As a kid in Canada, says Shay Mitchell, she didn’t see many folks who looked like her. The model and actress, who’s half-Filipino, ached to look like the predominantly Caucasian kids in her Vancouver high school. She felt ostracized. Now, she oozes confidence and self-assurance.
“It’s just growing up. Now I see other people who look like me,” Mitchell tells Yahoo Style.
It took her years to love herself, given that she doesn’t look like the size-zero blondes populating entertainment. “Growing up, I did everything to be the opposite of what I was born with. Which now, I try to embrace the things I was born with,” she says.
She’s taking part in a whirlwind media tour to promote the final season of her twisty, soapy, and very much beloved Freeform series Pretty Little Liars; Mitchell plays Emily Fields, a lesbian former swim coach and the show’s resident voice of reason. “It feels very surreal that this is kind of our last hurrah. It’s like the final tour of the band,” she says.
But don’t expect Mitchell to take a final bow. She has written the young-adult novel Bliss with Michaela Blaney and has another book in the works. She’s got the horror movie Cadaver in the can. And she has no plans to slow down. “I want to produce. It’s whatever I want to do. You have one life. Maybe I want a music video one day,” she says.
The music video mention is courtesy of Erika Jayne, a singer, short-lived Dancing With the Stars hoofer, and cast member of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, whom Mitchell just met during a TV appearance. Like Jayne, who’s become an unlikely dance-pop queen with the single XXpen$ive, she lives life on her own terms.
“I don’t want to be on my deathbed wishing I’d done things. I’m living my life for me. I don’t really care what anyone else thinks,” she says.
Clearly, Mitchell isn’t letting anyone’s opinion slow her down. On the fashion front, she knows what works on her curves, like the slinky Cushnie et Ochs number she wore to a panel at the Paley Center for Media and the plunging black Elizabeth & James suit she donned for the Young Hollywood party during awards season. It’s why she has no plans to ever raid Emily’s closet on PLL, save for some footwear.
“Sneakers? Leather jacket. I loved my character so much, but we’re so opposite in styles. A couple of her jackets, maybe? Maybe some of her sneakers and stuff,” says Mitchell.
The actress has expanded beyond the confines of fictional Rosewood, where PLL takes place. She’s a spokesperson for Biore, runs her own laid-back and frequently very funny YouTube channel, boxes and runs to stay in shape, and has been outspoken in the past about being bullied in high school because of her looks. Not so much anymore — Mitchell, in person, is an absolute stunner, with flowing hair and glowing skin. She gives credit where it’s due, to her longtime makeup guy Patrick Ta.
“I have a great glam squad. I try and drink a lot of water. Everything in moderation. I don’t stress out much. I don’t sleep a lot, to be honest with you,” she says.
The show’s many young fans relate to Mitchell, and her character has emerged as an LGBTQ role model. But Mitchell doesn’t put herself up on any pedestals. Nor does she want any of her 16 million Instagram followers to do that. “I have to be proud of who I am at the end of the day. I live my life true to who I am,” she says.
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