You may know Reese Witherspoon as an actress who portrays strong female characters on-screen. Ever since the days of “Legally Blonde,” she’s been proving that women can do anything they put their minds to. But the path to success wasn’t an easy one. Part of the reason Witherspoon is able to play strong, independent women in some of your favorite movies and TV shows is because she’s a fierce woman off-screen as well. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the actress opened up about the moment that shaped her into the person she is today.
When asked to name a difficult decision that had to be made to “fulfill [her] destiny,” Witherspoon responded, “leaving an abusive relationship.” She went on to explain the psychological and verbal abuse she endured, and the moment she had enough.
“A line got drawn in the sand and it got crossed, and my brain just switched,” she said. “I knew it was going to be very difficult, but I just couldn’t go any further. It was profound and I was young, really young.”
Witherspoon says that without that experience, she couldn’t be the woman she is today. “I could never be the person I am today,” she said. “I was a different person, too. It changed who I was on a cellular level—the fact that I stood up for myself.”
According to the actress, living through that experience has really made all the difference. “I’m a different person now, and it’s part of the reason I can stand up and say, ‘Yes, I’m ambitious’—because someone tried to take that from me before.”
The actress has gone on to fulfill many of her ambitions and, lately, she’s been standing up for women in a more outspoken way than ever before. She was a major part of the Time’s Up initiative to end sexual abuse in Hollywood, even sharing her own story of sexual assault.
“I’ve had multiple experiences of harassment and sexual assault, and I don’t speak about them very often, but after hearing all the stories these past few days and hearing these brave women speak up tonight, the things that we’re kind of told to sweep under the rug and not talk about, it’s made me want to speak up and speak up loudly because I felt less alone this week than I’ve ever felt in my entire career,” she shared at Elle magazine’s Women in Hollywood event.
When she went to the Golden Globes, she—along with many other women—wore all-black in a show of solidarity with each other. She posted her stunning outfit to her Instagram feed, along with the hashtag #WhyWeWearBlack:
Sharing her story of an abusive relationship spurred fellow “Wrinkle in Time” co-star, Winfrey, to share a story of abuse, as well.
“I grew up in a house with an older cousin, and her boyfriend used to abuse her. So that was my standard, ‘I’ll never let somebody hit me,'” she said. “One day [when I was] in my 20s, the guy I was leaving—the person who wouldn’t hit me—slammed the door on my hand, and I fell. And I saw myself in the mirror, and I realized I had become that woman that would allow myself to be psychologically, verbally assaulted.”
So it’s unsurprising that, when the female “Wrinkle in Time” cast posed for the cover of TIME, they all wore black:
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, nearly three in 10 women and one in 10 men in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a partner.
Raising awareness and talking about abuse and assault is a huge first step to prevention, and it’s great to see such successful, powerful women openly discussing this very serious issue plaguing women.