On ABC's award-winning drama Scandal, actress Bellamy Young portrays the role of America's first lady Mellie Grant: a no-nonsense, ambitious woman who makes sure her voice in the White House is always heard. While on-screen Mellie mostly uses her voice to scheme and plot, off-screen Young is using her voice to inspire girls with the Team True Beauty movement-an organization that helps to empower girls and women from within.
From our conversation, it was quickly easy to see the talent behind this Yale and Oxford-educated actress, as Young couldn't be further from her alter ego on Scandal. A woman full of kindness and grace, the North Carolina native shared how she thinks young women can find the confidence within themselves to walk their own path, how she focuses on staying true to herself in Hollywood, as well as what true beauty really means to her! It is with much gratitude that I share Bellamy Young's Team True Beauty story.
You work in an industry that heavily focuses on looks, especially for women. Do you ever feel that pressure on you? Or did you when starting out?
Bellamy- I think you choose how you walk through this life. I think if you choose to participate in a paradigm that is looks-based; if you're an actor then it can be empowering in some ways, and it can be really limiting in some ways; in terms of time and longevity. I'm really lucky because I started in the theater so it's much more forgiving because your job is you transport people to create a hyper-reality. You really make a dream sort of real in front of them. There's a lot more magic to it. Now there are HD cameras! (Laughs) We're in so many people's living rooms in high definition and it can be very unforgiving. But you're always in charge of the story you're telling yourself. For me, if I remember that I'm there to serve, not just my story, but also the story the writers have written, then it frees me up to not think about the looks of it. If you're being asked to grief a husband you just lost, you can't be thinking am I pretty when I cry? And I think what really resonates with audiences is people giving their truth. Truth transcends beauty. So I've always just tried to stay focused on giving my truth and letting the rest of it fall into place.
Beauty is also so open to interpretation. Just to stay with that example, one person's grief can be beautiful; but not in the magazine-airbrushed very manipulated way. It's just beautiful in its honesty. And it's freeing in the cathartic element. When you see someone else go through something that you know you've had inside you, it opens a little window in your heart. So for me that's how I frame it; I try and stay focused on what the truth is, what the story is, and let the outside stuff sort of be taken care of in its own service.
We just finished Oscar week, and being in that atmosphere, I realized there was so much emphasis and coverage on how women looked and what they were wearing, and who didn't look great, etc. And it made me think why can't we place that much emphasis on the value of women's work instead of their dresses or their bodies? In my coverage, I try to do that, instead of just asking who are you wearing?
Bellamy- I was going to say it's up to us. The market drives the market place. As we put more content in this direction, of course people respond to it. It's just that the paradigm historically has been, “Sell the pretty girls!” “Sell the handsome dangerous man!” It's an old paradigm that is shifting now. And you're playing a big part of that, girl! So congratulations! And thank you!
Thank you so much! That means a lot to me. I hope! I just think media is such a reflection of society. It's so important what we put out there. And with my little platform I just hope to do what I can to make a little bit of a difference.
Bellamy- And you are. It's so democratic now. Voices can be heard. And that's liberating. It's awesome. You're doing a great job.
Do you think image standards in Hollywood have changed since say ten years ago? Do you think it's worse now?
Bellamy- I think it's just a variation on a theme. I think standard Hollywood has always had this. I'm thinking right now of Joan Crawford or Greta Garbo. Everything was so black and white but that make-up- if you saw them in real life it was like purple and green. But the way it was captured on film made everything look flawless. So there's been heavily manipulated, particularly, female images for as long as they've been making movies. It's just now in a different way. Now there's Botox, and fillers, and more regime. You just have to find your voice. There are people all through this industry and all through the history of this industry that have found their own way. Like Ingrid Bergman for example, that was a true actress. You just felt like she had just woken up and they handed her some papers, and said here are your lines, and she just walked on and looked gorgeous as she said them. And so there's always been a way to find your way through the maze.
And I think more people get locked by complying by what they think is perfect. I know this has been true of me-I'm not judging at all. For many years I was trying to figure it out. I would second guess myself or ask 'What do I think they want? What do they want to see?' It's so much easier to get lost going down that road then getting quiet for what's inside you and saying, 'What do I have to put forth?' And then bringing that. It takes courage and it takes the willingness to be seen. Your true-self being seen is so much more frightening then a face. I'm giving examples from my own past. I think just staying true to yourself keeps you honest down your path.
And that's what we encourage girls to do: to find their own path, like you said. And find the voice that's within their authentic self, instead of following the pact. How did you get to the point where you were able to walk own your path?
Bellamy- I used to be so hard on myself. So hard on myself. Just my own worst critic to the nth degree. Absolutely undermining my confidence in every moment. Bad tape in my head all the time. I have a lovely therapist out here and he's worked with me on being more gentle to myself, and part of that has just been changing that tape in my head to say kind things. And it's amazing. You don't have to be a cheerleader. Nothing has to be forced about anything; but just every once in a while to say, “Honey, you're doing the best you can.” Literally. It's so simple. So freeing. It's so empowering when you're absolutely at the end of your rope and you can feel your whole body is constricted, your chest is caved in, you're looking at your feet as you walk and you're trying to figure something out with your mind, and then just to take a second and find your breath and find your spine, and find the light again and say, “Honey, you're doing the best you can and this will take care of itself.”
