Get ready: you’re about to know Lily Collins on a whole different level. The actress and model is opening up in a big way with a book, Unfiltered: an essay collection that captures some of her deepest secrets, biggest challenges, and experiences that ultimately shaped who she is today.
Lily, who stars in the upcoming film To The Bone which premiered at Sundance, covers a lot of ground in her memoir. Her book opens with a story about how she once “hacked away” at her eyebrows, fearing that she was different from the other girls in school. After she transformed her full eyebrows into skinny ones, her mother taught her a valuable lesson that she has not forgotten: “The quirky things that make you different are what make you beautiful.”
But that self-acceptance has, understandably, not always been easy. Through Unfiltered, Lily opens up about her experience in an emotionally abusive relationship, dealing with eating disorders, and struggling with her appearance. Throughout, her voice is equally compelling as it is familiar, like having a late-night conversation with your best friend.
The chapters are not just a way of reaching others, but a way for Lily to talk about things that haven’t always been easy for her to shed light on. By exposing her vulnerabilities to her fans, she’s hoping it’s that much easier for readers to talk about their own lives, too. Teen Vogue caught up with Lily to talk about what inspired her to write Unfiltered, what she hopes others learn, and how some of these anecdotes stay with her to this day.
Teen Vogue: What made you decide to write Unfiltered?
Lily Collins: I think social media, especially Instagram, had a really big effect. This incredibly supportive, encouraging community of young women formed around my Instagram account where they would tell each other, including me, about their inner-most thoughts, insecurities, and experiences. They’d have their photos next to their stories. They weren’t being anonymous, they were just being extremely brave. They’d always preface it by saying ‘even though I probably couldn’t relate to their story, blah blah blah.’ I would always think, ‘Ugh, no. I’ve been there. I am there. I go through the same things you guys do, but I guess I’ve just never really talked about it.’
I’ve always been a huge advocate of young people helping other young people through open conversation, and I’ve never had a problem being a conduit through which honest conversation can happen. If that means being in an awkward situation or being vulnerable, that’s been something I’m OK with. I thought, ‘Well, this might be my opportunity to talk about a lot of things that I’ve gone through or experiences that I’ve had.’ It’s taken me to this point to come to terms with certain things and become comfortable enough to talk about them. I just felt that now was the right time for me to get some of these things off my chest.
TV: The second chapter of your book talks about being involved in an emotionally abusive relationship. You describe how he would insult you, then apologize for it, in a vicious cycle. People in emotionally abusive relationships may feel like they can’t talk about what happens to them, for any number of reasons. How did you approach writing about those experiences?
LC: Of course, I was nervous to write about it because there’s always that fear when you’re with someone like that, that even when you’re not together they can control you in some way. I don’t feel that anymore, but part of the reason of not wanting to get out of that relationship is that fear. ‘What will happen if they leave or if I leave? I won’t feel complete, or I’ll feel threatened in some way.’ It was a hard chapter to write, but I know how necessary it is. I think less people are really speaking about it, because at that age, you’re afraid to.
Now, being years past it, looking back, you realize how not OK it was and how common it is. I think the emotional side of abuse can seem a little less important if you’re in it, because you’re like, ‘Well it’s not necessarily the type of abusive relationship I’ve heard of. This is a little different.’ It’s like: ‘Nothing’s really happening, but he’s still calling me names and I’m feeling really small and less than. I don’t feel good, but maybe I’m blowing it out of proportion.’ I think looking back on it and writing that chapter, it was really important for me to explain my state of mind at the time. When you are so in something, you can’t really see outside of it, and you forget the gravity of the situation.
TV: Is there anything you hope other people might learn from you sharing your experience?
LC: We deserve to be treated with respect. We have voices, and it’s OK to use them. We should use them, and we should stand up for ourselves. Not everyone’s always going to like what we have to say, but you have to take care of yourself. It’s not selfish to want to take care of yourself. You have to love yourself first and foremost in order to know how you should treat others and how someone else should treat you.
It’s really important that we don’t accept anything less than what we deserve. Someone can say that they love you, but if they don’t treat you with love and respect, then that isn’t the kind of love that you deserve. I think it’s just really important that we know that we can stand up for ourselves – and that we should stand up for ourselves. It’s okay to talk about it and accept help. It’s not a weakness to need help, to need friends to help you get through it.
TV: In the book, you also talk about your experience with eating disorders. Recovery from an eating disorder is often described by medical professionals as an ongoing process. In the book, you mention that healing for you is an ongoing process. How do you deal with the present nature of recovery in your life now?
LC: When you have an eating disorder, you can go through periods where it was at its height and it really dictated how you lived your everyday life, and it affected your ability to be social. It affected your emotional state and your insecurities and the way that you saw yourself. Now, it’s just something that’s a part of my past that I keep in check. I don’t live in the disorder. It doesn’t affect my day-to-day in that I don’t partake in the disorder. It’s a part of who I am, but it’s always something that I look back on and think about in terms of my progress.
One of my biggest fears was not being in control. In order to be in control, I controlled my ability to eat or not eat when I was younger. Then I became afraid of not looking perfect. Now, I’m afraid of not living in the moment and embracing life and having fun. So much of those moments come at a dinner table or going out with friends. I really want to live in the moment and enjoy my life.
TV: Do you feel like there’s a stigma with eating disorders? Was it hard for you to seek help?
LC: When I was younger, I didn’t seek treatment. I just thought that I’d figure it out myself. I talked to my friends and my family, but I didn’t go to treatment. This wasn’t something that you talk about.
The second that you realize you’re not alone, we can all open up in a more relaxed manner and not have all this stigma attached to it. It’s a real problem, and it’s one that so many can relate to. I’m really hoping that by starting conversations with this book…that we make it easily accessible and less taboo.
TV: Your book contains a lot of discussion about appearance in conjunction with your career. What advice would you give to young girls who want to go into modeling or acting but are wary about an emphasis on looks and body image?
LC: One job can’t dictate how you feel about yourself. If you put your all into something, then at the end of the day you have to just leave that at the door and say, ‘Well, I tried my best,’ and move forward. It’s really important to know that there is so much competition out there, and there are so many young women vying for the same part, or going for the same modeling job. There will be something out there for you, you just need to continue with a healthy and positive mindset. Don’t become downtrodden, and don’t allow your insecurities to be heightened by the fact that somebody isn’t choosing you. It’s the same with relationships too. If someone doesn’t choose you, it just wasn’t the right person for you. If a person doesn’t want you for a job, then maybe it’s not the right job for you. It can’t dictate how you feel about yourself.