One minute into our Zoom call, Chrissy Teigen flashes me, demonstrating what happens to her body when she overextends herself. She opens her floral-printed Meng silk robe to show me the bruising and healing across her rib cage from her breast-implant removal two weeks ago, covering her nipple with a snicker. “I was raising my arms and moving too much and pulled some stitches,” she explains. “I just don’t know how to slow down sometimes.”
The 34-year-old has a full plate running two companies: Cravings by Chrissy Teigen—her lifestyle brand with a cookware and tabletop line at Target and Macy’s, a blog with videos and recipes, and two best-selling cookbooks—and Suit & Thai Productions, her production company, which has a first-look deal with Hulu (including an upcoming show with the working title Family Style, cohosted with David Chang) and the second season of Quibi series Chrissy’s Court with her mom, Pepper. After helping her mom with her Thai cookbook all quarantine, Teigen will tackle Cravings 3, which she describes as “how I eat now: brighter and healthier.” But, most important, it’s the cookbook she’s having the most fun working on. “While writing the first, I was pregnant, and for the second I was deep in postpartum depression. I’m having a good time, and my confidence has grown. I fully embrace carbs now—like, putting sweet-potato spread on a baguette. A year ago, I would have said you can’t put a starch on bread; now I’m like, who cares? There are no rules.”
As she looks ahead to moving into her recently purchased first office and starting up production again on Family Style, the idea of juggling everything makes her dizzy with excitement and anxiety. “I’m having a hard time being any kind of mogul and running companies because it’s hard for me to work on, or even talk about, two things at once,” she says. “With my anxiety, the worst thing is not giving enough to enough people. It’s like going grocery shopping when you’re full; if I feel like I have too many good things going on, I can’t say yes to another good thing.”
Setting limits and boundaries has been one of the most important lessons for Teigen in quarantine, but remembering how to say no remains one of her biggest struggles.
One place she has successfully set boundaries is on social media. “I'm barely online anymore, and that was at the request of my therapist,” says Teigen, who has over 43 million collective followers across Twitter and Instagram. “I didn’t start therapy until quarantine. I used to avoid it and make fun of the idea of it, and then I found the right person and it changed my world. People think I'm tough, but I'm such an empath, and I take on other people's pain and sadness as my own. And when I let people down, I'm hyperaware of it. Sometimes I feel like people aren't going to be as hard on me as I am on myself. So it's good for me to take a break.”
On the flip side, Teigen says after a pause, “Part of me right now knows this is not the right time to go silent. It does feel very selfish and weird to say that my mental health is important when there are people being murdered by police and murdered in their own homes. Who gives a fuck about someone making fun of me when people’s livelihoods are being threatened just for telling their stories? I have Black children, so is it really the right time to not want to step on anyone’s toes?”
Her children are clearly the center of her world—including a third baby, which Teigen would reveal she is expecting in the video for husband John Legend’s song “Wild” and then confirm in an Instagram story in August, joking, “Look at this third-baby shit,” showing off her growing belly. At one point during our conversation, Teigen’s 2-year-old son, Miles, wanders into her bedroom, proudly showing off “button” (his belly button) to the camera before cuddling in his mom’s lap, babbling and waving as we chat—before accidentally knocking over a vase, spilling water on the floor. It doesn’t faze her a bit. Her concern, she explains after laughing off the mess, is with figuring out how to talk to Miles and 4-year-old Luna when they’re so young about the current state of the world.
“There are books that I read when I became a mom that would explain to them hard and traumatic situations. But it’s really hard to teach them about their privilege; there are no books for that. But regardless of money or status, they’re always going to have their skin color,” she says, adjusting “Mr. Bear,” as Teigen calls him, in her lap. “When it comes to them being treated differently because of the color of their skin, I’m going to look to John for a lot of help with that because while they are Asian and white too, their skin color is Black. We just try to talk to them like little adults, saying it in words they’ll understand, making it known that it’s very serious, and letting them ask as many questions as they need.”
She knows firsthand that privilege doesn’t offer immunity from racism. She recalls a story from a decade ago when she and Legend were followed and harassed by two “neighborhood-watch-type” white men in Fredericksburg, Virginia. “We were in a nicer neighborhood at night, driving slowly, looking for John’s godmother’s home. These two guys were in a pickup truck slowly tailing us, flashing their lights and trying to speak to us. When we pulled over, they were like, ‘What are you guys looking for?’ and we gave them the address. They literally said, ‘Get your asses out of here!’ and proceeded to follow us all the way into her driveway. They got out of the car and stared at us as we knocked on the door and went inside. It was a terrible, scary experience.”
