Elizabeth Hurley on having fun with her bikini photos: 'I'm not hiding just because I'm over 50'

·10-min read

The Unwind is Yahoo Life's well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Life in Hollywood is full of ups and downs, Elizabeth Hurley notes. One constant, however, is the English actress and model's longtime advocacy in raising breast cancer awareness as a global ambassador for Estée Lauder. 

As Hurley tells Yahoo Life in the video above, it's been 26 years since the late beauty executive and philanthropist Evelyn Lauder — credited with founding The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and cementing the pink ribbon as a symbol for the cause — approached her to support the relatively new Estée Lauder Companies' Breast Cancer Campaign

For Hurley, the answer was an easy yes thanks to her own personal connection with the disease, which in 2020 surpassed lung cancer to become named the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide. 

Elizabeth Hurley opens up about her work promoting breast cancer awareness, her popular bikini posts and why her bath is her
Elizabeth Hurley opens up about her work promoting breast cancer awareness, her popular bikini posts and why her bath is her "think tank." (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

"Everything she said to me really hit a nerve because I'd just lost my grandmother to breast cancer," Hurley says. "No one talked about it back then. The pink ribbon had only just been invented and nobody talked about breast cancer. It wasn't in magazines or on television. People didn't wear pink... It was a really different time for breast cancer. And so as soon as Evelyn [asked] would I help, I was like, 'There's nothing I'd like to do more." And really everything's just sort of gone on from there."

Since 1992 — when The Campaign was formally launched — more than $99 million has been raised to support global research, education and medical services. In her own 26-year experience since joining Estée Lauder as a global ambassador in 1995, Hurley has seen firsthand the strides the movement has made in terms of research and recognition. 

"There's been so many changes in the landscape of breast cancer: how we talk about breast cancer, how we think about breast cancer, what we know about breast cancer," she says. 

"I remember a time when there was no pink ribbon, there were no football teams wearing pink," Hurley adds. "My son [model Damian Hurley] who's 19 has only known a world with a pink ribbon. He's only known hearing stories about these fabulous fundraisers raising money. He's heard survivors talking about their stories. He's seen families talk about what impact breast cancer has had on their lives when perhaps they lost their mother or their daughter, or like me, their grandmother. And sometimes it's hard to remember that time when it just didn't exist."

She cites her frustration at the lack of information or treatment options available to her grandmother in the early '90s, compared to now. 

"When I first joined this campaign, we used to talk about breast cancer," she says. "And now we know there are so many different types of breast cancer. So when my grandmother was diagnosed, of course, no one told us anything. She wasn't told anything, she couldn't have told us anything... We knew nothing. 

"You had no information at your fingertips. Now we know there are so many different types of breast cancer. There are so many different types of targeted treatment to target specific forms of breast cancer that somebody has. Back in my grandmother's days, everybody just got blasted with the same drugs."

Those developments give her hope, but she still stresses the importance of early detection and self-checks — especially amid a pandemic in which many have been reluctant to keep up with their doctor visits. Two of Hurley's own friends, both in their late 30s, credit her Instagram posts on the topic with encouraging them to do self-checks. Both found lumps and were subsequently diagnosed with breast cancer, something that may have been otherwise left undiscovered until a later stage. 

"You have to be responsible in some ways for your own health and you have to check," she says.

When she's not working on The Campaign or filming, the 56-year-old keeps busy with her eponymous beachwear line, serving as the collection's very own (and very popular) bikini model. The star consistently sets the internet ablaze with her saucy swimsuit shots, which typically see her lounging in a hot tub or grooving to the Spice Girls in her garden or simply sunbathing with a blissed-out expression on her face. As Hurley explains it, her swimsuit queen status is part self-empowerment, part killer business strategy.

"I've always had more female followers than male; I've always really loved that," she tells Yahoo Life. "And I think women definitely like that I'm not hiding just because I'm over 50. Everybody still goes on holiday or goes to the beach or needs to swim. And I just think it's pretty tough if women think they have to cover up because we're not in our 20s anymore and perfect. Of course, once you're older, you think everybody's perfect who's younger than you. I think people respond well to that."

