If you feel like you’ve known Mayim Bialik your entire life, it’s because you probably have. Since first gracing our screens in the ‘80s, the former child star has become a mom, a successful author and a star on The Big Bang Theory. Bialik has learned a lot about life, health and growing up in the ensuing years, and she explores these topics in her new book, Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular.
Paste chatted with Bialik about her book’s origins, fighting for the perfect cover photo and celebrities’ influence on teens.
Paste: Let’s judge your book by it’s cover for a moment, as it’s got this great picture of you dressed as a superhero. Where did that idea come from?
Mayim Bialik: There are a lot of aspects of this book that I think are interesting in terms of what I was trying to do and how it tied into the way the media wants to present this kind of material. The cover is a great example. Originally, it was pitched to me that we do a pretty glamor shot of me, with my hands on my chin, looking very smart with glasses and appropriate sparkly makeup. I rarely put my foot down about things firmly, but I said, “Absolutely not.” I said, “If I’m writing a book about girls feeling empowered and feeling intelligent and embracing their quirky sides, I don’t want to be presented as the pretty girl wearing glasses on the cover of this book.” I actually suggested that we do something comic-y and superhero-y and empowering with me in sneakers, the way I always am. Everybody on our creative team was able to get on board with more of a playful and quirky look for the whole book as opposed to a sleek “Ooh, celebrity scientist” look, which kind of makes me nauseous.
Paste: You’ve written books about parenting, cooking and now about growing up. What goes into your decision-making process as far as when to dive into writing a new book?
Bialik: I’m the first person to say that I think it’s really obnoxious and pretentious when celebrities write books, and it looks like they’re just doing it to make money. I’ve actually been very selective about what I’ve written about. My first book about parenting came about because I was writing about it for kveller.com at that time. There seemed to be a lot of desire to hear my perspective on my style of parenting, what that meant for my family and how it impacted us. My second book, honestly, came out of sharing recipes and people saying, “We want more recipes like that. Can you please put out a book?”
With [Girling Up], I’ve been approached by a lot of different publishing companies to put my face on a shiny, happy science book for girls. That’s not what I wanted to do. It was Jill Santopollo from Penguin who reached out to me. She had read an article I wrote on GrokNation.com about what it was like to be a late bloomer, since I play one on television. She loved the way that I spoke about Amy and Sheldon [from The Big Bang Theory] having coitus for the first time in such modest and humbled tones. And she said, “I think this is a voice that a lot of girls would resonate with, especially because you’re not coming from a conservative or religious perspective about it.”
I proposed that we teach girls about themselves through learning about the cultural experience, or a scientific experience, of being female and how it varies across culture. It’s an entire mini-encyclopedia of being female, and that’s really how this book was born. So it feels like it really has honest beginnings.
Paste: In this ever-changing world of media and how people consume it, do you receive any pushback from your team about devoting so much time to a project of this type?
Bialik: Its a great question, fortunately or unfortunately. I’m constantly being encouraged to spend my time, my money and my energy to make a personal investment in the YouTube space. That whole world has become a part of my life in ways I never understood or imagined. However, I think that for things like this, there still is room for traditional books.
I’m old fashioned. I was old when I was 10 years old, so at 41, I know that I’m like a dinosaur. But I still have the reference book that I used as a kid for learning about my body and my brain. Obviously they are very outdated and not as all-inclusive as I’ve decided to write Girling Up to be, but I think there still is room for that.
Paste: Readers will likely appreciate your point-of-view in Girling Up. You present information and make suggestions about how to approach various aspects of life, but you never preach or truly tell them what to do.
Bialik: I was very careful about that. So I appreciate you picking up on, at least, my attempt.
Paste: Especially in today’s day and age, celebrities have become extremely vocal about their opinions about politics and the world in general. How can teens avoid blindly forming opinions based on those of their favorite stars and sort through all of the good (and bad) information out there to form their own genuine point of view?
Bialik: I think it’s important to remember that it’s not that celebrities are having opinions; it’s that people are having opinions, and some of them happen to be celebrities. There’s no more or less weight that we should put on a famous person using their platform. I’ve debated this a lot, when I was deciding what to speak out about and what not to speak out about in terms of Trump, and in terms of Planned Parenthood, and in terms of Israel. I didn’t grow up in a world where celebrities had this much weight, in terms of their opinion. But I think that there are many non-celebrity places where you can learn about all of these issues. The fact is that there’s always going to be room for people to disagree about things, and that’s America. I happen to advocate more love, more understanding, more openness, more safety regarding rights, so that’s just where I fall politically. I’m just another person, and I don’t get to pick and choose which celebrities people pay attention to.
Paste: Your website, GrokNation.com, is a great hub for people to get to know you and the things that you care about. What itch does Grok Nation scratch for you beyond that of your book projects?
Grok Nation is a space to think deeply about things that are meaningful and important to people, and on any given day, that can be something very serious or something not serious. I’m not a celebrity that has a lifestyle that I need to make a website about. I was asked if this is a celebrity lifestyle website. I said unless the lifestyle is thinking, then no.
So we are a website for people who collect thoughts and things. That’s how we started when we started Grok Nation. We have contributing writers, and I’ve started interviewing people that I think need to be interviewed, meaning people whose voices we might not otherwise hear about. So that been really enjoyable and interesting, and that’s still the place that I write regularly.