Bel Powley rose to fame in 2015 as Minnie, the self-assured 15-year-old cartoonist who becomes sexually attracted to her mother’s boyfriend in coming-of-age tale, The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Since then, the west London-born actor, 29, who recently became engaged to fellow actor Douglas Booth, has been carving out a reputation for herself as one of Hollywood’s ones to watch.
It was after her recent performance as Claire Conway, however, in Apple TV+’s bingeable #MeToo drama The Morning Show, that she became a household name. Powley plays an eager, young personal assistant who has an affair with a weatherman (Néstor Carbonell). Rooted in genuine emotion, the relationship is the perfect foil to the show’s other central relationships, which are characterised by an abuse of power. Nonetheless, the season ends with Claire breaking off the relationship and standing alongside her long-suffering female co-workers.
As we wait for season two, due later this year, Vogue speaks to the actor about her relationship with beauty, her newfound love of gua sha, and why she had to delete Instagram for the sake of her mental health.
Growing up, what influenced your idea of beauty?
“When I was younger, it was probably my mother. She is one of those fabulous women who could take a lipstick out of her handbag and put it on without looking in the mirror. I always thought she was so beautiful, on the inside and on the outside.”
Did you feel beautiful when you were younger?
“I always felt a bit awkward because I had quite a boyish-shaped body with very twiggy legs and arms. I didn’t like wearing skirts to school because people used to call me ‘Pritt Stick’ [UK glue stick]. I didn’t feel womanly. It was at that time when American Apparel had just become a thing and everyone was wearing those really tight disco pants. I had these limbs and a spare tyre in the middle as opposed to the hourglass shape, which was deemed to be perfect, which my friends had. I didn’t know how to accept it or how to dress for it.”
So, how did you cope?
“I always experimented with different subversive looks. I went through a bit of an emo phase. I had dark hair that swept over my face like a fringe and dark eye make-up. Then I came out of that phase and went through a 1950s phase where I would wear tea dresses and backcomb my hair into a beehive. I was enjoying not trying to do the generic beautiful look; I was enjoying being a bit different. I felt more comfortable being in the kind of, ‘She’s a bit different and a bit weird’ section.”
When did you start to feel truly comfortable in your own skin?
“It’s only been in the past couple of years that I have come to feel very confident. And that’s not because I think I look really good or anything, it’s more that I’ve come to this state of self-acceptance. Like, ‘This is me. This is the face and the body that I have been given. Don’t fight against it, just work with it.’ Part of being an adult is learning how to accept yourself, but also how to accentuate what you’ve been given.”
How has your relationship with make-up changed as you’ve become more confident?
“As I’ve grown up, I’ve started to wear less make-up. When I was younger, like in the early 2000s, it was way more trendy to wear lots. My best friend and I were obsessed with those metallic liquid eyeliners from M.A.C. Now, I enjoy having a bare face. I like washing it and just going out. And if I am going to wear make-up, I wear concealer and a bit of mascara. I will do my eyebrows and sometimes put on some red lipstick. However, if I am doing a red carpet, and I have a make-up artist to guide me, I will push the boat out and do something really different. It’s fun to almost create a character.”
How does being on the red carpet make you feel?
“I enjoy getting dressed up. I love fashion, make-up, and creating a character for myself. I enjoy the process, but I don’t enjoy standing in front of 10 million photographers. It’s terrifying. You just stand there, frozen, with all these thoughts going through your head.”
Do you ever think about what the pictures will look like afterwards?
“I’ll have someone else look, like my stylist. I’m not going to spend hours trawling through the images. I don’t think that’s good for you. In the same way, if I do a play or a film, I don’t read the reviews. You can become too self-reflective and it can be a bit damaging.”
How does make-up inform your work as an actor?
“I use it in my job to transform into someone else. That sometimes requires a lot of make-up and is usually different to what I normally wear. Putting on a costume or a wig gives you that extra layer of confidence. When I did The King of Staten Island , I had to wear fake tan, nails, extensions and lots of contouring. Watching it back, I thought it actually looked quite good. It gave me huge respect for the fabulous women who wear their make-up like that because there’s an art to it.”
How does social media affect your perception of beauty?
“At the beginning, I had a bad relationship with Instagram, it actually made me depressed. When I wasn’t working, I would lose so much time scrolling through it. It became hell for me. It makes you think you are meant to look like someone else, and do what other people are doing. You lose focus on your own journey and you get obsessed with it. I’ve got a much better relationship with it now. I will actually delete the app off my phone for the day and then I’ll check it in the evening and give just 10 minutes to scrolling through and then I’ll delete it again. Otherwise, I can fall back into the wormhole.
“When I put up a picture of myself, I want it to be what I think looks nice. It’s good to celebrate yourself sometimes—but there’s a fine line. If you think you look great, that’s great, show the world, have confidence in yourself. But if you do it too much, it can put out a message to people who follow you that your life is perfect and that this is how they should look. So, I try to post a mixture of press stuff and then pictures of my own life, such as a picture of my grandmother who died last year. Normal, down-to-earth family stuff. But then you also don’t want people to have too much of an insight into your personal life. It’s about balance.”
Instagram aside, the past few years have been mentally tough. How have you been taking care of yourself?
“My job is freelance, so I feel like my mental health is sometimes more at risk because you’re not in a routine every day. When I’m working and enjoying a job, it’s great, but then there are months where I’m not working and you don’t know what your next job is. You don’t have a sense of security. It’s in those months, where I have to look after my mental health, that I find having a daily routine helps. Even if I don’t have anything to do in the day, I will still get up early. If I sleep in, I sometimes feel a bit sad.”
What does that routine look like?
“I like to speak to my mother in the morning and check in, then I like to do some exercise. I’ll go for a run, even in the winter. It’s the best thing you can do for your mental health.
“Another part of my routine, that I discovered during lockdown, is gua sha. It’s nice to have a skincare routine in the morning. Even if I just cleanse my face and put on two different serums—or moisturiser and do a bit of gua sha—taking that time to look after yourself is comforting and grounding. In the same way, cooking for yourself can also be a form of self-care. I try to eat healthy stuff. Even if you just feel like making your favourite pasta dish, some homemade pesto can make you feel good. I like the ritualistic side to it.”
OK, final question. What advice would you give to your fans and followers who don’t quite yet know how to feel good in themselves?
“Don’t look for self-validation from outside influences. Stop looking at what other people look like and what the media is telling you to look like. Stop looking on Instagram. Look at yourself in the mirror, study yourself, and try to work out a way to accept yourself. Once you get over that hurdle, you can open the door to endless opportunities, ways to enhance yourself and love yourself.”