Feminist icon, author and activist Gloria Steinem has always had a complicated relationship with her looks. Among early feminists she was known as the beautiful one, a designation that rankled.

“Before feminism I was pretty — only after feminism was I ‘beautiful,’” she says. “The low expectations of what feminists looked like had elevated me! People thought if you could get a man, you wouldn’t be a feminist.”

Less was made of her beauty as she aged, and she’s found that freeing: “I want people to listen to me.” Yet she looks terrific at 83, and like most of us, she takes care with her appearance. “I certainly think about my looks,” she says. “I try to look like myself, does that make sense? I feel free and happy, and I like to look that way.”

Steinem talked to PEOPLE exclusively for the 2017 World’s Most Beautiful issue about what beauty means to her, the tyranny of plastic surgery — and why a woman’s never too old to wear a motorcycle belt with studs.

Botox? Fillers? Cosmetic surgery?
Botox: no. Fillers: No. Cosmetic surgery: never. I definitely color my hair, but I’ve been doing that since my 20s. God alone knows what’s under there. I get it done every couple of months — if you get those little crayons with the terrible name, Tween Times, you don’t have to go so often.

Do you work hard to stay so slim?
I exercise sometimes. I’ve always been conscious of weight because my father and my sister both weighed over 300 lbs. for most of their lives. So it’s like being in a family of alcoholics — you don’t drink. I’m not that careful, I love to eat. I just binge in moderation.