The “Pretty Little Liars” girls were all over this past Sunday’s Teen Choice Awards nominations – with the teen mystery-drama itself and five members of the cast up for Choice honors, plus “Pretty Little Liars” star Lucy Hale cohosting (along with Darren Criss of “Glee.”) Nia Peeples, who plays mom to Emily (Shay Mitchell), couldn’t be happier for her young cast mates with all the attention they’re getting, but says with a laugh that she’s just as glad to watch from home. “It’s just utter craziness there.”
The actress who rose to fame as Nicole Chapman on “Fame” in the 80s can certainly relate to her young cast mates, whom she describes as “all fantastic girls. They’re smart. They appreciate where they are. As Shay said during the first season, ‘Look, six months ago I was waiting tables in Toronto.’ Her attitude is: ‘I am making the most of this. I am studying my acting. I’m getting better every day. I’m taking advantage of the social media and I’m being responsible by sharing what I know and the things that I’ve experienced.’
“There is a little bit of mentoring, especially with Shay, of course,” says Nia. “We talk about relationships, we talk about guys — what she’s looking for. We talk about weight and staying healthy in the middle of Hollywood, which I’ve been doing for thirty years.”
Taking a healthy approach to beauty is a topic near and dear to Nia’s heart – so near and dear, in fact, that she’s been hosting Facebook hangouts with viewers chatting about redefining beauty.
“I’m so aware of what’s going on,” she says, referring to the pressures on women to look perfect, surrounded by media images of perfection on shows such as – ahem — “Pretty Little Liars.”
“I sit there and watch the show with my 14-year-old daughter. She’s going through her hormonal thing, I’m going through mine – on two ends of the age scale there,” Nia laughs. “She looks at these teens in the town of Rosewood, where there is nothing but beautiful teens. And she thinks, ‘Is that what I’m supposed to look like? I’m not sure I can do that.’ And at the same time, I see my aging face – I’ve been looking at my face for years onscreen — and I think, ‘Is that what I’m supposed to look like, at 50?” I don’t know. It begins to affect you regardless of where you come from. The whole thing about beauty is so pervasive, even with my having growing up in show business – knowing the truth about lighting and Spanx and boobie pads and all that, it can strike me. And I think ‘Wait a minute.’ It really isn’t just about teens. It’s about women of all ages.”
That is why, she says, she has been so anxious to “begin the conversation about redefining beauty. What is it, really? It’s about embracing who you are. I believe that everyone is beautiful, if we could embrace our own individuality and do everything we can to bring it forth — and that is everything from emotional health to mental health to skin care and physical health. Bringing forth the most beautiful you can be, and on a deeper level, the most beautiful you’ve ever been — you do that by not sacrificing your self-esteem. If you’re reaching for something else, as opposed to bringing forth what’s within, you’re always going to be dissatisfied and there’s always going to be self-esteem issues.
“There are a lot of different elements to it, but I don’t believe you can have true beauty that lasts throughout a lifetime without combining all of it and taking a holistic look.”
Her hangouts include “specific experts in different fields, all of whom have to do with what I think of as beauty. For instance, our next expert is Mandi Line, who is the costume designer for ‘Pretty Little Liars.’ The title for this particular hangout is ‘The Ugly Truth About ‘Pretty Little Liars’ fashion,’ meaning we’re going to talk about the fact that, yes, Mandi dresses these girls beautifully, but they cannot switch clothes. One would not good look in someone else’s. Everyone has their own unique shape and we have to learn to embrace that, and address it properly so we can be as beautiful as we can be instead of trying to be like someone else.”
Maybe, but it’s hard to imagine Lucy and Shay, and Shasha Pieterse, TroianBellisario, Ashley Benson and Janel Parrish looking anything but lovely whatever they wear.
Still, Nia says, beauty “begins by embracing who you are and Mandi is an expert at doing this. She can make anybody look good.” The “Ugly Truth” hangout is scheduled for tomorrow at 11 a.m. Pacific time.
Asked whether she addresses eating disorders and other negative effects of the drive for physical perfection, Nia says “Absolutely.” Recently, she had a hangout with weight loss specialist Dr. Russ L’HommeDieu who “at one time was topping the scales at 400 pounds. He went through a huge change in bringing his weight down, in a healthy way.”
And what of the beautiful little “Liars”? As far as Nia can see, she says, the girls have healthy attitudes about maintaining their appearances.
For a middle-aged actress to jump into the burgeoning virtual hangout scene is pretty impressive, and brave. “It’s just new technology that came to me and the idea to actually do something about this subject that’s been around for so long for me,” she says. She began developing her Elements of Life approach to beauty three years ago. Then, “When the new technology came, and we had the ability to do a virtual hangout on Facebook, we said, ‘Let’s do this virtual hangout around this subject matter.’ People type in questions, so you have a real sense of what they’re most interested in.”
She adds, “Once we worked through the technical issues — because for me, I’m like, technically special needs — it is fun. Because you’re able to talk with your audience in real time and do it in a controlled fashion. I can mute certain things, I can open up the screen to certain experts, and I cand have the right people speaking at the right times. And you can do it from wherever you are. Everybody does it right from where they’re sitting.”
Nia’s fans from different eras identify her with different shows – including “Fame,” “Walker, Texas Ranger,” “The Young and the Restless,” and, recently, “Wife Swap.” Some of those fans are not tech savvy. In fact, some have told her they found her on Twitter and Facebook only with help, she admits with a laugh — the help of their grandchildren.
HELLO AGAIN: Robin Riker (“The Bold and the Beautiful,” “Brothers,” “Don’t Look Under the Bed”) turns up Saturday (8/17) in the role of Clark Gable’s mom in the Hallmark Channel Original Movie “This Magic Moment.” That’s not the “Gone With the Wind” Hollywood icon Clark Gable. It’s a wannabe screenwriter who was named Clark Gable (Travis Schuldt) by his mother, who is infatuated with old Hollywood. When a film production company descends on their small town, complications and carryings-on ensue. Riker also will be in the spotlight with the release of her new book Sept. 8 – “A Survivor’s Guide to Hollywood…How to Play the Game Without Losing Your Soul” at bookstores or her www.robinriker.com website.