Virtually everyone knows of Salma Hayek. She is, after all, one of the biggest movie stars in the world. But before she was a household name, she was just an ordinary girl growing up in Mexico. Born on September 2, 1966, Hayek got her start in acting when she was very young, but it would be years before she achieved the international stardom she enjoys today.
Hayek is one of those rare celebs who has maintained their fame without attracting much scandal or controversy. In addition to forging a successful career, the celeb is also a wife and mother as well as an outspoken activist who lends her platform to causes she believes in.
Over the years, Hayek has transformed from a young actress struggling to launch her film career to a leading lady who is one of the biggest names in Hollywood. Let’s take a closer look at how Salma Hayek has changed over the years.
She grew up in a tight-knit family in Mexico
Salma Hayek grew up in a happy family in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico. She and her brother Sami had a pretty pampered childhood. Hayek’s mother Diana was an opera singer while her father Sami worked as an executive for an oil company. The actress described her childhood as idyllic when speaking to The Guardian. Her community was close-knit and she and her family lived near the ocean where her childhood was spent playing with neighborhood kids, "running free, playing football on the streets and at the beach."
Life was pretty easy for the young Salma Hayek, who told O, The Oprah Magazine, "I was a spoiled brat." While she may have been spoiled, Hayek’s parents also inspired the actress to use her privilege to help others. As she told The Guardian, her parents "gave away dozens of music scholarships" and engaged in other philanthropic works.
Hayek also grew up close to her grandmother, Maria Luisa Lopez. Hayek called her grandmother her "greatest inspiration," a scientist who "was ahead of her time." She added, "I still have her inside of me and I always will."
She dropped out of college to pursue acting
As a young woman, Salma Hayek enrolled at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, noted Encyclopedia Britannica. Her time in college was short-lived, though, as she eventually dropped out of school to pursue a career in acting. Her family was not exactly thrilled with her decision to abandon her education, but Hayek could not be deterred. She told her parents that acting was her destiny and that she had to pursue it (via O, The Oprah Magazine).
When you look at the trajectory of Hayek’s career, it looks like she was right. It didn’t take long for her to start landing roles. Hayek told W Magazine that she secured her first acting gig, playing Jasmine in a stage production of "Aladdin" for kids, after her very first audition. She was just 18 years old. Hayek said the job "was a nightmare," but it soon led to bigger things.
Her first TV acting credit came in 1988 with the television show "Un nuevo amanecer." This was followed by the titular role in the 1989 telenovela "Teresa." By the age of 22, Hayek had become one of the biggest soap opera stars in Mexico.
People thought Hayek was ruining her career by moving to the states
While Salma Hayek had become famous in Mexico for her work on soap operas, she wasn’t satisfied. Hayek set her sights on bigger projects but, as she told O, The Oprah Magazine, Mexico didn’t have much of a film industry at the time. In order to pursue a film career, she decided to move to the United States.
People thought that Hayek was being foolish. Not only was she already successful, but she also spoke very limited English when she made the decision to move to the U.S. Relocating to a new country would mean that Hayek would have to start from the bottom again. Still, Hayek was determined. She knew she wanted more acting training, explaining that she was afraid that she wasn’t a very good actress, but that no one was telling her she was bad because she "was making money for people." Hayek added, "I had a panic that people would think, ‘She’s good only because everyone knows her.’" Hayek ended up moving to Los Angeles, California in 1991 where she studied under renowned actress and acting teacher Stella Adler.
She refused to let dyslexia hold her back
After she moved to Los Angeles, Salma Hayek was diagnosed with dyslexia. Hayek explained to WebMD that her teachers in high school never realized that she had dyslexia because she is "a fast learner."
Hayek took the diagnosis in stride. As an actress who has to read and memorize scripts for a living, dyslexia has been a bit of a challenge — but not an insurmountable one. Hayek admitted that she reads rather slowly, but her reading comprehension is quite good. As she explained to DuJour, she learned to "find [her] way around" dyslexia and doesn’t really see it as a big deal. While it might take her longer than others to read a script, by the time she is finished reading through it, she already remembers every detail of it. "I don’t think people with dyslexia should think it’s an impediment," noted the actress.
She had to fight against racism after she moved to the U.S.
Moving to the United States was a challenge for Salma Hayek in more ways than one. Not only did she have to build up her career again and learn English, she also had to continually fight against racism. In an interview with NPR, Hayek said that when she first arrived in the U.S., people told her to return to Mexico. "They told me: You’ll never work," she said. Hayek has delighted in proving the naysayers wrong, even though she had to fight tooth and nail "for every little mediocre part."
