Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi revealed in her new memoir, Love, Loss, And What We Ate, that she was a victim of sexual abuse as a young girl.
Lakshmi told People, “It happens more than we think,” and she came forward in hopes of helping others. “I wanted to talk about it because if women like me don’t talk about it, who will?”
The abuse took place when Padma Lakshmi was 7-years-old and living with her mother in a small Queens, New York, apartment. Lakshmi sometimes shared a bed with a relative of her stepfather, which she said did not seem unusual to her having grown up in such cramped quarters.
“One night, I woke up to his hand in my underpants. He took my hand and placed it inside his briefs. I don’t know how many times it happened before, since I suspect I slept through some incidents.”
Padma’s mother suspected something was wrong when she discovered her daughter had urinated behind her bed in an act of distress. Young Padma Lakshmi told her mother what had happened to her. However, when they told “someone else,” that person did not believe her. Padma said she was sent to India the following week.
“Once you take a girl’s innocence, you can never get it back. What I remember more is telling my mother what happened and her believing me and then she and I telling someone else that it happened and that person not believing me. And then the next week, I was sent to India.”
Padma Lakshmi said she never wanted to dwell on what happened to her but often thinks of all the children who experience similar abuse.
“It’s not something I think about that much anymore, but it was the catalyst for a lot of things. It was the catalyst for my mother’s divorce, for me going to India. It was the catalyst for me being different about my body and just less open in the world. It was a loss of innocence in a way. What happened to me was not even that bad compared to what happens to many young girls and boys. But it was something that happened. I didn’t want to dwell on it.”
Padma Lakshmi also opened up about initially not knowing who her daughter’s father was. Lakshmi told the Today show she became involved with two men following her divorce from Salman Rushdie.
“It probably wasn’t the best choice, but it was the choice that I made at the time. I didn’t want to be in a serious relationship. I was still really hurting from my divorce.”
While Padma admitted she probably shouldn’t have rushed into any relationship, Lakshmi made no excuses for her decision to date two men. She said “men do it all the time,” and both men were aware there was someone else.
Padma said her three-year marriage to Rushdie suffered in part due to her debilitating health issues. Lakshmi has been very vocal about her long-time battle with endometriosis. She said she could not balance taking care of both her health and her failing marriage.
Forty-five-year-old Padma Lakshmi began experiencing symptoms of endometriosis at age 13. It is a painful condition where tissue that normally lines the uterus migrates to other areas of the body, causing lesions and inflammation.
Endometriosis can affect fertility. In fact, Padma Lakshmi was shocked to learn of her pregnancy with her daughter because doctors told her she would never conceive naturally.
Padma Lakshmi said she did not intend to write a memoir. Love, Loss, And What We Ate started out as a book about healthy eating. While Lakshmi always planned to discuss details about her personal life as they relate to food, she didn’t know it would take the turn that it did.
[Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for UNICEF]