of good health, which is basically the food I eat. And genetics has a lot to do with it. My dad was a gorgeous man with very good skin. So was Mom. She was fantastic until she was 93 years old. My hope is that unless I kill myself with too much hard work, I will probably survive very nicely for a long time."

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