Join me as I sit down with Liz Hilliard in our first Coffee Chat. Liz is the co-owner and creator of the Hilliard Studio Method, a nationally recognized workout studio based out of Charlotte, NC. She is outwardly attractive, a fashion icon, and an advocate for healthy living. Those lucky enough to call her a friend would also describe her as inwardly beautiful, having a zest for life, a contagiously fun personality, and a fearless sense of self. A woman who breaks age stereotypes in almost every aspect of her life. At the age of 66, I was curious to explore how Liz seems to defy growing older.
Tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are with your award-winning studio.
Professionally it was not an overnight success. It was a long trip to get here. In 2002 I started my own Pilates studios. However, after a short point, my workouts were not working for me anymore. If you are doing something in your life that does not work any more — then change it. So, I changed all of it, and I created Hilliard Studio Method (HSM) to suit what I was going through as well as what my daughter, Clary, was going through as she was about to get married. So I created a workout that would accomplish the goals of shaping both of our bodies. Being healthy and being able to transition with an effective workout while we age is why I started HSM.
You recently wrote a book.
Yes, Be Powerful: Find Your Strength at Any Age. But I don’t think I am finished writing. A second book might be in my future. I think it’s a continually evolving platform of knowing who you are. My first book was a jumping-off point of my own authenticity. Yet, I think the word authenticity is overused. That’s an easy word. There’s a lot of easy words. To walk authenticity, that is a whole other ballgame. You’ve got to be willing to risk it.
One of the things I love about you is your iconic fashion style. Were you always a fashion diva growing up?
I was a tomboy growing up because I played sports. But, I guess I wore more body-conscious clothing because of my athletic build. I didn’t really like to follow trends. I just wore what looked good on me. Style is about what makes you more you. Even when I couldn’t afford groceries, I was buying high-quality pieces. I would think, how am I going to make this work? But it always seemed to work out.
I incorporate more current pieces, yet for me, it is all about essential items that you keep from year to year and really for decades. I have saved different things throughout the years. I wish I’d kept more. I prefer quality over quantity, and I have passed that advice onto my daughter.
You are very tall, like 6′-2″? How would you describe your body type?
I am only 5′-9″ and a half inches. LOL. I am very tall. I think I appear taller because posture is incredibly important. I feel that is part of the reason that I am aging well. I think I am doing well at 66. My workout is all about posture. The health of the spine and supporting yourself with your core. Even though I come from an athletic background, my family has had a real problem with heart disease and other health issues, so it’s important to me to stay healthy and strong for myself and my family.
My body type is athletic. We need to encourage girls and boys to play sports, find a game, or anything physical, to create healthy habits and over time a good muscle memory so that at any time throughout your life, your body remembers and says, “Oh yea, I got this – I know what to do.”
What is your go-to outfit when you’re out running errands?
You have to remember, I workout every day. I get up in the morning, and I shower. I am probably the only person that showers before they exercise! I put on some bronzer, an eye something, a lip something, and I am done for the day. In high school, I was a really good basketball player. The other team would laugh at me because I would arrive at a game wearing makeup including eyeliner and mascara. Yet, I would get the last laugh. Because this shorter person they called a sissy, would beat them almost every time! But to answer your question, you can dress up athleisure. I love our athleisure stuff right now. Women are wearing it, even if they are not working out. I don’t blame them. It is so comfortable. If done right, it can definitely look good. Put a nice big sweater over it, or a jacket and belt it. I merge athleisure wear with ready-to-wear. It is so rare that I am in jeans anymore. So, my errands are typically worn in my workout pants with a big sweatshirt or something cool over it like the jacket I am wearing today.
What is the best wardrobe advice you ever received?
I don’t know if I ever received it, or I just figured it out. Because I knew I liked quality. Quality in everything I do — quality workout, quality clothes, quality cars, and quality friends. Everything is top-shelf.
