Lexi Underwood is just like your average 16 going on 17-year-old girl. She’s dealing with heartbreak, school, friendships, and all the angst that goes with being a teenager. She just so happens to be going through all this amid a global pandemic and during one of the largest global protests for racial justice in history. It’s not surprising, then, that the young actress is having a hard time making sense of how she’s feeling or even how she’s supposed to feel.
Adding to the chaos, there’s also the fact that her new show, Little Fires Everywhere, recently debuted on Hulu to critical acclaim. Based on the best-selling book by Celeste Ng, Underwood plays Kerry Washington’s teenage daughter, Pearl Warren. It’s enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed, yet Underwood is more concerned with helping others manage their anxiety than her own. We recently sat down with the rising star to talk about the importance of self-care and how she plans to use her platform for good.
It seems futile to ask, but how is everything?
“Everything’s OK. It’s a little tricky, you know, to be 100 per cent good and treat everything like it’s normal, because it’s not. But honestly, it sounds weird [but] I’m finding comfort in school and in trying to be creative because it takes my mind off everything. I actually just signed up for summer school so I can occupy myself during the summer because there’s not much to do.”
In times like this, self-care is so important. How are you looking after yourself?
“I meditate and I pray. I have a playlist on YouTube of guided meditations, I have meditation books, my crystals and crystal sound-healing bowl. Every time I’m feeling anxious, I go to my little meditation corner in my room and write down whatever I’m feeling. If I’m feeling terrible, I write that I’m feeling terrible and I accept that and I keep going, but I’m not going to wallow in that moment. I’m not going to allow that anxiety or that fear to take over my spirit. I just accept it, I deal with it and then I go on with my day.”Photography Emma Trim for Teen Vogue
What do you do when you’re having a low moment?
“I look at myself in the mirror and I say ‘I love you’. My mom taught me, ever since I was a baby, that it’s important to look at yourself every day and say ‘I love you’. It means that if nobody else tells you, you have to be good with the fact that you love yourself and that is good enough. It also teaches you how to treat others and how you allow others to treat you.”
As an actor, how important is it to you to use your platform to speak up about these kinds of things?
“When I was younger, there weren’t many people that were open about going through anxiety, so I never knew how to deal with it. In black and brown communities especially, mental health is not normalized. No one talks about that kind of thing. Luckily, I have incredibly supportive parents that have helped me get through it, and they’re completely understanding of how I feel. But for the people that don’t have that… If I have the opportunity, I want to make sure that I am a voice that tells other kids, especially the ones that look like me, that you’re not weird; [mental health] isn’t something that only you are struggling with; we all go through it; you’re going to overcome it. I want to help and give people the tools and resources to make them feel better.”
Why is there such a stigma surrounding mental health in black and brown communities?
“Well, I think it’s two things. One has a lot to do with generational trauma and years of oppression, and [two], it has never been normalized within the community. We don’t necessarily see black and brown faces speaking up about mental health. If we did, it could be more normalized. We’re getting better, but then there are also times where we go two steps forward and then we fall backwards. Once it stops being talked about in the media, we stop talking about it within the comfort of our own homes. I just hope that — whether it’s me or whoever — we can help move it forward to the point where nobody is feeling ashamed or feeling like they can’t speak up or talk about their mental health or things they’re going through.”
With everything happening in the world right now — from the Black Lives Matter protests to the global pandemic — do you think it will be a catalyst for change in how people talk about mental health?
“I hope so. I have friends that have never experienced or dealt with mental health [issues] before and now they are. We’ve been in quarantine for about three months now. When you’re stuck inside the house, you’re alone with your thoughts, and there’s so much happening in the news… You could just be sitting in your room and thinking that everything is good, just minding your own business and then you turn on your phone and remember, ‘Oh, we’re living in the middle of a global pandemic and I haven’t left my house in three months.’ That’s incredibly hard to deal with.
“There’s a lot of trauma in black and brown communities, where you open your phone and see people that look like you being beaten and killed. Even if you haven’t dealt with mental health before, everybody’s going through this time and is experiencing something that they’ve never necessarily experienced before. So I hope that when we come out of this, we can find comfort in the fact that we all went through something together. Hopefully this will make everybody stronger and allow others to be more kind and patient with each other.”
This period has certainly been traumatic, but it’s also been a time for reflection and a pause from the hectic nature of everyday life. Have there been any positives for you?
“It’s an up-and-down battle. There are days that are good and there are days that aren’t so good. It’s hard. Not just for me but for all teenagers… I’m about to finish my junior year of high school. I’m going through these things that a normal 16-year-old goes through, like heartbreak and school and dealing with friendships — and then there’s so much happening that’s so much bigger than me and my little problems. It sometimes gets overwhelming and I don’t necessarily know what to do. Everything is unsure right now. We’ve gotten accustomed to this life and then all of a sudden, one day, out of the blue, they’re gonna say, ‘You can all leave your houses now.’ I don’t know what the future is going to look like and to me, that’s kind of scary sometimes.”Photography Emma Trim for Teen Vogue
How has social media helped you during this time?
“The main thing that I’ve enjoyed about having somewhat of a social media platform is the fact that it’s allowed me to hear how my show and my work has touched people during this time.
“There are also people that genuinely check up on me, being like, ‘Hey, how are you? How are you actually doing?’ That means a lot because, you know, sometimes people get so caught up in being like, ‘You’re such a great actor’ instead of being like, ‘Oh she’s human, she has feelings too, she is going through the same thing that all of us are going through’. I’m just a 16-year-old girl who happens to be in a show on Hulu that people have seen. I’m just going through life like everybody else and I’m trying to figure it all out just like everybody else. So those comments where people are just asking me how I’m doing — I enjoy them because it’s like for a split second, I can just interact with these people. We can all help each other cope in our own different ways.”
What do you hope we’ll learn from this experience?
“I wish that we would all come together and realize that we’re all created equally. We all bleed the same blood and at the end of the day, we’re all human, regardless of race, where you’re from, what language you speak, your sexual orientation. The things that make us different make us powerful.
“Racism and so many other injustices happen everywhere. But we’re not going to conquer all this alone, we’re stronger together. If we all allow each other to go through things and struggle alone, we’re never going to come together collectively, not just as a country, but as the world. We need to learn this lesson that if it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.”