It’s no coincidence that a YouTube video viewed more than 80 million times is called I Lose My S**t.
Actress, comedian and blogger Tova Leigh lists all the small but annoying ways she is pushed over the edge by her three daughters – and husband.
The charges include taking hours to finish one slice of toast, not finding one’s shoes in the morning and, once in the car, urgently needing the toilet despite protesting the opposite minutes earlier.
Her wry observations are ones that any parent can sympathise with – and Tova, whose blog is called My Thoughts About Stuff, wants them to know she’s on their side. Anyone who has watched her on YouTube (26k subscribers), Facebook (more than one million followers) or Instagram (170k followers) will know that she advocates honesty and keeping it real – whether that’s railing against society’s perception of the ‘perfect’ body or how a mother should act, talking about the importance of prioritising yourself as a mother and having a voice, mortality, or women’s sexuality.
She has her finger on the pulse, and her new witty video, entitled Quarantine (The Soundtrack), has been shared 434,000 times on Facebook alone.
She has now published her first book, F*cked at 40: Life Beyond Suburbia, Monogamy and Stretch Marks, in which she describes how she has felt trapped because she felt labelled; the book documents her escape from the restrictions she felt those labels imposed on her.
Describing herself as a ‘daddy’s girl’, Tova was born in Israel to a “very Jewish father and a once very Catholic Irish mother”, who underwent an Orthodox conversion.
She followed her father’s dream for her and became a lawyer. “In my family – a Sephardic family [her father’s family is originally from Iraq] – there were very clear roles. The men were the ones who brought in and controlled the money. The women stayed home with the kids, cooked and cleaned,” says Tova, now 44.
When her two-year marriage to a fellow Israeli broke down, Tova came to London for a clean break and pursued an MA in performing arts and a diploma in script writing.
Intending to return to Israel, Tova met her comedy agent husband, Mike, 52, on the dating website Jdate.
She continued to act and make short films but, after three children in two years, it became too difficult, so she took on office work.
“I needed to work – I needed to get out the house,” admits Tova, explaining that while she adores her children, she feels she lost all sense of who she was after becoming a mother.
“Throughout those first few years,
I really struggled and it came as
a shock. I thought once you have a baby, you become all maternal. Maybe for some women, but it didn’t happen for me. And I felt very alone because nobody was saying that out loud.”
After one particularly difficult day, she sent Mike out with the girls and wrote a blog post called ‘I love my kids, but sometimes I wish they would just f **k off ’, hit publish on WordPress, and later found that 3,000 people had shared it. Her words had more than resonated with other mums.
“I cried as I was so overwhelmed by the messages. Women were writing to say, ‘You’ve just described my life, thank you for saying that.’
“So that was the beginning of the journey, and I went on to start a proper blog and Facebook page and, very quickly, I started doing videos.”
The videos were mostly about motherhood (one of them, about how she nearly died after having her twins, was shared by actor Ashton Kutcher), but then Tova started celebrating women in general, realising that they get better with age.
“I really do believe it’s society’s best kept secret,” she says.
After a health crisis she terms an “awakening” – she had a breast cancer scare, but was later given the all-clear – she made a bucket list: bungee jumping, pole dancing, the Everest Base Camp trek, an all-girls trip to Ibiza, dye her hair pink, write a book, do a one-woman show and
a nude photo shoot.
“The thing that stopped me was this belief that I shouldn’t or couldn’t do it because I’m a woman, because I’m a mum, because of my age, because I’m a wife…” she reels off.
“And, by the way, one of the biggest revelations I’ve had, is that all of those things were kind of made up by me because the moment I believed I could do them, I just did them.”
Parts of her bucket list was documented via six episodes that went online under the title Mom Life Crisis. They were picked up by Amazon and made into a short film.
She is candid about the fact she and Mike, who joins her in some of the videos, have gone through diffifficult times. They had stopped properly communicating – and she realises now that she hadn’t been honest with him about her needs. “This is another topic I feel is very difficult for people to talk about because society tells you that if your husband or boyfriend doesn’t want as much sex as you do, something’s wrong with you. But the reality is that this happens,” she explains.
“We opened up that conversation completely. And one of the main things that comes out in the book is that we opted for an open marriage.
“The idea of monogamy is one I took for granted just because that’s the society we live in. I realised I had never really questioned it.”
Tova is unafraid of what people think of her, a nice Jewish girl, talking to the world about sexuality and open marriages.
“I’m not a nice Jewish girl!” she jokes, adding: “But seriously, it’s a million miles away from my upbringing in Jerusalem. I’m aware of this, but I also don’t have anyone in my life who would point that out. That was the old me, this is me now.”
- F*cked at 40: Life Beyond Suburbia, Monogamy and Stretch Marks by Tova Leigh is published by Watkins at £14.99. www.tovaleigh.com