I was not going to go into a store and just buy the latest trend. My advice that I gave to myself was how much money did I have in my purse to spend. I really liked the stuff that was on the front cover of Vogue. Oh, wow, that is Oscar de la Renta. Hum, at the time, I was making $35,000 a year as a dental hygienist. But what I would do, is find one piece (and I still do) of what I could afford. I still have those quality pieces today.
I do not buy a lot of clothes, I buy pieces of quality. I buy what looks good on me. I let all the noise of trends flow away. I don’t get caught up in what I have to have this year — like the latest boots. Put on the boots that look amazing on you, and you can see yourself wearing them in five years. And they better be good quality, or they will fall apart. As trends come and go, sometimes it is hard to find the clothes that flatter your body. That is why I depend on what I have been paying attention to all my life. And throwing in a little flare that says 2020 with something I actually bought in 1997.
What is your favorite cocktail or drink of choice when you are out socially?
Champagne! Champagne and potato chips. Isn’t that what Marilyn Monroe drank? For my actual birthday — this is what Lee gave me — we opened up a fabulous bottle of Champagne, and she ordered really nice caviar. Lee arranged little wafers with creme fraiche and all that other stuff. She had a few potato chips on the side. OMG — potato chips and caviar. Forget about it! Amazing! That is my drink of choice, a really good Champagne.
What is your food vice?
I am a really good, healthy eater. But I do have this one thing…Milk Duds. I want the cheapest, trashiest, sweetest, nastiest. Whatever nonsense you can buy at the counter at the movie theater — Bring It On!
So this is going to make my next question funnier. What is your healthy eating advice to others?
Yea, I wrote a book about healthy eating. Milk Duds were not in the book! I should have a picture of them, “when you go south.”
My advice is to strengthen your palate like you strengthen your body. Flex your palate-muscles. Learn to like certain foods. I used to not want to eat greens or salmon. I used to like things that were more unhealthy. We are now living in a world where we need to eat less meat. We actually need to eat less chicken and fish and all those things too. But, if you are not yet a vegetarian or vegan (which I am neither), then find delicious fish and learn to savor it.
Get your perfection from protein and any leafy vegetables you can find in the world. Choose colored vegetables and fruit every single day and then go light on the carbohydrates of any type. I do not eat sugar, but that does not mean that I do not eat fruit. Fruit is full of natural sugar and good fiber. One of the best things you can eat is an orange or an apple. If you can find an apple that doesn’t have pesticides all over it. It is tough to find those organic products, but I eat entirely organically. I eat fruits throughout the day.
I am also working at becoming more vegan. The more you read about the reason we shouldn’t eat any meat at all, and it is not just about health reasons. But it is also climate reasons. We need to pay attention to the fact that we are overfishing our oceans. We’re going through a lot of things with our world changing. Again, life is not static. Pay attention to what is going on around you. Evolve with it.
Here is the biggest tip I will give you. The herbs that we eat, the flavorful things, like basils and turmerics, are like mega, mega nutrients. You can eat kale all day long, but if you season your food with your favorite herbs, it is like getting a double whammy. Herbs are full of phytonutrients and are a delicious way to season your food without too much fat or salt. They are a concise version of the larger, leafier green.
I also eat a lot of nuts, seeds, and good legumes. Remember, nuts are full of fat so pay attention to that. But they are good fat. Studies have shown that people who eat a lot of nuts and legumes have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight. You can’t eat cheeseburgers and milkshakes and then have a handful of nuts and expect to lose weight!
Last night I ate a salad of every green I could find in the organic section of the grocery store and added some edamame for added protein. Use simple dressings! I added a really great balsamic vinegar and some lemon and salt and pepper. It was delicious and filling. Like I’ve mentioned, I love fish and salmon especially, but remember, with fish, the smaller, the better to avoid mercury. If you can learn to like sardines, you are in it to win it!
So what is the most impactful beauty advice you’ve ever received?
First of all, if you are not yourself, you are not going to be beautiful. That was the inside out part. But let us get right to it — the outside appearance. I think we spend a lot of time and money on things we don’t need. So once again, I like high-quality. At the age of 34, I went to a dermatologist and started using Retin-A. I’m 66 now. I use Retin-A, 2-4 times a week. I consider that the most important part of my skin regimen.
