"If I can be help somebody be kind to themselves, hopefully that will help me be kind to myself too," says Valerie Bertinelli

By Liz McNeil
May 13, 2020 03:00 PM
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Valerie Bertinelli
John Russo

As Valerie Bertinelli approached her 60th birthday this April, she knew it was time for a change. But not one focused on her weight, something she had struggled with for decades. This time, she knew it was time to look inside.

"Gaining weight, losing weight, gaining weight, losing weight," she tells PEOPLE. "I'd never dealt with the any of the emotions."

It's a topic the TV star and host of Valerie's Home Cooking on the Food Network explores in this week's PEOPLE, as she opens up about her search for self acceptance, one that comes from a new and kinder place.

"I was always trying to be better. Thinner. Nicer. Prettier," she says.

  • For more from Valerie Bertinelli, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
John Russo

"I remember my fifth grade teacher patted me on the belly and said, 'You might want to keep an eye on that,' " she recalls. "That was the first time I became really aware of my body."

"My mom had made me these green hot pants with a bib. I was wearing green tights and a turtleneck. I thought I was stylin,'" she adds with a laugh.

"Now I think: 'how dare he?' " she says. "At that age we're so full of joy and then to have someone slap you for nothing. For just standing there. Now I can be angry for that little girl. It feels like so much time wasted. I don't want anyone else to waste any time."

It would take her years to learn that lesson. As a young teen star on the seventies sitcom One Day at a Time, she says, "I was made to feel I could lose a few, like, let's see if we can get you into a smaller size."

But now at 60, she is learning to (slowly) let go of the scale, a subject she's been addressing in a series of interviews with the Today show, where she is now a special correspondent.

"I don't weigh myself as much anymore," Bertinelli says. "I'll put on some jeans every once in a while to see how they feel. Why do I have to know what number I am? I know it's really about the internal work."

Mackenzie Phillips, Valerie Bertinelli and Bonnie Franklin on One Day at a Time
CBS/Getty

Along the way, she's been inspired by game changers such as Lizzo, Ashley Graham and Nabela Noor, a beauty influencer she follows on Instagram, for forging a new standard of beauty. "It would have been nice to have had women like that when I was growing up, to look up to," she says. "It doesn't freakin' matter what size they are. They glow from within. Thank God for them." And Graham, she adds, "is stunningly beautiful. I'm like why is she a plus size model? She's a model and she's stunning."

As she opens up about her own path to self acceptance, she hopes to also be part of that change. Beginning from the inside. "If I can be help somebody be kind to themselves, hopefully that will help me be kind to myself too," she says. "And my hope is I can connect with someone who needs to hear my story."

Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick and Valerie Bertinelli on Hot in Cleveland
Everett

At the same time, she is connecting with, and supporting, several groups helping those who've been hard hit in recent months in order to be of service.

"These four groups GiveDirectly, Domestic Workers Alliance, No Kid Hungry and Blessings in a Backpack are directly helping people in need," she says. “There are so many people out of work and in need during the pandemic,” she says. “Connecting with other people, reaching out and being of service is one way to find joy.”