Dating can seem like a dreadful assignment in our career-driven, tech-consumed and social media-obsessed lives. So much, that we sometimes forget that our flaws and differences make us uniquely beautiful inside and out. Instead of looking at what's right, we concentrate on what we think are flaws, conforming to the popular images we often boost, share, like and tweet. On a lighter scale, this idea is kind of mirrored in Black & Sexy TV's Hello Cupid YouTube series that will be returning to the web for season two on July 4.
The show follows the characters of Ashley Blaine Featherson and Hayley Marie Norman, a pair of roommates (Whitney and Robin) who are digging the same guy they met online in a social experiment where Whitney adds Robin's picture to her online dating profile to see whether or not it would get more hits. It did. And after weeding out different guys, they fall for one who they later find out is "on a break" in his marriage - a secret revealed after the girls come clean about their switcheroo.
Averaging over 50,000 views per episode, Hello Cupid explores the ups and downs of online dating and pleasantly digs into the act of getting to know oneself. Ashley, co-creator, says the show came out of "a desire to work." She and Hayley, who's also the associate producer of the second season, hope people recognize that beauty comes in many shades, textures and shapes. Below, we talk about relationships, insecurities and social stigmas regarding skin color.
ALIYA FAUST: So what inspired the storyline?
ASHLEY: One day I was sitting in my apartment and I was tired of having to wait on my agent or my manager to call me and say I had an audition or hand me a job. I wanted to put myself in a position where I could create work for myself. So I literally sat at my computer and thought of random things off the top of my head. Different situations I've been through, and stuff like that. I'd tried online dating before - immediately got on and immediately left in two days. It wasn't for me. So I was kind of thinking about that and the whole online dating saga and virtual world, so I went to Lena Waithe - I knew that she was a writer and I hadn't known her for that long at the time, but I knew she had great work - I pitched her another idea for a totally different show and she was like, no, that's just terrible [laughs], so I was like ok, well I have this other idea. It was in a different spin than what you all see now, but she came on and was like, how about we add this to it, and then we got with Black & Sexy TV and delved into the world of color, the light skin vs. dark skin thing, and that's how it came about.
AF: There are a lot of messages and lessons in this show. What do you hope people take from the series?
HAYLEY: What I love about this show is that I feel like it really holds a mirror up to society for people to sort of question their beliefs and daily actions. Not doing it in a preachy way, but in an entertaining way. All this started with a social experiment of the show changing the picture of a darker skin girl's to lighter skin girl's. I hope that the audience can start to question their own prejudices or wonder why they think people are the way they are based on the way they look. It's a narrow-minded thought, but we all do it. It's so easy to stereotype people. I hope this project acts as a mirror for society to help illuminate and reflect prejudices amongst our community and our own individual selves. When presented in this manner and thru entertainment, rather than preaching, I hope it forces people to question ideas that they are perpetuating or perhaps even prescribing to subconsciously.
ASHLEY: What I like on Hello Cupid is that Hayley and I are different complexions, but we did that on purpose. There are a lot of similarities between us. We're the same height. We share clothes. We both have natural hair. So what are the differences other than our skin complexions, you know? Somebody will love you for who you are. Yes, Whitney conducted an experiment, but had she held on, somebody would've came along. She didn't have to change her whole body. I think a lot of times as women, we think, 'Well what's wrong with me?' I think we've all been through stale relationships or rejection but I want people to watch the show and kind of get some sort of confidence out of it. There's something beautiful about being yourself. When you're not being yourself and lies are being told, then nothing good can come out of that, as you can see in Hello Cupid. We thought it was all roses and butterflies until a friendship got messed up, then the relationship got messed up, then we find out that he's married. All sorts of things come out.
AF: What would be some advice you'd give women struggling with their identity?
HAYLEY: It's the same advice for acting I've always had. I've been a professional full-time working actress for a long time now and I have people who come to me that think they need to change something about themselves in order to be an actor in this business. I always say acting is about brining a real person to life and there's only one you. You just have to be who you are. I feel like every Academy Award season you see somebody come out of the woodworks and finally appreciated because of what made them unique and they held on to those things instead of changing them. And I think the same is true for dating. You have to be the best version you can be of your own unique self. When the right person, or the right job or opportunity comes around, you'll be so grateful that you never changed those things about yourself. To the girls who feel like they need to change their physical appearance in order to get a man, I would say that the love they need to be looking for is not love from the outside, but self love.
AF: Have you ever started a relationship with a little white lie?
HAYLEY: No, never. I'm probably too honest to a fault. I'm so cautious of hurting people's feelings that I just always want to be truthful. I'm such an open notebook. Experiences in my past have made me who I am today and that person interested in entering a relationship with me should know who I am.