Retin-A, an excellent moisturizer and sunscreen. That is all you need, and that is not a tremendous amount of money. And most anybody can do that. Those are the three ingredients you need beauty-wise for great skin throughout your life.
I think if we can stay a little looser and shy away from all the fillers. I mean, I do a little Botox. I don’t do filler. Beauty to me really stems from an inner happiness and well-being. Doesn’t that sound esoteric when we’re really talking about how to be pretty? But pretty is about being who we are.
I use my treatment for my face, but I love makeup. That is where I spend my money, on some fun makeup. But remember, as you are aging, the more makeup you wear, the older you look. I don’t wear foundation, I wear a tinted moisturizer with sunscreen. Then I’ll do some kind of little cheek with a shimmer. I love the shimmer and shine! And I really like eye makeup. That is where I put my money — it’s in eyeliner.
What is a beauty secret you have? I remember you spoke about dermaplaning in a past article.
Oh yes! Dermaplaning is a big deal! And honestly, if you know some men that shave their faces every day, they have this nice little baby skin underneath their whiskery face. Women are afraid of dermaplaning because they think they’re going to grow whiskers. They won’t, because we don’t have male testosterone. Just like we can’t bulk up and be big bodybuilders.
So what I do is once a month is a dermaplaning procedure at my local spa. And, if I don’t have time or I’m somewhere that I can’t get to my facial person. I take this blade, this is bad — don’t let your husband see you do this! You are going to look in the mirror and use a razor, and you are going to do it yourself. But you need to be very, very careful. What it is doing is renewing your skin cells and letting your collagen rebuild itself. Dermaplaning is one of the best things you can do for your skin.
If you do all that stuff that I just said, but you have a bad diet, and you don’t take care of your health — your skin is going to be a mess. That is just the outward sign of what is going on inside your body. If your skin is a mess, I wonder what is going on with your organs. Your biggest beauty secret is to be healthy. To eat well. Find your healthy and happy self. If you are living a lie. Stop doing it. Find a way to get out of it and get past it. I am telling you my most important, healthy beauty secret is living authentically and truthfully in who you are. And just having fun.
We are here, I think, to find joy. I think the real truth of life is to find joy. Not happiness. Happiness and joy are two different things. You can have a very unhappy day, and the bottom basement in your gut is just sitting there with joy. The joy is going to get you through that hard day. So, I think being joyful is what we should strive for. I feel most of us live in a compromised zone. If you keep compromising who you are, you are going to show it on the outside fast.
I look at my pictures in the last two years, and then I look back five, eight, ten years ago or even twenty and look better now. And I’m 66 years old. I think it’s incredible and I think it is about the truth. I almost feel sorry for my thirty and forty-year-old self. I look back at the strange look on my face or my body language. Something just wasn’t quite right. It is not that I wasn’t having a great day. I loved my life then, but I was compromising a lot.
You actually led to my next question. Looking back, what is the one tip you would give your 18-year-old self?
To make that call you are afraid to make. To knock on that door. The minute you go — I’m not ready, I don’t have enough education, I don’t know enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not pretty enough. I am not “this” enough, I am not “that” enough. Walk-in anyway!
The people that are successful in life have no idea what they are generally doing. It was like me when I started my business. I was like, I have a certain knowledge about the body. I have a certain knowledge of what I do and do not like. Then I became this authority on it. Then, I would think, am I sure I know what I am doing? So, in that case, do a lot of homework and make damn sure you know what you’re doing. I would tell myself, Liz, make the call. Walk in the door. Get out of that relationship. You are smarter than this relationship. You are better than this guy.
What is your superpower?
The fact that I think I am not good enough. The fact that I was such a vulnerable, self-doubting child. That is my superpower. It’s the reason I am where I am today. I was a C-student. I didn’t have any self-confidence. I didn’t even think I should be in college, much less get accepted. I mean – do they know who I am? Have they checked out my SAT score? LOL
I never thought I was good enough. Yet, that can be so powerful knowing that about yourself. To be vulnerable and scared and then in spite of that, do it anyway. Because courage is about walking right through that “I can’t do it path”. Not, “I’m going to show them who I am”. That is not courage. Courage is I’m scared shitless. But nothing is going to keep me from opening that door. I am just going to walk in and see what happens.
