Pure Love: Jennifer Esposito

Actress Jennifer Esposito shares with Purist how a series of health crises led her to reconnect with the wisdom, and wellness, of her free-spirited, youthful self.


I lived up the block from a park when I was a child. It was Brooklyn, and the park consisted of a handball court, lots of concrete and some swings. That’s all I needed. It was one of my favorite things to do. My bold tomboy self with her thick thighs, dark, curly hair and bushy eyebrows would fly through the air so carelessly, frivolously, all day. I honestly had no doubt that one day I would swing so high I would be able to go right over the top. Simple freedom, simple joy—and I loved it.

I remember a time when I was around 19, and my daily wardrobe consisted of combat boots and skirts or dresses. I was living on my own in NYC, waiting tables, putting myself through acting school. I felt so in charge of my life for the first time. The city was a place of freedom to me. There, people seemed to be allowed to just be as weird as they wanted to be, and it inspired me so. Back at home, there were so many limitations or rules set up for how I should be, and what I should expect as a young girl growing into a woman. It was that freedom without judgment that the city seem to offer that I loved.

I would wander the streets of this magical city of such hope for what seemed like days into night, spending hours in vintage shops and flea markets to find dresses and skirts to wear with my Doc Martens. There was something about these old dresses paired with my dirty boots that made me feel on the outside as I did inside: just a bit off. A rebel. A rebel to the ideas of who or what I was supposed to be: pretty, cute, feminine, demure, skinny, sexy, a wife, a mother, etc. Imperfect, in a good way, is what the city felt like to me, and that felt like freedom. I walked proudly in my bold outfits and thought I knew about the world.

Ah, youth…what did I know?

Years went by, and swing rides and those outfits were long gone. I’d exchanged them for more appropriate attire. I was now an adult, a woman. I had become a highly responsible, hard-working person who also fit into most of the ideals set out before me. My once-bold tomboy self struggled to be tamed. My curly dark hair was now straighter and lighter, my thick eyebrows perfectly groomed, and my thick thighs still a work in progress. Frivolous fun was nonexistent; pushing myself to be better, work harder and do better overruled it all. There just wasn’t enough time. No time for wandering aimlessly or taking up silly hobbies, and even less time to take a moment to just swing on a swing.

A few years ago, after an already long journey with my health (I was diagnosed with celiac disease, panic disorder and debilitating depression) and, well, life, I found myself waiting for the result of a biopsy to determine if calcifications on my breast were cancerous. Talk about no fun. I was racked with fear and anxiety. I had to wait five long days to get my results. Pure torture.

In those five days, I dealt with every emotion. Fear, anger, disbelief. Cancer? Me? Especially after knowing so much about health because of my celiac disease. I wrote books on the subject, designed healthy food brand all around it, and yet I was possibly ill? I ate well, really well, exercised and did all the right things. I read every healthy living item, healthy food diet, and wellness regimen I could get my hands on, and it made me even more overwhelmed with all the “should dos.” Even wellness now was stressing me out, and making me feel like I wasn’t doing enough. I had to put everything down for a moment.

For some reason, I felt the need to start cleaning out my closet while getting dressed to head to the gym. I had to go work on those thighs, of course. As I searched for a sports bra, items started to pile up in the get-rid-of stack. It was almost like I was searching for some space in my brain in between all the worry, and eliminating things would somehow help achieve this. I needed space. Space to breathe. I stumbled upon an old pair of motorcycle boots and eyed a lace pouffy skirt that I had never worn, which now sat in a pile to be donated to the Red Cross. I grabbed them and threw them into a small bag I packed for a much-needed trip out to the Hamptons. The hard concrete joy of the magical, hopeful city had shown its true hard cold colors, and nature was what I craved.

While out in the country, my brain continued on with worry, and the stress outweighed the beautiful peaceful surroundings. I needed air. I went to put some proper clothes on to take a walk, and found the boots and skirt I had shoved in my bag.

I put them on in hopes of any diversion from the worry, any diversion from myself. The floppy, heavy boots felt odd, but reminded me immediately of a lighter time: those carefree days stomping along the NYC streets with such hope and lust for life.

I started to walk. Even my walk became different. The frills and the bounce of the skirt mixed with the heavy boots made me feel like I was skipping almost, and that made me smile. I found myself near a park I’d strolled past a thousand times. I ventured in. Sitting there in the brisk winter air was a swingset—just waiting for someone to come and simply glide through the air for a moment of fun.

Me, my boots and my skirt got on the swing and started to move. With each pump of my legs through the air, I went higher and higher, reigniting my childhood belief that with just a few more tries I could possibly go completely around the top. My skirt took on the wind, which swept it up like Marilyn Monroe. My boots kicked through the air to make room for me in the sky.

Freedom. Freedom from worry. Freedom from my mind. Freedom from the what, how and who I should be and how I should feel about it. Most of all, freedom from thinking about my upcoming biopsy results. Freedom from the pressures of the world that I had accepted. That I allowed and that had molded and scolded me for so many years. Yes, there were heavy situations in my life, and I needed to deal with all of them—but it was ultimately my decision how. I realized what little fun I allowed into my life, the rules I had set up for myself and what little space I had for what I wanted and needed.

Days later, I did find out it was cancer, which was dealt with, and time moved on just as it does. At moments like this, you realize how short life actually is. You realize your choices, and wonder if they were ever even yours to begin with. You realize that time, your time, is precious, fleeting and how so many hours have been wasted. Overworking, endless trying to be, instead of simply just being, and being OK with who and what is left standing in front of you.

That young girl who bounced around NYC, bold, carefree and loved her swings, actually knew something. She knew freedom, she knew no limitations, she was silly, smiled without hesitation, and she knew how to appreciate the little things and keep it simple.

I have been there—illness, depression, great success and extreme failure—and what I’ve learned is the simpler you keep your life, your world, your food, your wellness and your heart, the easier it is to clearly see the joys, the health and the beauty that already exist, regardless of the size of your thighs or anything else for that matter. At the end of the day, true wellness, true health, true happiness all begins with your state of mind. Take time to smile, laugh, and go for a swing. Today!