Camila Mendes really just wanted to be an actor. When her big break came in the form of landing the role of Veronica Lodge in the now hit series Riverdale, however, things changed. The 24-year-old decided to use the social media platform she had rapidly acquired (of over 15 million followers) to speak out about issues that mattered to her, bravely opening up about societal pressures around dieting, disordered eating, and her own experiences with body image.
Shortly after the second season of Riverdale premiered in October 2017, Camila announced that she had partnered with Project HEAL to help make treatment accessible to anyone suffering from an eating disorder. In the same post on Instagram, Camila revealed for the first time that she too had struggled with eating disorders in the past. She has since continued to share her story, and the following year, she proclaimed that she was done with dieting.
In an interview with POPSUGAR ahead of her appearance at POPSUGAR Play/Ground, Camila opened up about what led to her decision to come forward with her story. She also offered advice for those struggling with body image and explained how sometimes self-care is as simple as cleaning your living space.
"Accept the negative feelings for what they are, and don't let them control you."
POPSUGAR: Since your talk at Play/Ground will focus on body positivity and self-care, what advice would you offer to young girls who might be struggling with their self-esteem and body acceptance?
Camila Mendes: It's hard to kind of generalize body positivity or body acceptance into one piece of advice. I think it's most important, though, to be patient with yourself and accept the negative feelings for what they are and don't let them control you. You have to acknowledge them. I don't think you should pretend everything's OK or pretend you're 100 percent when you're not feeling 100 percent. For me, it's always nice when I'm acknowledging that I'm feeling down or that I'm feeling insecure about myself because then it helps me separate from that feeling.
PS: On those days when you're not feeling 100 percent, what do you do to give yourself a confidence boost?
CM: I think doing something for your body that doesn't really have to do with weight or aesthetics. This isn't necessarily for your body, but I always feel better when I clean my house. I know that sounds weird, but that just gives me this feeling of, OK, I've got everything under control.
The best thing I learned when I was going to therapy for my eating disorder is oftentimes eating disorders have to do with some kind of desire to control, right? When you're insecure with your body, you feel you've lost control. Instead of trying to control my body or trying to exercise or do something that's going to make me feel better physically, I try to control another aspect of my life. For me, cleaning my house brings me peace. Putting things in order will make me feel more confident. It just puts me more in touch with my environment and takes me out of myself, and then I usually feel better in the end. I think it is about distracting yourself with another task that has nothing to do with the insecurity.
PS: Do you have any advice for people who might be hesitant about starting therapy for the first time?
CM: Find the right therapist. If the first session doesn't go well, give it time. I think it's like with any person. It takes time to acclimate to the person and get a rhythm going. If you're still not happy and you don't feel that it's helping, try finding a different therapist, and maybe you'll get along better with that one. It's kind of like dating in a way. You want to find someone who kind of speaks your language or whose methods are working.
PS: What activities would you say are part of your self-care routine? And how do you make time for self-care?
CM: Well, luckily mine are pretty basic things that I can do at home that don't require me really going out of my way that much. If it's not cleaning my house, it's taking a bath or stretching or watching my favourite TV show. I think all of those things for me are ways to unwind. There's a steam room in my building so I tend to visit that place often. I think it's the one place where I actually don't have any distraction. It's just me and my thoughts. I'm sweating out all this — in my mind — tension. I like to think about it as tension, like my body is slowly relaxing and becoming softer. I feel kind of like a new person at the end.
I think there's something about self-care that's kind of a lifestyle in the sense that it doesn't have to be this one allotted time. I think you have to take care of yourself throughout the day, always checking in and asking, "What do I need right now? Have I been drinking water? Why am I tired? Did I not eat enough for breakfast? Why am I feeling the way I'm feeling." I think you've got to be constantly checking in with yourself and your moods so that you can be taking care of yourself.
PS: Which workout makes you feel the happiest?
