The untold truth of Padma Lakshmi

Model-turned-cooking guru Padma Lakshmi has a life many people would envy. She began her career as a model, later branching out to acting. She's a celebrated author of cookbooks and has also published a memoir about her experiences.

The Indian-American host of Top Chef has defied both stereotypes and expectations. From her early days as a young immigrant in the United States, to a debilitating illness, to a tumultuous love life, Padma Lakshmi is an inspirational figure whose star is only on the rise. She may be an internationally recognized public figure, but there is a lot more to Padma Lakshmi than meets the eye.

She's a single mom

Padma Lakshmi is proof that women can have it all and, perhaps more importantly, that they can do it on their own. She stunned the public in 2009 when she revealed that she was pregnant. For months, she refused to reveal the name of her unborn child's father and later admitted that she wasn't even sure who the father was.

When it was announced that her daughter, Krishna, was fathered by venture capitalist Adam Dell, a bitter custody battle ensued. They eventually worked out a custody agreement and are both heavily involved in their daughter's life.

It's clear that Lakshmi is a doting mother. She and Krishna spend a lot of time together, especially in the kitchen. ""Krishna has her own mortar and pestle," she told People. "And she has a wooden kitchen at the end of my kitchen counter, and I put it there so when I'm cooking, she would have something to do. And now, she just sits on the counter with me and actually helps."

She herself was raised by a single mom

Padma Lakshmi is a great mom and a large reason for that is that she had a great example. Her own mother raised her on her own (with the help of Lakshmi's grandparents). Lakshmi's parents split up when Lakshmi was just 2 years old. Her mother later left India for the United States to escape the stigma of being a divorced woman in India.

Lakshmi was raised in New York and Los Angeles though she returned to India for several months each year. She didn't see her father for 20 years after her parents' divorce.  She told People that for her family, her absent father was "persona non grata so there weren't even any pictures of him. They were all torn up." 

While Lakshmi said she doesn't miss him because "you can't miss something you never had," she admits that not knowing him affected her life and has helped shaped the choices she has made as a parent. "I do think not knowing one half of my family did delay me figuring out who I was, because I didn't know where I came from," said Lakshmi. "And I didn't want my daughter to ever feel like that."

She was raised vegetarian

When she moved to America as a child, Padma Lakshmi had to adjust to the new dishes. She was raised on a "lacto-vegetarian Hindu Brahmin diet" making meat-heavy American dishes difficult for her to eat. She gradually adapted, though, developing the refined tastes that led to her career in the food industry. Living in New York inspired her; she wrote in her memoir, Love, Loss, and What We Ate, "I experienced the city through my palate."

Lakshmi added that growing up in America helped to broaden her horizons. "It gave me great independence, but it also allowed me to really experience a lot of the world in a much less sheltered way than I would if I was living anywhere else," she wrote.

While she now enjoys a nice steak on occasion and consumes many different foods on Top Chef, Lakshmi eats mostly vegetarian foods at home. She also encourages people to eat more plant-based foods, saying that "it's really good for your health but it's also good for the planet." 

She was bullied in school

At school, Padma Lakshmi's classmates were often cruel to her because of her dark skin. To escape being bullied for being Indian, she went by the name "Angelique" in high school. According to Lakshmi, her classmates "didn't really know what Indian was." She was also called "giraffe," by  bullies, teased for her long neck.

Lakshmi described the feeling of being "an outsider." She said that "it's something that I've carried with me — it's like this invisible shadow that's there because I was always flitting between cultures, so I was never really at home in one, and never really an outsider in the other." 

Despite her feelings of not fitting in-or perhaps because of them, Lakshmi's success has made her a household name. She may have been teased for her looks at school, but they propelled her to international fame. Lakshmi became the first international Indian model, walking down runways in Paris, Milan, and New York.

She was Salman Rushdie's muse

Booker Prize-winning author Salman Rushdie left his third wife for Padma Lakshmi. Despite the 23 year age difference, Rushdie married the young model in 2004 after the pair had lived together for three years. His 2001 novel, Fury, is dedicated to her. By the time they were married, Lakshmi already had a successful modeling career and was an author in her own right, having published her first book, Easy Exotic: A Model's Low Fat Recipes from Around the World.

The marriage was troubled, and both Rushdie and Lakshmi wrote about it in their respective memoirs. According to Rushdie, Lakshmi "was ambitious in a way that often obliterated feeling," putting her budding career ahead of their marriage. Lakshmi's memoir paints Rushdie as being cold and callous. The beginning of their marriage was "blissful," but quickly deteriorated.

