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Riverdale’s Camila Mendes on empowerment, speaking out, and self love

(Photo illustration by Anya Thakur)

Born to a Latino couple, with roots in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul on her mother’s side and Brasilia, Federal District on her father’s side, actress Camila Mendes did not initially see herself as the ideal Veronica Lodge, the raven-haired and “silver-tongued high school sophomore” opposite Betty Cooper’s blonde, heart on her sleeve girl-next-door in Riverdale. Yet once she discovered Veronica Lodge was going to be Latina, she had a realization.

Having moved 16 times in her childhood, Lodge eventually found her true roots in acting, graduating from New York University Tisch School of the Arts in 2016. And she was ready to go for the role that would launch her career and pave her way in Hollywood.

“I didn’t really feel like I had people to look up to growing up that were like me,” Mendes said to Nylon. “You think about all of the well-respected actresses right now, like the ones that were at the Oscars and winning all of these awards, and the most successful are usually older, white women. I don’t relate to that. That’s not me. So, how do I try and achieve a similar amount of success in my own way? Maybe, it doesn’t look like me at the Oscars.”

And now she’s the girl on the magazine in a whole new way. When Mendes and her Riverdale co-star Lili Reinhart were featured on the cover of Cosmopolitan, they were surprised to find their bodies had been photoshopped and manipulated to appear thinner.

These alterations had been made without their knowledge or consent, and the duo were quick to call out Cosmopolitan online and send a bold and empowering message to women and girls everywhere about embracing, defending and respecting their bodies and sharing realistic representations of the female body.

Camila and I have worked incredibly hard to feel confident and comfortable in the bodies that we have. It’s an everyday battle, sometimes,” Reinhart wrote on her Instagram story. “And to see our bodies become so distorted in an editing process is a perfect example of the obstacles we have yet to overcome.”

Reinhart said at the time she and her co-star wouldn’t “hide behind Photoshop” to conform to beauty standards, according to ABS CBN News.

“Today is International Women’s Day,” Reinhart said to ABS, CBN. Over the last year, we’ve seen an unprecedented movement for women’s rights, and one thing is clear: our time is now. We are phenomenal, and we will make the world a better place for all women. But we still have a long way to go. Our fight is not over.”

Once the cover had been restored to the original images, they applauded Cosmopolitan for showcasing authenticity and supporting their message of self-acceptance.

And Mendes opened up about being empowered to be herself and her relationship with her health and body.

“When did being thin become more important than being healthy?” Mendes wrote in an Instagram post. “I recently went to a naturopath for the first time in my life. I told her about my anxiety around food and my obsession with dieting. She phrased a pivotal question in such a way that struck a chord with me: what other things could you be thinking about if you didn’t spend all your time thinking about your diet? I suddenly remembered all the activities I love that used to occupy my time.”

She had lost touch with freely pursuing her passions in a struggle to achieve an ideal.

“At some point in my life, I allowed my obsession with being thin to consume me, and I refused to make room in my mind for any other concerns,” she continued on her Instagram. “Somehow I had stripped myself of all the pastimes that brought me joy, and all that was left of me was my anxiety around food. My passion for education, cinema, music, etc. — all the interests that used to occupy my mind — had been eaten away by my desire to be thin, and it made me miserable.”

So she seeks to empower others to accept and celebrate themselves.

“I’m done believing in the idea that there’s a thinner, happier version of me on the other side of all the tireless effort,” Mendes wrote. “Your body type is subject to genetics, and while eating nutrient-dense foods and exercising regularly will make you healthier, it will not necessarily make you thinner, and the current system fails to make that distinction. I’m sick of the toxic narrative that the media consistently feeds us: that being thin is the ideal body type.”

Mendes wants to create an unfiltered and authentic view of herself online, and she hopes others will be motivated to share their stories, too. 

“A healthy body is the ideal body type, and that will look different for every person,” she concluded in her Instagram post. “I’m #donewithdieting — join me in this movement and share your story!”

The beams of light emitted from a screen can offer painstakingly curated glimpses at a celebrity’s life, but the vibrational luminosity of seeing someone brazenly confident and real is what has the power to enact change and contribute to shifting perceptions and self-acceptance.

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