This reminds me of an article in Oprah's magazine, that talks about the importance of having the courage to be authentic, and not just “fit in”. It talked about the difference between fitting in and belonging, how can we all aspire to belong, and that we have to believe that we are enough. Because it discussed how it can be painful to be in a big group when you're not really being yourself.
Bellamy- Oh yes, you can be very alone in a big crowd if you're not being yourself. And when you're being authentic you will draw to you like-minded and like-hearted people. And that's where you find true companionship.
Many girls who write to us tell us they struggle to believe in themselves and in their worth? What would you like to say to them? How do you think they can feel empowered?
Bellamy- Well, first of all not to judge yourself on not being confident. Because I find I spiral on that sometimes, too. I sort of change my tail when I feel I'm not showing up to all that I know is inside me. And then I start fussing at myself about it. And that's not helping anyone or anything. So forgiveness is key, first of all. Forgiveness and then acceptance of the moment. Just be in the present moment. The third thing that helps me is mediating, because I find I give away my power by listening to other people a lot. I'm ready for anyone to be right except me. And so if I can, even if it's in the car in the middle of the day, when I get confused about something, I just really take a moment to get quiet and hear my heart. Then I can move forward in a much more powerful way. And it's being quietly confident. It's not anything about ego. It's just I know my own heart. I'm walking my own path. All I have to do is to do that. That is my power. So those three things help me immensely and I think I wind up a much different person in a much different place that I can kind of go to for myself. And you know, at the end of the day, a person might not want to try out for a play. It might be someone else's dream. And you might have to honor your instincts about that and again not beat yourself up. You might want to go write something or you might want to go play ball somewhere. Just make sure your dreams are your own. Especially, when you're young. You have to make sure you're on your own path.
Absolutely. That's the key to happiness I think-when you're doing something that you love to do and it makes you feel good about yourself. You're not beating yourself up to do it to fit in or for any other reason other than it makes you happy and you're feeding your passion.
Bellamy- Yes. And I think people think that happiness is so easy but it's not. Life is complicated and confusing, and to find that happiness takes, for me, quiet and courage. You just have to trust yourself.
There was a line that Mellie had said earlier this season that I found really significant and powerful- it was when she was in the Oval office talking to her husband about giving her more of a vital role as First Lady, and she said, “I want to be heard.” I loved that line!
Bellamy- I do, too! And I think there's nothing, nothing that people need more and no greater gift you can give your fellow man than to listen. Hear them. All people want is to be heard. To be seen yes; but to be heard validates what their experience is in the moment or has been in their life. There's just nothing more profound.
It's like we were saying, everything is so democratized. Once you hear what you have to say, there's so many forms to put it into the world. And people are listening. People will find you. When your message is true it will resonate with other people and people will then be at the forefront of a movement.
I agree. That's how this movement spread. We all connected in a way and understood the message being shared. Every time I talk to someone, I can tell how they appreciate the message. I'm so grateful it's resonating with people.
Bellamy- And I think that's a key element, too. My mom was a high school English teacher and a big thing she used to say was, “If you can read it you can understand it, but it doesn't work if you don't appreciate it.” And I find that that's true in everything. Gratitude keeps you on the right path and keeps you in the right frame, and keeps you moving forward and keeps opening up other people's hearts to you. It just keeps you in such a state of grace.
What is your vision for the way women are seen and represented around the world in the future? What do you hope for?
Bellamy- I hope for equality and freedom. I really do. I wish gender difference can be something we celebrate. We have these wonderful qualities as women and these wonderful qualities as men, but not have them be something that you use as weapons against each other, or as a measure of oppression. I marvel and mourn that there are still so many people subjected by fact of their gender. I honestly can't believe it. Of course, I know it's true but I just can't get my mind around it. It's happening now everywhere. So I wish for us equality. Many women are finding their power through their art, through wonderful programs like KIVA or Micro-loaning, and that I'm sort of speechless in the face of the beauty of that. But above all, I wish, and it seems like a meager wish, but above all, I wish safety. I really do.
Best piece of advice given to you?
Bellamy- I totally know this without blinking! My poor mother has been widowed three times so it was my most recently deceased father, who healed us all. He was an amazing man. And when I was beating myself up about something or scared about going somewhere or whatever, he'd always say in this big, old Boston accent, “Just be yourself and you'll be fine!” It's just so freeing! And I would get to the point where I would be at an audition and I would get really nervous, and I would hear his voice in my head saying that and it would just open me up. It's all about keeping it open, and free, and not being in your fear and constricted. Then you know you can really be you and you can really meet the moment in the way the moment is meeting you. It's just all about the moment and you just want to be able to show up for it with all your power. With all your grace. We're all so beautiful so you just want to be sure you're letting yourself be as beautiful as you are.
Finish this sentence, I think true beauty is....
Bellamy- I think true beauty is everywhere. Be it. See it. Notice it. Love it. Be grateful for it. Marvel at it. It's everywhere. It's all around us all the time.
Thank you so much Bellamy for taking the time to do this. So grateful we had this conversation.
Bellamy- I'm so grateful that you do this. And I'm very, very grateful to be a part of it, so thank you!
Keep up with Bellamy Young on Twitter- @BellamyYoung
Team True Beauty- @TeamTrueBeauty