Even Hollywood actresses aren’t immune to awkward phases. Consider Meghan Markle, who plays the always impeccably put-together Rachel Zane on Suits. (Does anyone really wear high heels and pencil skirts that often?)

“[Growing up], I was called the nerd: bookworm, gap in my teeth, crazy hair, peg legs. Even through high school I never fully felt as though I fit in – finding myself as a biracial girl teetering in between groups,” she says. “I remember busying myself and being the president of every club. Not because I actually wanted to, but because I didn’t want to eat alone at lunchtime. This overachiever mask I wore was really just the way I battled feeling displaced.”

That’s why she’s trying help other girls avoid going through the same self-esteem issues. Ahead of the International Day of the Girl this month, Markle, who is also a UN Women’s Advocate, led the Dove Self-Esteem Project in Toronto, a day of workshops for youth and educators. She talked to us about the role and why we all need to be a little nicer to ourselves.

Why do you think it’s important to build girls’ self-esteem? We want our girls to grow up knowing their worth. When they have that sense of confidence, they excel in academics, in relationships, in extra curricular. Knowing their value dictates the choices they make.

How did you work through some of your own self-esteem battles?
I had amazing teachers in school who could see what I was going through, and who bolstered my self-esteem by telling me how valuable I was to each of those clubs. I was able to then turn this guidance into purpose.

Does working in Hollywood sometimes bring out insecurities? Of course! We are human and as women, we have to combat societal pressures every day. I often worry that I can’t live up to the character people associate me with. Fans see me on the street and I haven’t had two hours of hair and makeup, and I’m not in custom-tailored Tom Ford with a team of stylists adjusting me every few moments. Who can live up to that? So, yes, I have moments where I worry if people are disappointed when they meet the real me versus “Rachel,” but I have to remind myself that what we see on TV is aspirational (and generally unachievable) even for me, who is actually playing that character.

How do you work through it? I regroup and remind myself that who I am has absolutely nothing to do with that character or that image. I am whole and complete exactly as I am even when covered in dog hair, at the park, walking my pooches with no makeup on.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about learning to love yourself? Be kind to yourself. Truly, if we treated ourselves as well as we treated our best friends we would be a million miles ahead of the game. There’s this great Georgia O’Keefe quote that resonates with me: “I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain, and I am quite free.”
Speaking of best friends, how do yours support you? They are my anchor. My industry, especially, can really rock your sense of normalcy. You can put up a picture on Instagram and in the same span of comments have someone tell you they love you, and another tell you they hate you; have one tell you that you look fat and the other mention that you’re too skinny. It is really nice to come home and call my girlfriends who support me through all of it and tell me the truth. Now that’s #squadgoals.

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