Be powerful in whatever it is that you feel that day. Stand tall in that feeling and own it. That is where your power starts.
Why did you choose “Be Powerful” as the large sign in your studio?
I remember when I first started seeing people as a personal trainer, I would meet them where they were. They would say things like, “I’m falling apart here” at my training sessions. They came in to physically work out, yet we would sit. Maybe she would cry and possibly I would cry too. I would just try to support them. So it made me think. What is my goal in life? What is my mantra? What do I want to live by?
Wherever you are, especially in my studio because it is a workout, or whatever else your day may be like, own it. When you walk in, you might be a puddle on the floor because of an argument with your spouse, or your kids are driving you crazy, or you have just found out some bad news. Or it may be the greatest day of your life. No matter what, I want you to own it! Clients tell me, “I can’t do a push-up Liz, I can’t pick up a weight.” Fine, own it. Be powerful with it. Be powerful in whatever it is that you feel that day. Stand tall in that feeling and own it. That is where your power starts. It doesn’t begin with, I just accomplished a push-up. That is not powerful. Standing up and saying, “I will do it, I will give it a shot.” Giving it a shot is the biggest thing you can do. That is your power.
Give us a sneak peek into what is next for you.
I am starting a podcast. Lee and I are starting it together. We are going to do it on the empowerment of walking your path. But it is not going to be about us, it is going to be about others and their walks in life.
That is why I am not sure I want to sit down and write a book right now. What I want to do is get some information out. So we are going to start a podcast. We began to talk about how we would do just different relationships with whoever. But we’re going to just talk about how you live in your truth of power and other things like that. We haven’t even named it yet. But I have all the equipment and boxes in my living room, and we are starting it next week.
When you are speaking on the air-waves, and someone takes a minute to listen to you, are they going to hear bullshit or not? Are they going to hear the truth or not? I can say things a lot of ways on a social platform or in a book or whatever. I hope to resonate with someone that is listening or even dialogue with someone that might disagree with me entirely – which I intend to do. This is not going to be a big kumbaya moment. I really want some diversity and input from my guests. I think that is what people are hungry for in this world of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. We have 24/7 news so people are reading and hearing fake news all the time. Real is very hard to come by. I am really proud of you, Holly, for doing what you are doing because you are real with your blog. And again, real is hard to come by.
So Liz, what are your last words of wisdom?
So, I am in my mid-sixties, and I am like, hell, yes! I am going, wow. So that means I’ll be seventy in four years. I thought I would not be alive at sixty. And look at how this is working out? Actually, I thought I would be dead at forty. Because I lived a wild life. I am a wild child. I went from a tomboy to a wild child that just had no sense at all. I thought I would just have a blast and not worry about it. And then finally one day, I said, “Get up and do something”. Okay, I will go and get a job. Oooh, I really liked making money, that was fun. Oh, wait, I think I can make this work differently. Everything I have ever done, I have gone outside of the box. I am not good enough to do what is inside the box, so I had to figure out how to make it work my way. Every time I have done that, I have been successful. That is the risk I have always taken, and even more so in the past two years. Do you want to be happy, or do you want to be accepted? Adaptation is the death of desire!
My Chat with Liz Hilliard
I can not thank Liz enough for sharing her honest, direct and vulnerable thoughts so openly. I don’t think I have laughed so hard in quite a while. My expression lines are a little deeper after our coffee chat and I couldn’t be happier for them to stay there. I felt her tips and advice were funny, spot-on and relatable to us at any stage and age of our lives. One of the things I admire most about Liz is her courageous ability to course-correct when she is not happy with her current path. As she stated, “life is not static.” At the age of 66, it is obvious that Liz is just getting started. For more information about Liz and Hilliard Studio Method, visit www.hilliardstudiomethod.com.