CM: I like to train in the gym. I used to really be into yoga, and I still am, but it's harder for me to work around class schedules. I like the gym because I can just go whenever, and I can kind of be a last-minute decision. I used to have a trainer, and now I kind of just work out on my own because I feel like I've learned enough. It's been this really nice time with myself where I just listen to music, and I find my strength. I feel almost more focussed when I'm alone. There's just something really empowering about lifting weights. I feel like I can see my muscles in the mirror . . . I spend my whole day around people, talking to people. It's a very social lifestyle as an actor. So, when I get that time to work out and to finally be alone with my thoughts, I really want that.
PS: You amassed so many followers in a relatively short amount of time after Riverdale first came out. Did that at all change your feelings about social media?
CM: I was always pretty unafraid of social media. Even before fame, I kind of like embraced social media for what it was. I wasn't so active, but I posted frequently like any other person. So, the social media aspect didn't scare me. I think [that happened] when I started to see how much circulation every post would get . . . I started to realise just the amount of impact one post can have, which can be a good and a bad thing. It can be a bad thing if I accidentally write a wrong caption, and it's all of a sudden everywhere. It also can be a really good thing. If I'm saying something positive, the more it circulates, the more of a reach I have. I do take it more seriously now. Not just as a business tool but as a social issues tool.
I remember being supernervous about posting my first post when I talked about my eating disorder. The first time I ever opened up about it was on my social media, and I remember thinking, "Wow. This is it. This is the moment of truth. Once I say this, it's out there, and it's going to be at everyone's fingertips, and they're going to bring it up in interviews, and this is going to be part of my life now. This is going to be a thing that I'm associated with, and people are going to know this about me." That's scary because you don't really know what it's going to be like after that. You're kind of taking a leap of faith.
"I had this itch to do something bigger than me."
PS:What led to your decision to share that via social media specifically?
CM: I had been talking to my team about wanting to get involved in charity but I didn't know what was right for me. I had this itch to do something bigger than me — to speak to my audience on a deeper level. I wanted it to be authentic, and I wanted it to be something that was true to my story. We were kind of thinking about certain charities and what would be a good fit for me, and I came upon Project HEAL. My team sent them over to me, and I went on their website, and I started reading about them, and I was like, "This is it. This is exactly what I want to talk about, but I have to be brave."
I also had to consult my sister. My sister had an eating disorder, and I wanted to make sure she was comfortable with me bringing this to public attention, and she was very excited about the idea. She and I had never really been able to bond about it because it was part of the later half of my life that I developed it. This kind of helped us bond over our experience. So really, it started with Project HEAL, my work with them, and I knew the work would only make sense for me if it was coming from a personal place, and it was.
Project HEAL had a gala in San Francisco, and I had them fly out my sister so she could go. She made so many friends, and I don't think she had met a lot of people that had gone through the same thing. She didn't have any people in her direct circle of friends who have dealt with this, so meeting all those people was really good for her and good for for me. I didn't have any kind of peer community before that. They really inspired me to make that choice.
PS: Can you describe the reaction you received after publicly speaking about your eating disorder?
CM: The reaction was very positive. Very, very positive. I got so many messages from fans who had been struggling with eating disorders. Aside from being fans of the show, they found this new reason to follow me, or keep track of my career or whatnot, because they found this common ground or I guess a role model — which I hate saying because I really never intended to be like, "I'm going to be a role model." I've always wanted to be an actor simply because I love the work. I love acting, and all this other stuff to me was really scary. The idea of playing the whole fame game and publicity and working with charities — all of that was really scary to me because it felt very vulnerable.
"I've grown into myself and this new chapter of my life."
PS: It's so personal.
CM: It is really personal. And I was just like, "I just want to be known for my work, and then I'll have a personal life on the side, and I'll be super in control of that." But honestly, I don't think I had as much control as maybe I thought I did. The show's success took hold of my life, in a good way because now I've kind of grown into it. I've grown into myself and this new chapter of my life.
Camila will be headlining POPSUGAR Play/Ground along with Issa Rae, Mandy Moore, Chrissy Teigen, and more in NYC on June 22 and 23. Learn more about the second annual festival and buy tickets here.