Jessica Alba is more than just a pretty face with a hot body.
Early on in her career, however, the actress had a difficult time making people believe that. When she was given the lead role on Fox's Dark Angel, Alba, was forced to wear super-sexy outfits in order to appeal to the show's predominantly male audience.
"I had a show that premiered when I was 19. And right away, everyone formed a strong opinion about me because of the way I was marketed," Alba, 31, tells the June issue of Marie Claire. "I was supposed to be sexy, this tough action girl. That's what people expected."
Even when she dressed demurely for red carpet events, Alba's body took center stage. "I felt like I was being objectified, and it made me uncomfortable," she recalls. "I wanted to be chic and elegant!"
These days, that's exactly what she is. "She has the perfect body, sexy with curves," designer Donatella Versace, 57, raves. "She is true to herself. She always looks fresh, never vulgar."
Alba -- mom to daughters Honor, 4, and Haven, 9 months, with husband Cash Warren, 33 -- admits her transition from sex symbol to style icon didn't happen overnight.
"Now that I'm older, I've learned how to own it, but I'm still not very overt," Alba says of showing off her sexier side. "There are some women who dress for men. I dress for myself. It took me some time to get here. Being a mom and feeling grown-up have helped. Now if I'm going to wear something short, it has to have a high neck or a little sci-fi toughness to it, an edge."
Alba began working with stylist and reality star Brad Goreski, 34, 18 months ago. "She was made to wear color. I encouraged her to play with it," he says. "We started with denim, then bright coats and floral pants, and they all look great on her. Now she's even going with bold color on the red carpet."
The actress and Honest Company founder's day-to-day look is always trendy and -- most importantly! -- practical. "I'm not going to wear stilettos, for example -- even kitten heels are kind of pushing it -- during the day," she says. "I wear boots, ballet flats and sneakers, but mostly boots. They're stable, easy to wear."
She adds: "I have so many scarves. When the weather changes, you can layer them for instant warmth. And they'll cover everything -- the vomit, the food that's been flicked on me, everything."
Alba doesn't miss her days as a sex symbol, either. "I like to get positive attention," she tells Marie Claire. "But if I have a choice between someone noticing in a negative way what I'm wearing and going, 'What was she thinking?' or someone not noticing what I'm wearing, I would rather not make a statement at all and just have a good conversation instead."
This article originally appeared on Usmagazine.com: Jessica Alba: I Felt "Objectified" As a Young Actress