“I have an idea…” says Hilary Duff’s 3-year-old daughter, Banks, her finger tapping her mouth. “Can I have a treat?” The child tilts her blonde head to one side as her mother looks upon her with amusement. “Did you eat any vegetables for lunch?” Hilary asks. Banks says yes, though her mother suspects otherwise. But who can deny a little indulgence in the face of such ingenuity?
Banks scampers out of view on Zoom, and Hilary, left alone in her bright and airy bedroom, shakes her head affectionately. At 34 years old, she’s the mother of three children. Besides Banks, she has son Luca, 10, from her previous marriage to retired hockey player Mike Comrie, and daughter Mae, 1. When Mae was born, the baby took over her office, so now Hilary’s bedroom is her last sanctuary. She worries her days in this house are numbered—her family, which also includes musician husband Matthew Koma, three dogs (including a 130-pound Saint Bernard), and seven chickens, has outgrown it. “We’re busting at the seams here,” she says. “You should see my garage. It’s stroller and car-seat city, scooters everywhere.”
But this is the house where she recovered from her 2016 divorce, where she learned to parent Luca as a single mom, where she eventually wed Koma on the front lawn, and where their girls were born. It’s hard to leave a place that’s held such joy. And food is a big source of that happiness. “We eat butter in this house, and olive oil, and sodium, and sugar,” says Hilary, taking a bite of a turkey, arugula, and pickle sandwich. A deviled egg, which she made this morning because her chickens are laying, waits on her plate as Mom’s version of a treat.
Hilary’s appeal as an actress has always been her easy familiarity. As a child star on Lizzie McGuire, she was the quintessential everygirl, as warm as she was vulnerable. After years of being identified with the character, and multiple passes on offers to reboot her, she agreed to revisit Lizzie in a series for Disney+. The project tanked when Hilary and the network differed on their vision for adult Lizzie. “She had to be 30 years old doing 30-year-old things,” Hilary says she insisted, pushing for a more mature Lizzie. “She didn’t need to be doing bong rips and having one-night stands all the time, but it had to be authentic. I think they got spooked.”
Standing her ground meant the project fizzled, which cleared the path for How I Met Your Father. You could see how her character, Sophie, swirling in realistic singledom, would be friends with a grown-up Lizzie. “It would be dumb of me to not know that I have a sweet spot playing that relatable girl,” she says. “I am that girl.” Even as a kid trying to separate herself from the character who made her famous, she managed to hold on to her optimism. “It was a conscious choice not to be angsty and try to shift people’s opinions on who I am,” she says, laughing. “That doesn’t mean I didn’t want to try!”
Watch Hilary Duff talk about her tattoos and what she loves most about her body:
Hilary signed on to HIMYF in her eighth month of pregnancy and had four and a half months to get ready for a wardrobe of Sophie’s short skirts. It’s a tricky thing in Hollywood for a woman to separate the idea of health from her appearance. “Because of my career path, I can’t help but be like, ‘I am on camera and actresses are skinny,’” she says. She struggled with the pressure, battling a yearlong eating disorder at the age of 17. “It was horrifying,” she says.
So, her decision to bare all for this cover was an extremely thoughtful and deliberate one. “I’m proud of my body. I’m proud that it’s produced three children for me. I’ve gotten to a place of being peaceful with the changes my body has gone through. I also want people to know a makeup artist was there putting glow all over my body and someone put me in the most flattering position.”
When asked when it was that she finally got to that calm place with her body, she pauses to consider. “Perhaps after having Banks,” she says. “I didn’t even know if I was going to have the opportunity to have another child [after the divorce]. So, being a mom again, maybe. It was a whole mix of things—of being settled and realizing that I’m powerful and talented and smart. All mental things.” Recently, she got a new tattoo, a delicate etching of the word Mother on her neck, to complement the sailor-style tattoos of roses and swallows on her arms.
In the months leading up to the Women’s Health shoot, Hilary started working with a new trainer, Dominic Leeder. He’d join her in her garage for hour-long workouts four days a week. They stuck to routines that emphasized strength and stability to concentrate on lean muscle mass. A workout might focus on weighted squats followed by supersets of squats on a Bosu ball. Other days he’d have her do lat pulldowns followed by single-leg bent-over dumbbell rows, or tricep pushdowns with a stability ball skull crusher. She’d perform 30-second cardio blasts of, say, jumping lunges, in place of runs. Leeder incorporated stretching, rolling, and Theragun massage into her routine, knowing she’d likely skip it on her own. On days off, Hilary would go hiking or play tennis. “I slept better, I felt better,” she says, adding that she has since lowered the intensity of her workouts but still loves the training structure Leeder puts together, creating a different program for her each week.
As the afternoon light softens, Hilary takes a deep breath, gearing up for the bedtime routines ahead. She says it’s both her happiest time with her children and the most exhausting: “The cooking, the feeding, the bathing, reading books, bottles, all the stuff.” Then it’s her turn to unwind. She’s learned that exercise alone can’t be her self-care; she needs to attend to other aspects of her life as well. When the kids are down, she’ll change into pajamas (“nothing fancy—I want to be in soft rags, basically”) and turn off her to-do list of a mind. On an ideal night, she and Koma are in their big white bed by 7:30, eating takeout sushi and watching their shows. She’ll crochet, maybe read a chapter from a book—currently the memoir The Argonauts and the self-help book The Mastery of Self—before falling asleep. This is the routine that truly nourishes her.
She’s also hard at work on another goal: committing to the vital role therapy plays in her life. Recently she told her son that if talking to family or his friends ever didn’t feel comfortable, talking to a therapist was an option. “He was like, ‘I don’t need a therapist!’ I said, ‘No, no, no, I didn’t say you need a therapist. But I love my therapist, and I always feel better when I leave because I can say whatever I want and not feel judged.’ Everybody needs that.”
She’s challenged herself not to miss a therapy appointment until June (“and I’ve already failed the mission”), when HIMYF will start shooting again. “We bust our ass to get our bodies in shape and to look the best we can. We get facials and Botox and our hair done and highlights and brows and lash lifts and all this shit. But I want to work on the inside. That’s the most important part of the system.” How’s that for some naked truth?
Photographed by Daniella Midenge. Fashion director: Kristen Saladino. Hair and styling: Nikki Lee using Great Lengths. Makeup: Kelsey Deenihan.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Women’s Health.