rachel hilson

Zoom Date: Rachel Hilson on Curl Care and Her Journey to Acceptance

Welcome to Zoom Date, our new feature series where we get up close and personal via Zoom screen with our favorite celebs. They'll be giving us an honest peek into what their "new normal" looks likefrom new rituals they've adopted since quarantine, to work projects in the age of isolation, to the beauty and health products they've been using to self-soothe.

My first experience with Rachel Hilson's work was watching her bring teen Beth to life on NBC's This Is Us. This summer, we'll get to see her in a new project, Hulu's Love, Victor, a coming-of-age story that highlights Victor Salazar's journey to self-acceptance. As he finds his way, we see him build a relationship with Mia, who is also facing challenges navigating her high school and home life—even if she seems to be taking it all in stride. 

Outside of the television world, Hilson is like the rest of us. Quarantining in the midst of global pandemic and balancing the emotions that many Black people are feeling in the wake of yet another member of our community losing their life due to police brutality. When I virtually meet Rachel, the first thing I notice is her khaki bucket hat and box braids. I feel like I'm back in the '90s. As we talk, it becomes clear she cares for herself, shows up for herself, and places importance on serving others—from volunteering at her local farmers market to encouraging those in her orbit to practice self-care. 

We talked about her favorite quarantine recipe (which sounds simple and delicious), how she keeps herself well (this includes playing the Ukulele), and what she's learned through her natural hair journey. Keep scrolling to get to know Rachel Hilson.

Rachel Hilson
Rachel Hilson/Byrdie

How are you doing? There’s so much going on in the world right now. 

“I’m good. I’m good today. You know I definitely go between a little anxiety, a little sadness, a little anger and frustration—but today I feel pretty good.”

I know we’ve all been in quarantine. Have you picked up any hobbies while you've been at home?

“I’ve been dabbling in a few different things. I like your hair, by the way. I love Bantu knots. They’re so cute. So, I’ve definitely been cooking. My staple food has been these sweet potato tortillas I make, which are so good. They're two ingredients, and they're very easy. Very simple. I’ve been rolling them out, and it’s really therapeutic to do that. I’ve also been growing some tomatoes, strawberries, and basil. Then I’ve been volunteering at the farmers market for a couple of months on Sundays helping with their new COVID-19 rules, which has been really nice. Obviously, it's in a safe way. We have to wear masks and social distance. Lots of long walks and biking. Oh, and my Ukulele. Oh, I won’t do that to you.”

Do you have it next to you? That is so cool. That answer was totally unexpected and so dope.

“My Uke yeah. It’s pretty fun. Yeah, it’s kind of my baby.”

I’ve been looking at your Instagram, and I saw your post encouraging your followers to take some time and practice self-care. How important has self-care been for you? There is so much happening I don’t even know how to put it into words. It’s so draining. 

“It’s so draining. For me, it’s the fact that we as Black women, as Black people, are unfortunately very used to seeing these images and videos, and hearing these things about our people—like Black bodies being abused and killed. I think last week and the week before, having it all thrown at you at the same time is traumatizing. We all have our own trauma we’ve internalized for as long as we’ve known, and we see bits and pieces of it often, and we experience it. Self-care has been extremely important. I’ve deleted Instagram a few times.” 

“There are a lot of days where I just sat. I sat for an hour doing nothing. Then I was like okay, I need to go for a walk or call my mom or something. I think we have our individual coping mechanisms, and I think that’s super important. I have some really good friends, and we have FaceTime dates. We’ve always had FaceTime dates, but we’ve had more in the last couple of weeks—just to connect and surround ourselves with people who understand what we’re going through.” 

We all have our own trauma we’ve internalized for as long as we’ve known, and we see bits and pieces of it often, and we experience it. Self-care has been extremely important.

Rachel Hilson
Rachel Hilson/Byrdie

It’s interesting you say we’re used to trauma in certain ways, and your character Mia does have some things that come up for her, but what I found so interesting about the way you brought her to life is that she is so calm and so collected. Was that a choice for you?

“I think that’s definitely how she presents, but I think you see her not always calm. She’s not always together, and I think that’s how a lot of us are. We’re used to putting on these different versions of ourselves, and I think we learn how to do that really well from a young age. And when we have a moment, I think we’re able to really tap into what we’re feeling. I think you see her tap into what she’s really feeling a few times.”

It was nice to see Mia do that. In the last episode, when she runs to Veronica [played by Sophia Bush], I wasn’t happy she was upset, but I was glad she was able to let it out. 

“The last few episodes are a lot for Mia. Lots of tears. I think she really is beginning to see herself by the end, and really allows herself to be where she is.” 

It's Pride Month, and what I found amazing about this show is that I haven’t personally watched anything quite like this. I feel like so many people are going to see themselves in these characters, especially young people in high school trying to figure it all out. A lot of us do look to television and film or any art medium to see ourselves. What does that feel like for you?

“I really hope people will be able to see themselves in Victor, or in Mia, in Andrew... I think there’s hopefully something for everybody. The one thing I am really excited about with Love, Victor is it does explore the exploration process. I don’t think we see that a whole lot. Some people don’t just 'know,' sometimes you gotta figure it out and let yourself do that. I know that it can suck for people on the other side.”

I love curls. I think it has helped me with my own self-love and journey to acceptance. For a lot of Black women, I think it really does start with hair.

Rachel Hilson
Rachel Hilson/Byrdie

Okay, so your hair, skin, and brows are poppin’ on the show, and they’re poppin’ now. Do you do a traditional wash day when you’re not wearing a protective style, or are you a little more low maintenance? 

“I just went natural fully last summer, and so I definitely have been on it with my regime. Usually, for wash day, it’s probably Saturday or Sunday, and I’ll do an avocado, honey, sometimes full egg thing and mask it up.” 

Since you’re new to going natural, what have you learned about your hair?

“I’ve never had a perm or anything, but this is the first time I’ve committed, and I haven’t straightened my hair in a year. I just love my hair. I’m like, why did I straighten it so much? I love curls. I think [my hair] has helped me with my own self-love and journey to acceptance. For a lot of Black women, I think it really does start with hair. When you're young, you go to the salon and get it done or braided. When you grow up, and you just allow it to be, you realize you also can just be. It’s all tied together."

A lot of people are like, "I use 12 products a night." I am people. Are you a minimalist when it comes to product, are you somewhere in the middle, or do you have a longer process?

“I’m maybe in the middle. I use this bar. It’s a tea tree and charcoal bar as a cleanser, and then I go between rose water as a toner and an apple cider vinegar depending on what my skin needs. For spot treatments, I’ll use tea tree. I try to keep it mostly natural because I feel like that’s what works best for me, and it’s the least packaging, too.”

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