Courtesy Ladies Home Journal
02/08/2013 AT 11:15 AM EST
Motherhood and the perspective of age have helped Mariska Hargitay become a more confident – and fulfilled – woman and actress
The longtime Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star
, 49, answered candid questions about life and aging from readers for the Ladies' Home Journal
's March cover story, on newsstands Feb. 12.
"I love my curves because they scream, 'I'm a mama!' I'm the girl who started wearing maternity pants about an hour after I found out I was pregnant
because I was so excited about becoming a mom," Hargitay, a mother of three
, happily offers, noting that while she runs to stay fit, it's carrying toddlers up the stairs
in her home that now add strength training to her daily workouts.
While her late mother, the actress Jayne Mansfield, was known for her vavoom pin-up body, Hargitay eschews that sexualized image, saying women should not be defined by their shapes.
"There's this picture of her in a director's chair with her measurements on the back: 40-21-35. When I look at that picture part of me says, 'Mom, I love your sense of humor.' But the other part of me says, 'No, your name is supposed to go there. Your body is not who you are," says Hargitay who lost her famous mom at age 3 and who was raised by her father and stepmother.
"I don't think women should label themselves based on the way they look," Hargitay says. "What about defining yourself by a different kind of measurement? What about your heart, your soul, your compassion, your generosity, your strength, and your power? There are so many other things to focus on besides your waistline."
She confesses: "Some days having that extra bowl of pasta and a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup means more to me than being thin."
Although she was raised to look natural – her late father, bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay, didn't like makeup – Hargitay says she supports any woman who might consider plastic surgery to freshen their appearance and make them feel better about themselves. For now, she is happily embracing her age.
"Things are sagging a bit – I'm not going to lie. But am I going to be upset about the sag or am I going to look at my three gorgeous kids
and my husband and count my lucky stars?" she says. " I try to focus on who I am rather than who I'm not."