Lily Collins Gets Candid About Her Past Eating Disorders: ‘I Wanted Everything to Be Perfect’
Some celebrity memoirs are sugarcoated frolics through glitzy Hollywood history. Others are acidic, mean-spirited takedowns. And then, there’s Lily Collins’s collection of essays. Titled Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me, it’s a poignant, at times heartbreaking, but always candid revelation about abusive relationships, eating disorders, and the ongoing pressure to be perfect. In it she shares the good, the bad, and the very ugly — much like Lena Dunham did in her bestseller, Not That Kind of Girl — body shamers be damned.
“I have to laugh about body shaming when it’s geared towards me. At this point, being so open about what I’ve gone through, we all have our struggles. If people still shame you after that, what can you do?” Collins tells Yahoo Style. “There’s no sense in responding to it. As long as I feel good about myself and I’m honest, that’s what matters.”
For Collins, that confidence has been years in the making. How often have you read an interview with a painfully thin actress in which she’s attributed that body — the size zero physique with protruding clavicles — to a fast metabolism? Commence with the eye-roll, and an innate understanding that most women simply aren’t born that way.
On the flip side, there’s Collins, who is open about dating a drug addict, and another boyfriend who was emotionally and physically abusive. And she reveals that for years, she gulped down laxatives in her battle with anorexia and bulimia. She ate only to survive, not thrive, and exercised maniacally. Her period stopped, her nails and hair became brittle, and finally, her school intervened and contacted her mother.
She’s candid about what fueled her desire to whittle herself down to nothing. Her famous father, Phil, was going through a divorce, and she hit puberty, which, as most women can relate to, turns your hormones upside down.
“I used to be someone who wanted to be in control of everything. I wanted everything to be perfect in a way. At this point I don’t know what my version of perfect was. I wanted to look a certain way, and I wanted my grades to be a certain way,” she says. “When our bodies started changing and it was confusing, I didn’t let myself sit in that confusion. I needed to control that. I started to manipulate the version of what I thought perfect was. It was lack of control around that.”
Of course, being an actress and model in image-crazed Los Angeles didn’t exactly help in the self-esteem department. “Living in a place where your idea of perfection is based on what you see had a lot to do with what I considered to be beautiful,” she says. “I willingly entered into the entertainment industry. There are a lot of pressures surrounding the way you look. It’s getting better. People are being more vocal about their struggles.”
Before the acting bug, Collins wanted to be a journalist. Writing was in her blood. She had a break between films and got a book deal, but then her career took off again and she put the project on hold. Her inspiration came in the form of social media, with girls telling her about their body issues and commending her for being so perfect and glamorous and infallible.
“I kept thinking, ‘I’m not untouchable.’ Maybe this is my opportunity. I wasn’t ready to talk about this then. I hadn’t fully accepted the situation. The work I’d done on myself, it culminated in this therapeutic way of getting it all out,” she says.
The turning point was the movie To the Bone, in which Collins plays an anorexic who enters therapy in a last-ditch attempt to save her life. Shooting the film “allowed me to come to terms with a lot. In the aftermath of that, when I was in Korea, I wrapped up the book there. All these things I hadn’t thought about in a long time came to the surface. I decided that I’m either going to put it all out there, or not. No one told me to write a book. This was my decision. If you’re going to do it, do it right.”
Now, when Collins — who most recently headlined the Warren Beatty dramedy Rules Don’t Apply — looks in the mirror, she doesn’t see a stunner reflect back at her. And that’s despite the gorgeous Elie Saab dress she wore to the 2016 Vanity Fair post-Oscars party, or the equally dazzling Alexander McQueen she donned for the Costume Designers Guild Awards.
“I feel happy with who I am. I am content with where I’m at emotionally. I smile and feel what that smile truly is. We keep evolving. Right now, being able to let go and free myself of these things that have been secret for so long and plagued me like I had to suffer through them alone — it allows me to rest in that idea that no one is perfect,” she says.
For her, the most searing and emotional part of the writing process was revealing her eating disorders without ever glossing over anything. Equally difficult was disclosing her abusive relationship, which she does without vilifying anyone.
“The idea that I would write about that, it was nerve-racking because it was so personal. I was kind of shameful of it for a long time. I didn’t understand why I’d stayed for such a long time. I was able to come to terms with what happened. There are so many girls who are silent and live in fear. I don’t have that at all anymore. Maybe it’s come full circle,” she says. “I’m almost 28. I see things differently. I have such a stronger sense of self than I ever have had.”
It’s why she never messed with her famous eyebrows, despite industry pressure to thin them out.
“The number of times on castings, they’d want to take them away — I said no. Wait a second. That’s not why I’m here and that’s not the job for me. Maybe for me, this isn’t the right thing. I was told many times to get rid of them,” she says.
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