Camila Mendes struggled with body image for much of her life before learning to love herself — and now she wants to help other women do the same.
The Riverdale star, 24, will lead discussions about self-care and positivity this summer in New York City at POPSUGAR Play/Ground, a two-day festival celebrating female wellness from June 22-23.
“I just notice a difference when I’m taking care of myself,” she tells PEOPLE. “Everything else in my life feels great.”
Her own wellness routine includes plenty of yoga — and also being aware of what her body needs. “I try to do something for my health every day, even if it’s just resting or taking a bath or making sure I eat spinach at some point,” she says. “I really do think happiness starts from the inside out.”
The actress is no stranger to being open about her body issues. Having struggled with bulimia in high school, college and beyond, she often speaks candidly on social media about how she finally learned to embrace her natural body type.
For Mendes, it took rethinking her relationship with food — and a good therapist and nutritionist.
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“I had always thought, ‘Well, if I’m not on a diet then I’m going to gain weight,'” she says. “I had a really open conversation with the women at [eating disorder recovery group] Project Heal and I realized I needed to give up dieting. It was a moment of, ‘Okay, I’m going to take a leap of faith and see what happens when I stop doing this. Am I going to feel lighter, happier, and free?’ And I really did.”
And Mendes says since she was no longer depriving herself, she lost the urge to binge, which meant that she didn’t gain weight. “My body hasn’t changed, I just feel healthier and my mood is lighter,” she says. She also feels less obsessed with her appearance: “Don’t think about your weight. Don’t think about what you look like. It’s what you do with your body that matters.”
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Although there are still times when Mendes struggles to silence her lingering insecurities, she can shake off those thoughts more easily these days.
“Body acceptance is a big part of my life and something I struggle with on a daily basis,” Mendes says. “I know it’s a never-ending process for me, so I want to talk to the festival audience about the fact that it isn’t this transformative thing where all of a sudden you’re better and you’ll never doubt your body or yourself ever again.”
It’s that wisdom she hopes to pass along while sharing the POPSUGAR Play/Ground stage with Chrissy Teigen, Mandy Moore and Issa Rae. “Building a community is so important and events like this give us that platform to sit down, talk to each other and connect,” she says. “It’s such a powerful thing.”
If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237 or go to NationalEatingDisorders.org.