As she explained to O, The Oprah Magazine, "there was no industry or parts for Latin women" when she first arrived in the U.S. There was also the fact that she had an accent, which made it even harder for her to land acting jobs — Hayek was once told that her accent would make moviegoers think of housekeepers. It was an uphill battle, for sure, but Hayek refused to accept that she would never make it and kept fighting hard for her dream.
Desperado marked a turning point in Hayek’s career
In her first few years in the United States, Salma Hayek only landed a handful of small roles, including guest spots on shows like "Street Justice," "Nurses," "Jack’s Place," and "The Sinbad Show." It wasn’t until 1995 that Hayek got her first big break in America in the film "Desperado," in which she played Carolina.
The audition process was grueling. Hayek told W Magazine that she had to audition several times for director Robert Rodriguez before landing the role. Once she was on set, things didn’t exactly go smoothly. Hayek told O, The Oprah Magazine that she was crying throughout the film’s now-iconic love scene because she didn’t want to be nude on camera as the scene required. "It took eight hours [to film] instead of an hour," said Hayek, who added that she was "nearly fired" from the film.
Hayek obviously wasn’t fired and "Desperado" was a success. While it didn’t pay much, it still got her established in Hollywood. Other film roles soon followed, including 1997’s "Fools Rush In," 1999’s "Dogma," and 1999’s "Wild Wild West."
The actress did not set out to be a bombshell
Salma Hayek is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world, but the actress did not set out to become a sex symbol. She was truly focused on being the best actress she could be so her status as a "bombshell" came as something of a surprise. Hayek told O, The Oprah Magazine that when the press first started calling her a bombshell for her role in "Desperado," she misunderstood and thought that they were saying her performance had bombed. When she eventually realized that being called a bombshell wasn’t an insult, Hayek admitted to being more confused than anything and, as she told Oprah, "then it became very depressing" as she was worried about being reduced to just her looks. "It was not my plan, and it was not exciting," she admitted.
While Hayek doesn’t mind being appreciated for her looks, she wants people to see her as more than a beautiful woman. "It’s good to be sexy, but when that’s all they can see — no," she opined.
The film Frida changed everything for Hayek
One of Salma Hayek’s most memorable and celebrated roles is that of iconic artist Frida Kahlo in the 2002 film "Frida." Hayek both produced and starred in the film and getting it off the ground was an arduous task. She told NPR that it took eight years to get the film made. "Nobody wanted to do it," the actress revealed, "nobody helped me with it."
Part of the reason Hayek was so determined to make Frida was because she wanted to fight against her sex symbol status. While being a "bombshell" turned her into a star, Hayek told Marie Claire that she "wanted people to see that there was more to me." Hayek wanted to portray Frida Kahlo because the artist "wasn’t considered beautiful" and "had a unibrow and a little bit of a mustache, but she had the courage to be unique."
While it may have been a struggle to get Frida made, it was well worth it. Hayek ended up being nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film and perhaps more importantly, it established Hayek as a versatile actress and a tenacious producer.
Stardom has made her more laid-back
While fame and fortune may go to many people’s heads, Salma Hayek has remained grounded throughout her career. In fact, becoming famous has actually made her more laid-back. In an interview with The Independent, Hayek said that achieving international success and acclaim didn’t make her hard to be around. She continued, saying, "If anything, I’m a lot more relaxed."
That doesn’t mean that fame didn’t change Hayek’s life at all, though. She admitted that her priorities are not the same as they were at the start of her career, explaining that when she was first starting out she was "focused on the big role, the career" and felt a lot of pressure to prove herself. Once she was older and had established herself in Hollywood, the pressure to succeed was gone and she felt like she could focus more on her personal life. "Life itself is more important," she said. "And I’m enjoying it."
Hayek worried she’d never fall in love until she met her husband
As noted by the Daily Mail, Salma Hayek met François-Henri Pinault in 2006 after being introduced by his stepmother. The then-39-year-old Hayek fell head-over-heels for the French entrepreneur and the couple tied the knot in 2009.
Prior to meeting her husband, Hayek thought that she would never find the right man. The actress told Allure that she grew "desperate" and "dated some people [she] shouldn’t have dated," because she was so anxious about finding someone to settle down with. The actress added that she wishes she could tell her younger self to "chill out" and know that she would one day find "a great husband that’s going to adore you," thus saving herself "a lot of personal drama."
Hayek’s relationship with Pinault is a strong one. A decade after they tied the knot, Hayek told Town & Country that her hubby is "the best husband in the world." She continued, "I get to be who I am with him, and I don’t feel that somebody tries to limit me."
Becoming a mom made Hayek feel complete
As noted by Town & Country, Salma Hayek and her husband, François-Henri Pinault, have a blended family consisting of their daughter, Valentina, and Pinault’s three children from two previous relationships: Augustin, Mathilde, and François. Becoming a mom changed everything for Hayek, who told Red that she identified with her character in 2015’s Tale of Tales, the Queen of Longtrellis. Hayek explained that she understood her "character’s desperate desire to have a child, and maybe feeling that you could never be happy or complete … without this."
