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Recipe for Success: Padma Lakshmi

The Top Chef host dishes on food, fame, and her struggles with endometriosis -- plus she shares two delectable recipes.

Padma's Childhood Scar

Lakshmi didn't always feel so comfortable about her body. Especially the appearance of one seven-inch section of her right arm, the result of a car accident when she was 14. She was on a Sunday afternoon drive in California with her mother and stepfather when their car was rear-ended, and her right arm was shattered. The surgery left a prominent cross-hatched scar on her upper arm.

"When you're going to high school and you're self-conscious about your body anyway, it's a very tender age for something like that to happen," she says, demonstrating the arm cross she'd perfected to hide the scar (left hand over right arm, thumb up).

When she was modeling, few designers booked her for summer shows, but many hired her to model their winter lines -- when her scar was easily concealable in layers. Everything changed for her when she worked with the legendary photographer Helmut Newton. "My scar was the thing that attracted him to me in the first place," she says. "He told me how interesting it was and how it made me look like someone with a past. When someone of that caliber in your field plants that seed, it's a powerful message."

 

Padma On not Being Perfect

That's another reason Lakshmi was inspired to sign on for the nude magazine shoot.

"It was very important to show this scar because I wanted people to see that you don't have to be perfect, and beauty does come in all colors and shapes and forms. And the thing that makes us not look like everybody else is very important." Her body, she says, narrates the story of her life. "This," she recounts as she points to a brown bump on her forearm, "is the ingrown hair that I always picked on that was exposed to the sun because I was driving in L.A. all those years.

"And right there," she says, touching a small scar on her hand, "are three stitches from when I was holding a baked potato on a boat. I tried to stab it and missed and had to be rushed to the emergency room in Corsica to be stitched up by a very cute French doctor.

"And this," she says of a gathering of swirling scars on her right hand, "is where in the car accident I had to punch out the windshield."

Padma's Struggle With Endometriosis

Lakshmi settles back in her chair as she switches the subject to a different pain -- one that shows no outward scars, but that she worked hard for years to keep hidden. Once a month, Lakshmi was crippled with severe menstrual cramps. Nothing helped, not even prescription painkillers.

"I was balled up in bed with a heating pad, taking Vicodin to get through the worst." She concealed her pain, embarrassed that people would think she was exaggerating.

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