Whether you love or hate Bella Thorne, well, first of all, she doesn't care. Second, it would be hard not to admire her career. After a few appearances on TV in the early 2000s, the now-19-year-old actress rose to fame as CeCe Jones on Disney Channel's Shake It Up, alongside Zendaya. Since then, she has starred in a slew of movies, released music and become a fashion icon. But beyond all of her accomplishments, Bella has gathered a loyal fanbase for a reason that's almost cooler: simply being herself. She came out as bi on Twitter without making it a big deal (because it isn't), thereby increasing visibility for the LGBTQ+ community, and routinely snapchats her beauty fails. Celebrities, they're just like us, etc., etc.
"Be yourself, don’t apologize for it."
Bella recently partnered up with fitness retailer SIX:02 on their Thank You campaign and it could not be a better fit for her. "It is 'thank you,' and it’s 'thank you to the haters for motivating me every day,' but that’s not really the point of the campaign," Bella says. "The point is just like 'thank you' to every single girl that’s out there being unapologetic, every single person in general that’s sticking up for somebody else that’s being themselves, or just trying to spread that light that is, 'this is me,' you know, and inspiring other people to do that as well."
Bella knows all too well what it's like to feel pressure from others to be a certain way, but she is done compromising her identity to fit in a mold. "You know, I feel like everybody gets to a point in their life where they just look at the mirror and they’re like, 'who are you? I don’t like you,'" she explains. "I know who I am or at least I think I do, but that’s not who I’m showing, that’s not who I’m being, I’m not being true to myself. And I got to the point finally when I turned 18 and I was finally able to make my own decisions and say, 'hey, I’m going to be me on socials, I’m not going to let you tweet for me, I’m going to do it myself.' Now I’m just living with my own rules."
"I never thought growing up that I would… be doing what I’m doing right now."
Of course, being yourself unapologetically when you've lived in the spotlight as long as Bella has is easier said than done, but the star has developed some strategies, with a little help from friends and family. "Luckily my sister and her boyfriend, Justin, they’re just such positive happy hippie people that they inspire me every day to be more positive, to meditate more, to go out and get sunshine." But what about those times when a hater does get to her? "When somebody says something that kind of bugs me, I might bring it up," she says. "And I’m looking at myself and I’m like, 'wow, Bella, why are you letting this bug you right now? Be stronger than that.' But you can’t. You can only learn and change and grow, and the more you talk about it, the more you will grow, and the more comfortable you will be with it, so for me it’s like 'get it out, lay it on the table, there it is, now deal with it.'"
Photo by Michael Simon
It's obvious from talking to Bella that she has been pretty hurt by others' expectations of what she should and shouldn't do, and what kind of person she ought to be, but she did what she had to do to protect herself: she turned her vulnerability into her greatest strength. That's why she has the haters to thank now, because they enabled her to do the wild shit she always wanted to—if you're going to get rude or threatening comments regardless of how you act, why not have a little fun in the process? "I got a call one time from my publicity team that was like 'so and so’s not going to give you a cover because you snapchat pooping on the toilet, and you’ve got to stop it or they’re not going to give you a cover,'" Bella tells me. "For a minute I’m sitting there and I’m just like 'wow, this is so fucked up,' like they’re literally saying that I can’t be me right now, and I’m just being funny, weird, quirky Bella and... everybody poops, that’s a [natural] thing. So you know what I did? I posted eight Snapchats right back to back, just showing me pooping, and I was like 'fuck you guys, I don’t want the cover anyway,' like I don’t want to be on your cover if this is what you’re trying to teach to people, to change, to be in this box, like that doesn’t fit my brand, that doesn’t fit what I’m trying to do—which is why SIX:02 works so well for me, because we are not putting anybody in a glass box, we’re trying to break down the walls and say, 'be unapologetic, be yourself, don’t apologize for it.'"
Like all of us, Bella has struggled to get to where she is, which makes her even prouder of her work—with good reason. She teaches us that with the right dose of courage, resilience and determination, there's nothing you can't do. "I never thought growing up that I would… be doing what I’m doing right now," the actress says. "I never thought growing up being dyslexic, being told 'you’ll never do anything, you can’t get a desk job if you’re depending on it because you can’t read' to now reading three scripts a day, and writing a series and, you know, writing a short that I’ll be directing soon, and writing a blog that I’m going to be putting out. I never knew that writing was going to be such an outlet for me to make me feel better [...], and if I’m writing and I’m feeling better, then when I’m putting it out, most likely other people are going to read it and kind of feel better as well. Because we all feel the same shit [...], everybody’s the same at the end of the day."
"You want to look hot? Don’t look hot because this guy can be there, look hot because you’re like 'yeah, I want to feel myself today, girl.'"
Besides the Thank You campaign being an empowering platform for anyone who has had to deal with haters online or IRL, it also enables young girls in under-resourced communities to live up to their full potential. Part of the proceeds from an exclusive collection of SIX:02 hats and t-shirts benefit Step Up, a non-profit that organizes a series of educational programs, including mentorship, in several cities around the U.S. "With Step Up, it’s very helpful that we’re giving mentor mentality to girls that need somebody to talk to, that need somebody to say, 'hey, by the way, I have no idea what I’m doing,'" Bella says. "Because most of the time, I don’t know what I’m doing, they don’t know what they’re doing, nobody knows what they’re doing, so you know the more you can talk to somebody that’s older than you or that’s been through it, or that, you know, has an idea, the more you can come out and be your own person and do actually what you want to do in life, not because so and so tells you you have to do this [or that]."
Fashion girl Bella loves athleisure, which is yet another reason why her SIX:02 partnership is so perfect. The collective boasts a handpicked roster of super cool fitness brands, including Ivy Park, Fenty by Rihanna and Nike, but also some indie labels that deserve recognition, such as Koral and Lime & Vine. "For me, wearing athletic wear in real life and making a style of it is dope. Like I could go out in this," Bella gestures to her outfit. "Like, look at me, I’m literally wearing track pants, but instead I put some fishnets under it, I leave my shoelaces completely undone so that you’re like 'wow, she really doesn’t give a fuck, she didn’t even tie her shoes today.' And then I put this body chain to make it like a little bit more fierce. And I want to show some skin as well, but then I put a jacket on over because I’m like 'yo, I don’t want to look like this from every angle, you know?' Gotta cover this shit up. Definitely bring your jacket out everywhere you go." Yep, athleisure truly is a way of life.
Whether people are fascinated by Bella's eye for fashion or her DGAF sense of humor, or they just love to hate her, they still follow her, and that's all that matters TBH. I mean, seriously, look at how many likes she gets on Insta—I suck at math, but that's, like, a thousand times more than my most liked picture of life ever (me, bitter?). "I’m so genuinely lucky that people, whether they’re hating or they’re loving me, either way they’re still following me," Bella tells me. "And even if you hate me, you’re seeing this positivity that I’m kind of spreading on all my social channels, especially my Twitter, where I’m like being out and talking about stuff, and even if you’re trying to hate yo, I know that inside, my positivity, it’s just growing that little flower in that heart of yours, I know it is." Can't fight the good vibes, friends.
Finally, Bella gave me some parting advice, and you're going to want to read it. "Do [things] for you, genuinely, do it for yourself, anything that you do," she advises. "You want to look hot? Don’t look hot because this guy can be there, look hot because you’re like 'yeah, I want to feel myself today, girl.'" Couldn't have said it better.