When Hayek gave birth to Valentina, she was 41 years old. Conceiving older turned out to be a blessing, she told Town & Country, explaining that being "a late bloomer" meant that by the time she got married and became a mom she truly knew herself. "I think I’m a better mother because I had [Valentina] later," she said.
Hayek always wanted a big family, but was unable to have any more biological children. She revealed that having stepchildren has been a "huge blessing." She continued, saying, "So I have four [children]. And they are all so different."
She grew into an empowered activist
In addition to acting, producing, and raising a family, Salma Hayek is also a passionate activist. As a young girl, she was inspired by her parents "to carry on helping people — mainly in fighting for justice for women around the world," the actress told The Guardian. It is this inspiration that is behind Chime for Change, an organization she co-founded "to raise funds and awareness for girls and women’s empowerment."
Hayek has also worked with UNICEF and is a strong supporter of the Me Too movement. Hayek has traveled all over the world on behalf of women, with most of her work focused on preventing domestic violence. But if you haven’t heard much about it, there’s a good reason for that. In a speech at The Wrap’s 6th Power Women Breakfast (via TheWrap), Hayek said that she prefers to "live" her activist work "instead of talk about it."
Hayek was excited to witness Hollywood becoming more inclusive
Salma Hayek has changed a lot since she first moved to Los Angeles and the same could be said of the industry as well. While racism sadly still exists, things have come a long way since the starlet had trouble landing roles because of her accent and ethnicity. Hayek is pleased to see that, over the years, Hollywood has become more inclusive and has begun to tell more diverse stories.
As Hayek explained to Collider, "It was weird" that Latinxs "were not part of any stories" when she first moved to L.A., considering "there are 40 million of us in this country." She added that she "was very privileged to be part of a small generation of people that broke through that door first," but wanted to be clear that she didn’t break down those barriers on her own. Hayek credited other Latinx icons like Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, and Alfonso Cuaron for helping pave the way for more diverse stories to be told. "There was a group of people and great timing," said Hayek, adding that she was "excited to have been a part of that."
Hayek isn’t worried about looking older
While getting older can be scary, Salma Hayek isn’t all that worried about looking older. The actress is refreshingly okay with aging and won’t be pressured into covering up her gray hairs if she doesn’t feel like it. "It’s OK if I am not the most beautiful," she told Holmes Place, adding that as she’s gotten older "people get to see the other things" she brings to the table instead of being "distracted by the youth and the beauty." She added, "I am comfortable in my own skin."
In an interview with Net-a-Porter’s The Edit (via Entertainment Tonight), she said that the worst part about getting older isn’t her hair turning gray or her body changing or even wrinkles, it’s been her eyesight getting worse and the fact that she needs to wear glasses to read. "It has been really, really sad," she admitted. "The eyes, for me, that’s worse than the menopause."
She’s still turning heads
Salma Hayek is a timeless beauty who is proving to the world that you can be stunning at any age. While ageism still runs rampant in Hollywood, Hayek isn’t letting that stop her. She is not only at ease with her body changing as she gets older but is also turning heads in her 50s. The internet threatens to break every time she posts a photo, which explains why she has more than 20 million followers on Instagram.
In 2021, a bikini pic she posted garnered more than 2 million likes, with one commenter saying she is "one of the most beautiful women" (via Celebrity Insider). A year later, fans also couldn’t resist complimenting her in the comments of a makeup-free selfie, calling her "breathtakingly beautiful" (via Yahoo! Life).
Fans can’t help but notice that she looks younger than her years, too. Has she somehow discovered the fountain of youth? Not exactly. Hayek told Hola! USA that the key to her youthful looks is the fact that she meditates regularly.
She joined the MCU
Salma Hayek could retire tomorrow and still be an icon, but her career isn’t slowing down at all. From starring alongside Lady Gaga in "House of Gucci" to landing a role in the "Magic Mike" franchise, Hayek’s resume only continues to grow. One of the biggest roles she’s added to her oeuvre in recent years is that of Ajak in 2021’s "Eternals," officially making her part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Joining the MCU was quite emotional for the actress, who opened up about what it meant to her in a Spanish language interview with Despierta América. "When I put [my costume] on, I burst into tears. Not like in telenovelas, but the tears came out and I said, ‘What happened here?’" she said (via BuzzFeed).
Hayek explained that putting on the superhero suit made her realize how impactful the moment was for the Latino community; "Eternals" was noted for its diverse cast, bringing some much-needed representation to the franchise. "I realized that a door had opened where I didn’t enter alone — but inside that suit were all the Latinos who waited so long for this moment," said Hayek.