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‘You can’t show up for people if you’re not showing up for yourself’

Actress Laura Harrier talks skincare, self-care and Steve McQueen's advice. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Actress Laura Harrier talks skincare, self-care and Steve McQueen’s advice. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

With credits including Spider-Man: Homecoming, BlacKkKlansman and the Ryan Murphy miniseries Hollywood under her belt — not to mention upcoming projects with Tom Hanks and Melissa McCarthy — Laura Harrier is a woman whose star is undeniably on the rise. Amid her success, the actress and model is mindful about using her platform to amplify causes close to her heart, from Planned Parenthood to mental health in the Black community. 

While Harrier is partial to watching The Bachelor with her girlfriends while armed with wine and face masks — “that’s really nourishing sometimes,” she notes — self-care for her includes community care, too. 

“It’s really important to not just focus on the micro of ourselves and [think] ‘OK, I did a face mask and got a massage,'” she tells Yahoo Life. “But more like, how am I checking in with my community and how am I uplifting others? Because that’s how we uplift ourselves.”

Here, the star and Clarins spokesmodel opens up about therapy, setting boundaries and why skincare isn’t just a “superficial” pursuit. 

How do you prioritize your mental health and feel balanced?

Working out is big for me. I do feel a huge shift in my mood and getting those endorphins makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself. A big part of my self-care is getting to the gym or doing yoga or going on a hike, doing a Pilates video on YouTube, just trying to make sure that I’m moving my body in some way every day. 

But also therapy is really big for me, and that’s something that I’ve discovered within the last few years that really makes me feel balanced. Having somebody to check in with — somebody who’s not in my immediate circle — that is there to help and to have some sort of guidance. I’m actually partnering with a nonprofit organization called BEAM, which is really incredible and focuses on getting therapy and mental health care to the Black community. They’re going to be having a summit in May that I’m hosting that I’m really excited about, just about raising awareness and de-stigmatizing mental health care within the Black community. It’s definitely a big part of something that I’m passionate about. 

What brings you joy?

Being outside, laughing until I cry with my friends, my puppy Etta, my family, feeling like I’m serving something bigger than myself and hopefully having a part in representing people who haven’t been seen a lot on the screen. I love to do what I do. The ocean, nature… all of that stuff [laughs]. 

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about the importance of setting boundaries, whether that means giving yourself space or avoiding overcommitting yourself. Is that something you follow?

Yeah, I’m trying to. That really resonates with me because I’ve been actively trying to do that as well. I’m definitely someone who wants to show up for people, and I hope does show up for people and be there a lot. But I also had to learn that you can’t show up for people if you’re not showing up for yourself. You can’t be there for others if you’re not fully taking care of yourself, because then you’re just running on empty and you’re handing somebody something that’s also empty. So I think I’ve been really trying to be aware to take care of my own mental health and do things that make me feel full, so then I can help others to feel full. I think my mom is a great example of that because she’s so self-sacrificing and so giving to others, but also, is an incredible person in her own right. So I’ve just kind of really tried to take that example and model off of that. 

You’re working with Clarins on its Total Eye Lift eye cream campaign. Where does skincare fit into your self-care routine?

Skincare has always been something that’s been really important to me since I was an early teen. I’ve just learned as I get older, the more that I’m investing in my skin, it just all around makes me feel better and it feels like I’m investing in myself. I’ve really learned the importance of that through this last year and through the pandemic. It’s just been a tough time for everybody, and I realize when I’m taking those moments for myself and investing in my skincare and doing the masks and making sure I’m using my eye cream and doing all the serums, I just feel better, honestly.

And I think it’s a very small thing because on one hand we can be like, “Oh, it’s just skincare and it’s vanity and it’s superficial,” but at the same time, it’s really not, because this is a lifelong thing. The love that you’re putting into your face now is literally your face for your whole life. And I think it’s a moment to reflect and to sit with yourself. It’s almost like this quiet moment that you can take, if it’s two minutes a day, if it’s an hour a day, 10 minutes, whatever… I think that it really will affect overall how I feel.   

You mentioned doing YouTube Pilates. Any recommendations?

I honestly just do a lot of the Pop Physique workouts. They’re really great and quick, and they have good ones that are 20 minutes that make me feel like I got something done. And then my Pilates studio in L.A. called Avenir, which had been closed for a long time, was also doing online classes, so I was following their Instagrams for livestreamed classes and doing a lot of those. 

Has therapy given you any sort of takeaway that helps you keep things in perspective?

Like what I mentioned earlier, that you can’t take care of others at the [risk] of hurting yourself. To be able to show up for people and to show up for those that you love and to be fully present in different relationships, you have to be there for yourself and you have to stay on your own side no matter what. So you can’t sacrifice loving yourself to love others.   

Do you have a secret to feeling confident?

Confidence is something that I struggle with every day. We’re living in such a strange society where there’s this constant comparison to other people and this constant show of someone’s life that’s not the actual, real picture. And I just think that it’s important to remember, when you go into those holes and comparison and self doubt and insecurity, that everyone is struggling with their own things and everybody gets into those spaces. And what we’re seeing on Instagram is absolutely not real life.   

And finally, what is the best advice you’ve been given?

Steve McQueen the director, who was the first person I worked with when I was still in drama school, he told me that “you can be anything you want, just don’t be boring,” which is kind of funny, but I also just take it to mean, just always be the full expression of yourself. I think that when people come across as boring or whatever, it’s just because they’re not fully living themselves in their truth. So I just try to take that to mean, be present, be yourself and don’t be afraid to be big and to be loud and to fully express the person that you are.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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