“That was my first taste of seeing what happens to Black men everyday,” Teigen continues, through tears. “It was horrifying and could have gone wrong so quickly. I was sobbing afterward for hours, and I noticed John wasn’t emotional about it. Seeing that he wasn’t very thrown by it was really upsetting because he obviously had experienced it before.”
Even though that incident was in 2010, Teigen understands that it could have happened to them today just as easily. And she puts part of the blame on the man running the country. “People are very confident in their ways of being open about their racism because they have the backing views of the president,” she says. “It’s become such a hurtful, weird presidency for so many Americans, and I’m going to fight to get this person out of office because I can’t live another four years with this kind of hatred boiling through America.”
The upcoming election is particularly significant for Teigen—not just because of what’s at stake but also because this year, her mom will cast a ballot for the first time. “I am so excited to vote!” Pepper tells me after sliding into the seat her daughter briefly vacated during a bathroom break. “And it’s all thanks to Chrissy and John helping tutor and train me to become a citizen. I always thought I would go back to Thailand when I retired, so I’d have no need, but they pushed me so I could work here and I can vote.” It has been two years since Pepper became a U.S. citizen—something that their family celebrated with the entire cast and crew of Lip Sync Battle in 2018. When Teigen shared a video of her mom dancing with a woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty on set, she got a barrage of angry replies on Twitter. “People were like, ‘You fucking hate America! Why would you even want her to be a citizen?’” Teigen recalls. “With how outspoken we are and how critical we are of America, a lot of people think that that means we hate the country, when it is really just the opposite. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be doing all of this. I could easily not say something, and, mentally, life would be so much easier.”
But Teigen isn’t so easy on herself. For one, she regrets not speaking up at the right time last year for the candidates she believed in. “There were multiple people that I liked, and I knew speaking out would be an endorsement of them. Then they started dropping out one by one,” she says with a sigh. “I love Kamala Harris, and my biggest regret is not speaking out about her. I was thrown off and got scared. I wanted to wait and wait until I 100 percent backed somebody, and then sooner or later that just became the one candidate.” But now she is able to fiercely support Harris in her new role as Joe Biden’s vice-presidential running mate. Over email after Biden’s announcement, she shared: “I could not be more thrilled about Biden’s VP pick! Women all over the world are seeing a piece of them in a woman of power, and that kind of influence is paramount in what we need to continue this future of badass women in politics. Between people like Kamala and AOC, I have more hope than ever.”
Teigen wants to be clear about her political intentions, and that starts with her family casting votes in November. “We are proud to stand behind Biden. We’re not only voting for Biden because it’s not Trump. We’re voting for him because we think he’s going to do an incredible job of bringing a bit of healing to the country. We are a divided, hurt nation that needs to be brought back together. [Biden is] someone who looks into issues with clear eyes, empathy, and understanding from being involved in politics. I also look at a presidential candidate as someone I want my kids to be able to look up to. I don’t see that in Donald Trump or any of his family.”
Imagining a world 14 years in the future when her daughter can vote, Teigen is hopeful that Luna will “be afforded all the opportunities that men are afforded and look around at a meeting and see people who look like her,” she says in a softer tone than before. “I hope that she’s never afraid to speak up and knows that other women will have her back. And I really hope she knows there are good men out there like her daddy who will support her and not talk down to her and demean her.”
Those changes for Luna’s future are starting with steps Teigen’s taking in the present. “There have been so many times in my life when I was told doing this thing for free or getting asked to do this was just an honor. To speak up and say I deserve to get paid was unheard of. You should just feel lucky,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Men never have to just feel lucky! They get compensated. John and I were talking about how women were given the right to vote 100 years ago, and then I was like, ‘They weren’t given anything—they took it.’ There is no giving of anything anymore. There’s no luck. People have to work tremendously hard. Especially women.”
Now in the driver’s seat of her own company, she’s dedicated to supporting and raising the voices of women—100 percent women, actually, on both the Cravings and Suit & Thai teams. One way she’s guaranteeing to continue that is an inclusivity rider built into Suit & Thai’s partnership with Hulu that will “expand and diversify the hiring pool for below-the-line crew positions to include more women, people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ individuals so that the overall production team better reflects the broader community.” Teigen is proud that when she brought it to her Hulu deal, “they didn’t question it. The rooms on every show I work on will always look like this. I want to see women in power positions that men have held captive for so long.”
Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.