When Maria Bello penned an essay about family for The New York Times’ beloved Modern Love column for Thanksgiving 2013, she didn’t realize the domino effect that would result from putting her heartfelt musings on partnerships and love into words. “Most people who read it didn’t know it was me who wrote it, which is interesting,” says Bello of the groundbreaking piece in which she professed her romantic love for her best friend, Clare Munn. “I hate the term ‘coming out,’” says Bello, who refused to label herself bi-sexual with the declaration, “Coming out what, right? As straight? As Catholic? What does that mean, exactly? How about, it’s sharing a truth about yourself with the world because you’re inspired to do so?”
Within the first hour, the story garnered more than 272,000 Facebook hits, and an outpouring of comments from readers who closely identified with Bello’s fluid interpretation of family. “I realized there was a bigger conversation to be had,” she says. This spring, the discussion deepened with Whatever…Love is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves (Dey St. Books), Bello’s first book and New York Times best seller, in which she explores the concept of labels through a series of thought-provoking personal essays. “My hope is it will inspire people to look at the labels in their own lives and accept, embrace and create ones that make them feel the best of who they are and to get rid of the ones that make them feel disempowered,” she says.
It’s a fitting statement for the multi-hyphenate, who has never been one to color inside the lines. A mother and award-winning actress, Bello’s work extends off-screen to include human rights and activism—a passion, she says, which was instilled in her at a young age. Hailing from Norristown, Pennsylvania, Bello was raised Roman Catholic by her father, Joe, a contractor, and mother, Kathy, a nurse, whom she credits with teaching her the art of compassion. “Her whole life, all she wanted to do was be of service and help people,” says Bello, who now lives in Los Angeles. “Nursing is her way of doing that. She continues to do that and inspired all of us to use what we have in this world, in this lifetime, in this body, to give what we can.”
Since stepping into the spotlight, Bello used her newfound voice in Hollywood to draw increasing attention to the global plight of women, which she witnessed firsthand in her role as a humanitarian. “I started meeting extraordinary women in extraordinary circumstances. Like women who were in the refugee camp in Bosnia because they had been raped and their significant others were killed. I started interviewing them and finding not that there were so many differences between us, but seeing that there were so many similarities—common threads and connections between women all over the world. The conversations usually revolved around our children, men and love lives, and hair, fashion and makeup,” she says laughing.
Photography by Francesco Gastal, shot on location at a private residence in Los Angeles, CA.