Mae Whitman on Being Bullied in High School & How To Handle the Haters
Editor's note: I had the absolute pleasure of chatting with this gem of a woman. She's so real and honest and true. How can you not love that?? Here's what we talked about, originally posted on OceanDrive.com Mae Whitman is that rare show-biz breed who has grown up in front of the camera lens and managed to come out unscathed. She first won us over with her roles on Arrested Development and Parenthood; now, as the lead in the well-received The Duff, Whitman is poised to be Hollywood’s next leading lady—and one who is putting her platform to positive use. We joined Whitman at the Mondrian South Beach, where she spent her first time in Miami with thousands of women and girls celebrating Aerie’s new swim collection and the #AerieReal campaign and snapping the world’s largest unretouched selfie. Here, she opens up about The Duff, real-life mean girls, and the pressures of image in Hollywood.
What’s unique about The Duff is that it has such a positive message. Was that important to you when working on the project? MAE WHITMAN: [It was] everything. I was like, we can make this funny and fun, but the main thing we have to work really hard on is getting the heart in there and getting the message to be clear and honest and real. The tricky thing was making sure that people understood that this is just really a method of communication.
Did high-school-aged Mae relate to your character in the film? MW: I got made fun of a lot and I was bullied for the ways that I looked different from other girls. I think it happens a lot. So I really wanted to communicate to girls, I know this is really hard and I know it hurts, but you have the power to change your perspective and realize that if people are trying to tear you down, that probably means that you have something really special that they’re threatened by. Try and throw love at that because that must be a sad way to live. This has been my lifelong struggle and [I] understand. If it makes one girl feel a little less alone and better about herself, then that’s a job well done.
Have you experienced a similar kind of bullying in your career? MW: I’ve been doing this for 23 years and I still get my feelings hurt all the time. I just lost out on a movie that really should have been mine because they basically were like, “Well, we don’t think you’re pretty enough.” Straight up.
Despite these hardships, you’ve really come into your own at 26. MW: Every day is a struggle. Some days I’m still like, “I don’t like the way I [look]…” and other days you feel really good about it. I’m so lucky that I’ve had the experiences that I’ve had. I think the more that I got challenged, the more it made me really grow and realize who I wanted to be and what I didn’t need and actually stand more comfortably in myself. You can use that to fuel your fire of feeling amazing about yourself and presenting your best self into the world. I want to continue to be a voice and a connection to girls who feel they might be out of place or want a friend in a far-off realm.
Why is the AerieReal campaign significant? MW: For me, it makes perfect sense. It’s so perfectly in connection, first of all, with the movie that I just did. And second of all, I have always found the things that attract me the most to people are things that make them different. That’s what makes the world go round. Why would you ever want to look like anybody else? The more you can be comfortable in yourself, love exactly what you have and present it with all the love in your heart, then that’s what makes people feel really drawn to you and makes you move through the world in a way that feels natural and good. I think the fact that [Aerie is] not retouching their photos is brave. A lot of corporations don’t do that stuff. It’s important and amazing.
Any advice to young women dealing with criticism or bullying? MW: Do not take it personally. If somebody doesn’t see you for who you are, you don’t want to be around them anyway. You don’t want to be giving your special light to somebody that is not fully in love with everything that you are. You cannot take it personally. Those are weird people behind desks sometimes. You just can’t take it personally, because that stuff just isn’t real.