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‘Riverdale’ Star Camila Mendes On Her Road To Recovering From Disordered Eating
By WH Staff | Sep 18, 2019
Camila is sipping her second almond milk latte—and she has a confession. “I’ve always, always wanted nothing more than stability,” the 25-year-old actress tells me while seated at Café Parisien on Larchmont Boulevard—a charming strip in Los Angeles that’s dotted with quaint shops and restaurants. She’s staying at her usual spot nearby in the neighbourhood, and she’s practically a regular at this café. It might seem boring, going to the same place all the time.
Maybe her publicist suggested it or maybe it’s just…comfortable. Predictable. Stable. For someone like Camila—who moved more than 12 times before the age of 18, partly due to her dad’s career and partly because of her parents’ split—maybe it feels almost snug.
“Moving around throughout my whole childhood was a bit traumatic,” says Camila, casual in jeans, a floral button-down, and barely a trace of makeup. “You’re constantly saying goodbye to people, and you’re constantly being removed from your identity. When you start to feel like you’re connecting with a group of people, an environment, and a home—a physical home—it can be destabilising when you’re uprooted and taken somewhere else.” So over the years, Camila began to cultivate a sense of home through routine— frequenting the same hotels, yoga classes, Pilates studios, and, yes, cafés when she travelled.
“If you don’t have that literal box, you have to create it in your habits,” she says. But there’s even more to it than that: For her, home is a mood, a feeling, one that can’t be separated from your body or where you’re moving in the world. It’s a deeper sensibility that includes safety, security, and comfort; it’s an ethos so important to her that she had “to build a home” tattooed above her rib in cursive lettering.
The inspiration for the tattoo came during a dark period in Camila’s life, long before she was cast as the magnetic Veronica Lodge on the CW series Riverdale, now in its fourth season. She went from her prep school in Plantation, Florida, to college at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and her first year there was a tough one, to say the least. “I got the tattoo after my freshman year,” she says, her rapid speech beginning to slow as she starts blinking back tears. “I had a very, very bad experience; I was roofied by someone who sexually assaulted me.”
After the painful incident, she vowed that from then on, everything in her life would make her feel safe and comfortable—the qualities she imagined in an ideal physical home. (The tattoo reminds her to strengthen both her sense of self and the environment around her.)
Part of laying the foundation for her renewed assurance was staying connected to her body. “Whenever I feel like I’m going through something difficult, I think about what I can do physically for myself,” she says. Being active is part of her identity—which her Veronica character, who often moonlights as a dancing pop star in the band Josie and the Pussycats, might relate to.
“I danced for seven years, from age 4 to 11. Then I did musicals as a kid, then so much of acting school is movement classes and connecting your breath to your body,” she says. “Activity has always been an important part of my life.”
For the 10 months of the year that she films Riverdale in Vancouver, Camila trains at a gym in her building. Lifting weights empowers her—and after a busy day on-set, she prefers the solitude of solo workouts. But as much as she loves exercise, sleep is even more important. She aims to get seven to eight-and-a-half hours of shut-eye nightly. “People sometimes put working out first and don’t give their bodies rest,” Camila says. “I’ll always choose sleep first. I think it’s just so underrated.”
Though she is serious about her commitment to her body and health, that hasn’t come without setbacks. Last year, Camila went public about struggling with disordered eating—namely bulimia—on and off for years. “I’ve only recently gotten better,” she says, pointing out that she couldn’t have done it without the help of both a therapist and nutritionist. “I needed professionals I trusted to tell me things that I didn’t know.”
A growing online fan base has offered their support and shared their own struggles with food and body issues since she opened up. Camila says this new platform as a role model for eating disorder recovery keeps her accountable and motivated.
“When I was a teenager, there were no role models when it came to body positivity—that simply was not a thing. Being thin was the thing,” she says. Camila aims to be the role model she wished she had. “It’s health that’s important, not appearance. I make choices that are good for me—and not just in my body—but for my soul, for my mind. And sometimes that’s eating ice cream because I want to eat ice cream.”
Staying attuned to what her body needs (“I’ve been eating more carbs than ever,” she says) keeps her energised. And with her career escalating so quickly, she needs all the extra momentum she can get.
This past summer, Camila starred in Coyote Lake, a thriller about a mother and daughter who live on the border in Texas where shadowy secrets come to the surface when their home is invaded by cartel members. “It’s the first time in my professional career that I’ve played a role that is not a rich, spoiled girl. This character is extremely sheltered and lives on a farm—she’s the complete opposite of Veronica, and that was very restorative for me because it reminded me of my theatre days,” she says.
And Camila recently wrapped another project: the Netflix original Windfall, also a thriller. The mystery-shrouded narrative is centred on a young couple who find themselves caught up in a criminal investigation. “What’s nice about that is I’m playing an adult—a young, married woman—and not someone in high school,” Camila says. Although she loves her Veronica character, she admits she’s eager to break away from Riverdale’s stylised characters into more dynamic roles. Yet she’s also aware of the fleeting nature of fame.
“I’ve been living on such a high. But it’s not going to be up forever. There’s going to be a plateau. And there’s going to be a moment where it maybe goes down, and I need to be prepared for that,” she observes, drawing on her instinct to reach toward stability. To that end, Camila has some news: She recently bought her mother a house in Florida. Though she still spends much of her time away on-set—whether it’s in Vancouver or Los Angeles—her family has an actual physical anchor to call their own.
“Now I have it!” she says, lighting up even brighter. “We finally have a home.”
This article originally appeared in Women’s Health US.
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