She adds that she likes to "have a laugh" with the shoots and will often enlist any houseguest as a photographer. 

"I wouldn't say I never take it seriously, but it's a little tongue in cheek most of the time because when you're selling something, which is your own business, everyone knows what I'm doing. I'm selling bikinis. I'm not saying, 'don't I look fabulous, everyone, this is how I am' — I'm selling a bikini."

Hurley has previously attributed her trim figure to gardening, which is fitting given her love of nature and its positive effect on her mental well-being.

"I find that the best thing for me is nature," she says. "Nothing is more likely to make me relax and to make my stress levels go down and to make me be able to put things more into perspective than by going outside. I don't live at Niagara Falls or something; I don't go to see spectacular, extraordinary things. I just go outside and breathe the fresh air, see the trees, watch nature take its course. I love spring when the leaves first burst out onto the trees; I love fall when it all comes down. I love the winter when it just looks so magical. And of course, I love the summer when it's all in full bloom. And I find that by going outside, [that's] the best therapy for me."

Hurley, who owns a home in the English countryside, especially enjoys walks with her dogs or grabbing a pair of secateurs on her way out to do some impromptu pruning. 

"If I'm sitting writing at my desk, I'll go out every half hour for five minutes or so and just smell the roses," she says. "Literally, during a lockdown, I smelled roses. I grow beautiful roses and I realized I hardly ever smell them. But during lockdown, I really smelled my roses and they were exquisite and they made me feel a lot better."

For her, self-care is all about simple pleasures, such as taking a bath. Hurley follows her mother's example of considering the tub her "think tank." 

"I remember when my son was growing up, that wonderful moment that he was finally asleep," she says. "I would get into the bath. I'd use a Jo Malone bath oil. I might light a candle. I would take a book and you just go, 'Ohhh, thank goodness.' And that for me is always my best self-care time. If I remember before I go upstairs [for bed] I'll make a cup of herbal tea or something which I'm told is very good for me; I'll take a turmeric tea or something like that, or at least two or three big glasses of warm water."

The actress was also inspired to upgrade her lounging experience during lockdown.

"I put a little tray on the table next to me and I put hand cream and lip balm and just a few things," she shares. "But when I'm sitting there talking or reading or watching television, I can put hand cream on, I can put on lip balm, I've got hair ties on there. It's really nice. And it took me two minutes, but I never did it before and now I've got it. And I'm really pleased with that. It's little tiny things that can make you feel better."

Spending time with son Damian, an actor and model in his own right, is both a comfort and cause for reflection, she shares. 

"Having a son that's just starting to work and just starting to go out in the world, I think you really realize that you have picked up some wisdom along the way — you have been there and done it," she notes. "My son would like to go into the same business as me — show business — so having had someone who has been there and done that and made mistakes and had a bit of success sometimes, I think the stories are more valid in some ways. And I'm enjoying being able to share my journey with somebody else a generation younger and giving some advice — knowing most of it will be ignored, but nevertheless saying it. It's also really nice... I'm really enjoying watching it through somebody else's eyes the second time round."

What wisdom is she passing on?

"You have to be pretty tough to go into show business," she says. "I think everybody knows that there's not many other areas where you get rejected quite so much as you do in show business; it's right from the get-go. So I always say to anybody who comes up wanting to be a model or wanting to be an actress, you have to look at them and you have to know that they have to be really tough because you are told every single day, 'No, we don't want you.' 'We don't like you.' 'You're not good enough.' 'You're not what we're looking for.' 'Don't like your look.' 'No, don't want you.' When you're a beginner, it's constant."

It's an industry that's "not suited" to everyone, she says.

"Somebody really has to have a lot of self-worth, a lot of self-belief, and they really have to know their own value to want to go into an industry which kind of specializes in kicking you in the face," she continues. "So you really need to be tough and you also need to really understand cycles and how things go up and how things come down and you just can't get too hung up on it. You can't get too depressed when things are bad, because they always get better again. And then they always get bad again — and up and down. You go up and down and you just have to have a good sense of humor. But many people I meet aren't right for it, and it deeply wounds them."

—Video produced by Stacy Jackman.

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