ASHLEY: Never have I ever built a relationship on an lie. That's just acting. The episode where Robin goes on the date as Whitney, it's like, how does this work? They're such great people individually, but it's never a fair [situation].
AF: So, Cassius was open and honest with you guys on the show about being married. Would you date a man who was honest and said he was on a break?
HAYLEY: I don't think so at this point in my life. I'm not really open to dealing with people who have drama that they need to finish up because I'm such a diehard romantic that there's this part of me that's sort of like, ok, somebody else is going through something right now, but I'll love them through whatever they need to get through, be friends for a couple years. I still do believe that when the time is right, things will happen, but if somebody was separated from somebody, I would say, you know what, first of all, there's a chance that you guys could get back together and if that's meant to be, then that's what I want for you. If you guys aren't going to get back together, you're going to need time to mend from that relationship and that can take who knows how long.
AF: True, you want to make sure you're exclusively in there.
HAYLEY: Exactly. And I respect myself enough to know that I'm not going to let anybody waste my time, even if they do it inadvertently.
AF: You guys on the show were still into Cassius even after his mess was revealed, but women actually share men knowingly in real life. That kind of falls back on the confidence issue previously mentioned. Not being 100 percent in themselves, women tend to settle. What are your thoughts on how women tolerate inconsistencies and blatant red flags in relationships?
ASHLEY: It's all about knowing your worth. Bottom line. 'I have to deal with this situation because I don't know if I'll find something better,' is a desperation. I think it lives completely in fear of not having what deep down inside we all know we're deserving of but maybe not worthy of. I think it's something that boils down to patience. With me, I really hope God sends me somebody that's amazing and looks at me like the queen that I am and treats me wonderfully and amazingly, but sometimes it's a stress. Like, when's it going to happen. But I have to hold on and know that it will because that's what I'm deserving of. But that's not easy. Every woman doesn't just wake up like, 'Mmh hmm, I know my worth, I'm not messing with these jokers.' You have to go through it to know you're not going to put up with it. It takes time. Honestly, it's also based on what we're seeing. I think it's an insecurity issue. You'll see men you're interested in, for instance, dating women who look nothing like you. So you're like, 'A guy like that isn't going to want a girl like me.' Women will then be like, 'I'm going to deal with this other guy, who might have another girlfriend or be married or whatever, but at least he gives me some time.' It's not okay, but truthful and based on reality.
AF: Ashley says the idea of Hello Cupid partly derived from her trying online dating for two days … Hayley, are you for or against online dating?
HAYLEY: I have not signed up for online dating but I've heard good things about it. Right now I'm really focused on career and enjoying being my own woman in this world and what that means to me, but should the time come, I wouldn't necessarily rule it out. The idea of it is a little scary to me to be totally honest but I think the benefit is that you are meeting with people who are really looking to commit and in the same space mentally in regards to a relationship than you are. As much as I want to believe in love at first sight and meeting someone in a more organic way, I've seen it happen time and time again that that person you meet just isn't ready for a relationship and ends up hurting the other party. Eliminating that factor could prove very beneficial. I think all the messages I'd have to respond to would stress me out though! Haha. I already get so many emails just about work and life stuff, having to field emails or messages from a total stranger would probably end up low on my priority list.
AF: Have you learned anything about yourself from being on the show?
HAYLEY: I have learned a lot about myself actually. It's a semi-scripted series, so we have the ark of what's going to happen, but we provide our own dialog and we're responding naturally as our characters.
AF: Wow, I didn't know that.
HAYLEY: Yeah, so I think it kind of helped me naturally highlight differences between myself and Robin. I respond to stuff as Robin, but in my head I'm laughing at how over-the-top it is. But because it's semi-scripted, I was able to bring some of my own elements into the character, like making Robin into yoga, being vegan. I think the biggest difference was, we took a 6-8 month hiatus in between the first and second season, so when I came back, stepping into Robin's shoes, I realized that over those 6-8 months, I had sort of matured and grew more into my own self. Robin is this character that I'm playing and not me. You get over-the-top personality, but I'm a little more calm and rational than she is.
AF: Now, I have to ask, is Cassius going to pick a girl?
ASHLEY: [Laughs] I can't say. Who knows!
**Catch Hello Cupid all summer long starting this Friday, July 4 on Black&SexyTV/Youtube.
Love the stars of 'Hello Cupid?' Catch Hayley on upcoming 'Finally Famous' movie starring Chris Rock and Gabrielle Union, and a pilot for ABC called 'Selfie.' Catch Ashley in 'Dear White People,' which hits theaters this Fall.
Follow Hayley on Twitter @xoHayleyMarie and Instagram @hipslipsandfingertips. Follow Ashley on Twitter and Instagram @AshleyBlaine.
For more entertainment & beauty news, follow @AliyaFaust on Twitter and Instagram.