For those that enjoyed the variety of television shows that came out during the 90s, you may have realised that a common thread flowed through them all. The ideal around nullifying the stereotype of the heroine in the tower, waiting for their prince to come, was one that was steadily taking a back seat. Women began taking on more vocal, sassy, action-packed roles; a trend that has carried on into the 21st century. From ‘Roseanne’ to ‘Sex and the City’, ‘Ally McBeal’ to ‘X-Files’ and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ too, the female leads were all spunky, outspoken, and unavoidably powerful. Dark Angel, the show that catapulted Jessica Alba to fame in 1998, though short-lived, was among those that became fairly popular around that time. Radhika Talwar explores how this streak of power became the driving force of Alba’s life
As the futuristic, genetically enhanced, ass-kicking soldier with serious attitude, Alba broke the ‘nice girl’ mould of her earlier work with aplomb. Slim, svelte and sultry, Alba likely featured in many a red-blooded male fantasy. But make no mistake; she was extremely likeable to the female psyche, as the epitome of womanly strength and style. It also helped that her strong-girl image does not prevent her from getting the guy in the end. With an exotic, earthy beauty that could be owed to her diverse heritage, Alba has an energy flow that is palpable on and off-screen. None of her movies, from ‘Honey’ to ‘Fantastic Four’ or ‘Sin City’ have featured classic heroines that merely play supporting roles to a male co-star. When talking about the physicality of her roles, Alba said, “I just didn’t like the damsel-in-distress thing. I could relate to young girls wanting to see her take care of herself. And because I’m so good at action, I talked the writer and producer and director into throwing together a little fight sequence. It ended up taking three more weeks to shoot it. But at least I’m not tied up and asleep until my knight in shining armor comes and saves me. So I thought it was cool.”
Like many success stories, Alba broke into the industry at a young age. Raised in Southern California, she had an early dream and hunger to become an actress. When she was 11, she persuaded her mother to take her to an acting competition in Beverly Hills, and in competing with thousands of hopefuls, won the grand prize; a year’s worth of acting classes. Through sheer determination, and desire to not disrupt her life, she opted to fit these into a summer rather than miss school. Nine months after winning the classes, Alba landed a small role in ‘Camp Nowhere’, which subsequently led to numerous minor roles, and eventually a lead in ‘Dark Angel’.
While Alba has enjoyed plenty of success in her career, she has also faced equal parts criticism. Nominated for a Razzie award for Worst Actress, she has not always accomplished her goal of being recognised as a serious actress. Despite being recognised as Sexiest Female Star in 2002, and making the Most Beautiful list multiple times, she continues to set her sights higher. “What happens when the looks fade? If I don’t establish myself as someone who can act a part rather than look the part, I will soon be finished.”
The diversity in roles Alba selected over the course of her career is noteworthy. Admittedly not every gamble paid off, but she has branched out from action and adventure, to science fiction (Fantastic Four series), to horror-comedy (Machete Kills) and romantic-comedies (Valentine’s Day). Part of the challenge Alba has faced is being typecast into certain roles, whether it is for her beauty, or ethnic background. “I had a very American upbringing, I feel American, and I don’t speak Spanish. So, to say that I’m a Latin actress, OK, but it’s not fitting; it would be insincere. If you’re going to look genetically, I’m actually less Latin than Cameron Diaz, whose father is from Cuba. But she’s not getting called a Latin actress because she’s got blond hair and blue eyes.” Alba definitely has not let the stereotypes get in the way of her goals.
To look at her today, no one would believe that Alba was ever less than in the best of health. With a firm, lithe body and dusky, glowing skin, she looks and epitomises vigour and well being. As a child however, she was often hospitalised, suffering partially collapsed lungs from multiple bouts of pneumonia and chronic asthma. Not surprising then, that she has a vested interest in creating and maintaining healthful, safe environment for her daughters. The idea for her billion-dollar business came on the heels of an allergic reaction she suffered to laundry detergent, whilst pregnant with her first child, Honor, in 2008. “I was thinking, what if my baby has a reaction and I don’t know? What if her throat is closing? I had all this fear and anxiety because I was always so sick as a child.” And so the wheels of innovation began turning for Alba.
Through countless hours of research, exploration, education on ingredients and toxins in popular household products, Alba had a clear mission, “I wanted safe and effective consumer products that were beautifully designed, accessibly priced and easy to get.” Teaming up with Christopher Gavigan, author of ‘Healthy Child Healthy World’, Alba went to work, assembling lists of harmful toxins, and appealed to Congress to co-sponsor a Safe Chemicals Act in 2011. The idea did not take off, or garner support from every person initially, but that was no deterrent to Alba. As she once said, “Actresses are used to rejection.”
Through sheer determination, and tenacity, Alba marshalled her forces, with complete support from her husband, Cash Warren. In 2011, years after the first brainstorm, Alba, along with Gavigan launched The Honest Company, in partnership with Brian Lee (co-founder of LegalZoom.com) and Sean Kane (co-founder of PriceGrabber). The company’s mission is simple – to build safer, healthier families by providing eco-friendly, toxin-free products and household cleaning agents.
It is testimony to Alba’s innovative idea and business acumen, that the company earned $10 million in sales in the first year alone. Warren’s pride in his wife’s accomplishments is heartening and proof positive that Alba chose a worthy partner. “She wakes up thinking about Honest; she goes to bed thinking about it,” Warren say. To anyone in doubt, it should be noted that Alba graduated high school at the age of 16; testimony that beauty and brains can and do reside in one potent package.
With her fantastic husband, two adorable daughters, Honor, now seven and Haven, aged four, and her $1.7 billion dollar company, Alba has defied criticisms and expectations. Although she is not the first celebrity-turned- entrepreneur, her youth, energy and entrepreneurial streak make her a formidable businesswoman. Recalling her early days of setting up business she says; “If it was easy, everyone would do it. You have to be a little bit crazy; you have to have gumption and tenacity. A lot of people give up at the first roadblock. But, for entrepreneurs, if there isn’t another road, we create it. We break concrete; we throw dynamite; we figure it out.” Definitely the words of a woman with success balanced neatly in the palm of a capable hand.