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TV for Grownups
by Liz Balmaseda, AARP VIVA, April 2007
In a world of superheroes, María Antonieta Collins is the Transparent Woman: she has an uncanny ability to reveal many things that other women might prefer to keep private. The veteran journalist and host of Telemundo’s morning show, Cada día con María Antonieta, lives even the most painful chapters of her life in the glow of public light. Perhaps best known is her battle of the bulge, a struggle made even more daunting by the unforgiving television cameras she faces daily.
And when Collins talks about body image, as when she talks about anything else, she conveys the authority of a woman who is more than a well-informed television professional. At 55, she has experienced more than her share of life’s ups and downs.
“I write for the women in my audience,” says Collins of her role as author. “They are no different than me. I have this need to share my experiences and sufferings with them in hopes of sparing them pain.”
Her 2002 weight-loss book, ¿Quién dijo que no se puede? (Who Said It Can’t Be Done?), became a bestseller. Subsequent books followed suit. The connection with her audience gave her a sense of mission. If she had become fit and aglow in newfound health, it was her duty to share the knowledge.
“She’s a marvelous storyteller. She connects with the poor immigrant better than anybody I know,” says news veteran Guillermo Martínez, who hired Collins at Univision, her previous network. “She has empathy and knows people’s trials and tribulations.”
Says Univision anchor María Elena Salinas, a longtime friend and colleague: “What makes her connect with people is the way she approaches the viewer, as if everyone was her comadre or compadre. What impresses me the most is her ability to write—she could make the most serious news story sound like poetry.”
Collins writes about difficult topics: the challenges of raising a teenage daughter in Cuando el monstruo despierta (When The Monster Awakens) and her credit card addiction in In the Name of Buying, Signing...and Not Crying: A Shopaholic’s Descent Into Credit Card Debt and Her Climb Back to Financial Freedom (En el nombre de comprar, firmar...y no llorar: Cómo me liberé de mi adicción a las tarjetas de crédito), which outlines a recovery plan for fellow plastic addicts. In discussing her problems, she found a sense of healing—and she found herself becoming a better person.
Then last year, she faced her most formidable fight, one that threatened to destroy what she held most dear. She was enjoying the success of her latest book, Como lidiar con los ex (How to Deal With Exes), an account of how her husband’s first ex-wife had returned to “turn my life to yogurt.” As the third wife of naval architect Fabio Fajardo, Collins had learned valuable lessons on relating to exes and thought she had that part of her life under control. A photo on her husband’s cell phone changed all that: it showed her husband kissing another woman.
The timing was terrible: it was the day before their 10th wedding anniversary. And so was the setting: the hospital where her husband was undergoing tests.
The truth behind the photo came to light against the painful backdrop of her husband’s diagnosis—terminal cancer. “I remember thinking, ‘No telenovela could ever be this perfectly written,’ ” she recalls.
At first, her husband said the woman was someone with whom he had a brief “adventure.” But one day as Collins conducted her show from New York City’s Rockefeller Center, a friend of the other woman approached her with some startling details. Collins’s husband, the friend said, had married the woman in Colombia.
Not only was Collins’s husband dying, but she wasn’t sure she even knew who he was anymore. Would she leave him or forgive him? “I decided I would not be a victim,” she says. “There is no victim role in my telenovela.”
She forgave. In a months-long bedside vigil, she opened her arms to him and invited him to tell her his secrets. She left his side only for the TV show. She would crawl into bed and hold him. It was there that he professed his love for her and said that he never planned to leave her. And even as details of the affair trickled in—he had met the woman in a brothel, married her, and gone to Brazil for a honeymoon—Collins decided to love and care for him until his death, which came in October 2006.
The experience has brought her full circle, she says, back to the issue of body image and to her belief that physical beauty is incomplete without the work involved in achieving inner beauty. The ordeal left her 20 pounds heavier but emotionally lighter. She says she can always lose the weight. More important, she says, she has learned to feed her spirit.
When her daughters from a previous marriage invited her to spend time with them in Ohio after Fajardo died, she declined. Instead, she traveled to her native Veracruz, Mexico, where a former teacher told her to embrace her grief. The experience would help her grow as a human being, the teacher said.
Now back home in Miami, Collins pours herself into her piano lessons. “The piano is the man of my life,” she says. “He’s very masculine.”
Her dog and six cats keep her company while she writes her newest book, to be released this summer, about the final year she shared with her husband. Collins promises to hold nothing back as she continues healing.
She says, “When my alarm rings at 3:45 a.m. each day, I say ‘Thank you, God. Thank you for all the pain and all the lessons.’ ”
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