"I don't regret a day I spent with Salman, but it was tiring," Lakshmi told Playboy. "He has a big life, and it only got bigger when we were together. I'm happy to have stood next to him holding his hand, but we were in very different parts of our lives."

She co-founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America

Padma Lakshmi co-founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America with Dr. Tamer Seckin. The non-profit charity "strives to increase disease recognition, provide advocacy, facilitate expert surgical training, and fund landmark endometriosis research." Lakshmi has suffered from the disease since adolescence, although she was not diagnosed with endometriosis until she was 36. Before her diagnosis, Lakshmi thought the debilitating pain she experienced during her monthly period was common and didn't know she could receive treatment for it. 

She told Lola Pellegrino of the feminist newsletter Lenny Letter that she was "angry" that it took so long for her to be diagnosed: "Think of all that time that I lost: times that I couldn't go on a second or third date; times when I missed jobs… That's one week every single month for all those years. That's 25 percent of my life…It made me angry, and so that's why I started the Endometriosis Foundation, so other women wouldn't have to lose all that time."

Lakshmi told InStyle that endometriosis is a feminist issue. "One of the reasons I feel that endometriosis isn't getting significant attention is because it's a women's issue," she said.

She's an outspoken feminist

Padma Lakshmi is an advocate for women and admires feminist pioneers such as Gloria Steinem. Her feminist stance was also inspired by her mother, who worked as a nurse to support her family after moving to America. 

She told InStyle, "Women of my generation can sometimes forget how hard our mothers worked for basic rights. My mother had far fewer resources compared to what I have, yet she still managed to work full-time and get food on the table." She added that she is "shocked' that "some women refuse to call themselves feminists."

In addition to her work with the Endometriosis Foundation of America, Lakshmi has also worked with the Center for Reproductive Rights to push for legislation that protects women's choices.  Lakshmi participated in the January 2017 Women's March on Washington, telling Rolling Stone "I think we have to let our government know you don't need to be a woman to be a feminist.

She has a degree in theater

Padma Lakshmi attended Clark University in Massachusetts where she began studying psychology before switching her major to theater.  She was still in college when, on a  trip to Madrid, she was discovered by an agent. Her modeling career was launched, but she still finished her degree before working full-time, believing in the importance of education. 

Early in her acting career, Lakshmi performed mainly in Italy where she had roles in several productions. Her American film debut was in the 2001 Mariah Carey vehicle Glitter, which was panned by critics.

Her daughter, Krishna, is determined to follow her mother into the world of show business. Lakshmi encourages her daughter to follow her dreams but also says that she wants Krishna to receive an education. "I would like her to do what I did, which was finish college before she starts modeling," said Lakshmi. "I think having an education is very important for a whole host of reasons." What a great role model!

She has a potty mouth

Padma Lakshmi may have a face that could launch a thousand ships, but she swears like a sailor. The celebrity is not afraid of dropping "f-bombs" in her interviews. Lakshmi has joked that she gets it from her mother who "can swear in many languages," although she admits that her mother told her that her potty mouth is "unladylike" and that it's okay to "do it at home or around your friends, but not in public."

Her scar helped launch her career

When Padma Lakshmi was 14 years old, she was involved in a bad car accident that left a long, jagged scar on her arm. For years, Lakshmi was self-conscious about the mark, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise when it caught the attention of legendary photographer Helmut Newton.

"It was the scar that made him notice me," Lakshmi said. "He loved my scar, and by extension he made me think differently about myself." Working with Newton not only helped Lakshmi to accept her scar but also helped to launch her modeling career. 

Today, Lakshmi views her scar as "a mark of survival."  "My attitude about my body has grown and changed and morphed and evolved, as has my body," she told Self. "It's what sets me apart and makes me me, and even if someone could wave a magic wand I really don't think I would choose to eliminate my scar."

She's an entrepreneur

Padma Lakshmi has branched beyond writing and show business into the world of business. She designed a jewelry line for HSN called "PL by Padma Lakshmi." She also has a line of cookware named Easy Exotic after the title of her first cookbook.

As if that weren't impressive enough, Lakshmi told Town & Country that she mixes her own perfumes out of essential oils as traditional scents give her a headache. While the perfumes are still for her own personal use, who know what the future holds? There may very well be a Padma Lakshmi perfume for sale in the future.

An independent woman

Padma Lakshmi may have beauty and fame, but she still values the simple things in life. It's not money or even success that motivates her. Underneath all the complex layers that make up Padma Lakshmi is someone who simply wants to live life on her own terms.

"I don't want to be beholden to anyone or anything," Lakshmi told Playboy. "I have my daughter and the people I love in my family. But what I value most is freedom."