Bianca Lawson would rather not be called ageless, thank you very much. Name-calling is one of the oldest power-plays in the book: It’s just as cutting in the boardroom as it was on the playground, but since it never causes physical harm, it’s easily dismissed. And while we all know the “sticks and stones” rhyme, anyone who’s been called a bitch or a slut (or stuck with any label she doesn’t identify with) understands just how damaging name-calling can be. In Mislabeled, Glamour talks to some of the most interesting women we know about the role name-calling or labels played in their pasts—and how it’s shaped the women they are today.
Bianca Lawson is an aberration. She’s managed to sustain a two-decade career as a steadily working actor without courting any of the Hollywood shrapnel that frequently comes with it. No spiteful tabloid headlines, no Twitter feuds, no publicized breakups. “I’ve been very fortunate,” the 43-year-old tells me over the phone of her low-drama persona. “In the press and on social media, I feel people have been very, very kind to me.”
Maybe that’s because she’s consistently been showing up and doing the work. Since landing her first series, Saved by the Bell: The New Class in 1993, Lawson has had both regular and recurring roles in an extraordinary number of pop-culture home runs that include Dawson’s Creek, Sister, Sister, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Save the Last Dance, Teen Wolf, and Pretty Little Liars. Since 2016 she’s starred as Darla, a drug-addicted mother in the Deep South on the OWN drama Queen Sugar, a role for which she recently picked up an NAACP Image Award for best supporting actress. The series—executive-produced by Ava DuVernay—will air its final season this year.
Still, that’s not to say people never had their own misconceptions about who she is. “Early on, I played a lot of mean girls, so people thinking I’m going to be like my characters” is something she says she’s dealt with, in addition to the press obsessing over her seemingly unchanged looks, which can be a blessing and, in some ways, a scourge.
Here, we talk to Lawson—who, in case you didn’t know, counts Beyoncé and Solange Knowles as stepsisters—about labels she’s encountered in her career, how she deals with criticism, the advice she feels confident passing along to others, and how she manages to unwind after a productive day.
Glamour: As you were coming up, has there ever been a label ascribed to you that has stuck? Even if it’s not necessarily pejorative, something that’s shaped the outside perception of you and followed you along the way?
Bianca Lawson: I tend to be an observer, and I think sometimes when you’re quiet, people think of you as being aloof. There was a time in my life where I would over-index on being too nice to eradicate that, possibly to my own detriment. It’s a wonderful thing to be nice and kind, but if you’re not advocating for yourself or saying how you really feel because you don’t want people to misinterpret it, then you’re not being your authentic self. You don’t want people to take it the wrong way if they already think of you as silently judging when, really, you’re just observing and listening.
Has there ever been anything out there written or said about you that made you uncomfortable?
The thing that I think I get the most is “ageless” or “vampire.” They’re meant as compliments—I don’t think it’s negative at all—but I don’t want to fall into the trap of unconsciously trying to hold on to my youth because I can’t. I’m aging and getting older, which is a beautiful thing. There’s so much that comes with it, so much wisdom. In a youth-obsessed society, when you start getting gray hair or start getting wrinkles it becomes, “Oh, my God, I can’t ever look like I’m getting older.” That could be an unhealthy mindset to get into.
That’s really interesting. As someone who also looks very young, I understand it’s supposed to be complimentary, but in some ways it’s like, we’re out here obsessing over youth in a way that inherently devalues anyone who doesn’t fit in a specific mold.
And it’s not great for other women too. Especially young girls, because there’s no perfection. People have real bodies. No one looks amazing all the time, and our bodies change. It’s okay to put on weight or have a little belly or have your boobs start to sag. That’s the beauty of living.
One question we love to ask actors we interview—because it showcases that even the most successful people have been bummed out over rejection—is: Was there a role you really wanted and didn’t get?
Yes, I was maybe 13. I was in New York and I auditioned for [1993 drama] A Bronx Tale. I got right to the end. There were two boys they were choosing between [for the lead]. One was younger and one was older. Depending on which they went with, they were going to match with me or an older girl. I wanted it so badly. I’d been a huge Robert De Niro fan. I remember getting to the chemistry read. He was in the room and Chazz Palminteri was in the room. I had to have this part. I ended up going back home to LA since it took a long time to decide. I was heartbroken when I didn’t get it because I thought, This is it; this is my moment. I remember really, really wanting that one.
How do you tend to deal with criticism, overt or constructive? Are you able to take it in stride?
I’m probably the hardest on myself. I think the source of who’s saying it matters. If it’s someone that I don’t know, it doesn’t bother me. But if it’s someone I admire or feel very close to emotionally, then it may carry greater weight. But I also am pretty good with self-reflection in terms of asking myself, “Is there some truth to this?” I think sometimes people can be mirrors for us. Something said to us might be benign, but sometimes it might trigger us because it’s something we need to look at or something we have doubt about within ourselves anyway. But I’m not perfect, so sometimes things do get to me. Talking it out with a trusted confidant or a therapist to get it out of your own head and get some objective feedback is helpful for me.
When you do have instances or days of self-doubt, is there a specific coping tool or routine that helps you hit reset?
Sometimes I’ll get social anxiety and I'll say, “I don't think I can do this” or “I don’t feel like my best self.” But all the times where I did have self-doubt or I was feeling insecure, I simply just showed up. It always ends up being fine. It’s always the anticipation or the fear we place on it that creates a thing. One of the tricks I found is, let’s say I’m walking into room or a party with a whole bunch of people that I don’t know and I’m by myself, I’ll think, What can I bring—how can I contribute in a positive way to this experience for other people? And then it gets the attention off myself.
I’m curious about your approach to style and how clothing makes you feel. What are you wearing when you feel your most authentic or your most confident?
I have to say, when I was younger, I was very, very into fashion. I still love beautiful, well-made clothes, but when I’m [most] comfortable honestly I’m in my sweats and my T-shirt. My old T-shirt that has holes in it and my Uggs, because I feel like myself. So when I feel very comfortable in my sloppy clothes or my pajamas, I feel the most confident. Now, if I’m going out, I love platforms.
Sleep is something that’s obviously vital to well-being, and studies have shown women increasingly aren’t getting enough. Is there a product or a ritual or a routine you rely on at bedtime for optimal sleep?
I’ve always struggled with that. I’m someone that loves to feel like I’m sleeping on a cloud, so a very soft mattress, very soft pillows, a weighted blanket, has been really helpful to me. Sometimes I play a rain app since there’s something that feels very cozy about listening to rain or the sound of waves. I need to have blackout curtains. I can’t have any lights on. Also, talking to someone, that brings me comfort. I have friends that I’ve known since nursery school. If I know they’re up at 3 a.m. we’ll just talk until I fall asleep.
Has there been any advice you’ve gotten that not only resonates with you personally but that you feel good about passing on?
To never give your power away, because I think we can do that a lot. Give our power away in terms of letting other people’s stuff make us feel a certain way—in relationships or whatever. Don’t give anyone that much power over you and your emotions.
What’s your favorite low-stakes treat or indulgence after a really productive day?
A great film, bingeing a great show, listening to music. I love crystals. I love pulling tarot cards for the day. I love seeing what’s happening astrologically or doing reiki—or a great steak.
What do you want to more of for yourself?
I’m working on being better about my self-care, because I really dropped that. I can’t even tell you the last time I got a manicure and a pedicure. I have just not been putting the energy I expend on other things back into myself. Allowing myself to be okay with saying no and taking time off, because I’m a doer. I like to feel I’m being productive. I’m accomplishing things, but it’s okay to take a beat.
Originally Appeared on Glamour