Aisha Dee

Zoom Date: Aisha Dee on Taking Up Space and the Power of Protesting

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.

As The Bold Type’s Kat Edison, the outspoken social media director at the fictional Scarlet Magazine, Aisha Dee has clocked a lot of screen time playing a character who is accustomed to addressing injustices and conflict head-on. In the years that The Bold Type has been on the air, Dee says she’s picked up a few of Kat’s tricks for herself. “If I’m doing a scene where I have to stand up in front of a boardroom full of people who are more important than I am, then half an hour later in real life I somehow think that it’s okay for me to be like, Um, I think that…” she says, laughing.

But the effortlessly cool actress (and musician!) clearly doesn’t need any help from her fictional analog in crafting a strong point of view. When we talked, the entire country was reckoning with a surge in national protests against police brutality, and L.A.—the city where Dee lives—was still under strict curfew amid calls for Mayor Eric Garcetti to defund the LAPD. Dee, who’s been attending the protests, was eager to discuss the movement during our call, from recommending her favorite Black movement leaders on Instagram to describing how she learned to take up space as a Black woman with natural hair. And in between the heavy moments, the actress was just as game to talk about her love of Josephine Baker, self-care amid tumultuous times, and her go-to “post-cry beauty hack.” Keep scrolling to get to know Aisha Dee.

Aisha Dee
Emma Mead

So, how are you doing?

We shouldn’t ask anyone that these days! I’m Australian, and I feel like Americans always say, “Good, thank you,” and Australians always say “Not too bad,” which I’ve always thought is generally the most truthful.

Have you been going to any of the protests?

Yeah, I’ve been going. It’s weird, because I feel like a week ago the thought of going outside was really terrifying, just because I’ve spent so much time in my home, and going on my little neighborhood walks was about all I did, really. But just in the last week I started going out—I guess the first big one was on Saturday [May 30] in L.A., and it was such a beautiful, peaceful, healing moment. I went with a couple of friends and it was, not only was it the first time I had felt a community of other people, but it kind of felt like the first time that it really felt like people of all walks of life and all races were really there for this one thing. It was no longer a dirty word, saying “Black lives matter,” because it’s been a little bit controversial even though it never really should have been. 

It's crazy how much has changed in a week. A week ago, Black Lives Matter was such a polarizing movement, and now everyone is saying it.

Yeah, and it’s not a new movement. That’s why I think it’s important to amplify the voices of those who are dedicating themselves to the cause. I just feel like for me, as someone with a bit of a platform, the most important thing to do is amplify the voices of the activists and organizers who have been fighting for Black lives for a long time—people like janaya khan and Kendrick Sampson and Brittany Packnett Cunningham. But, yeah I’ve been going out as much as I can, and also trying to create space and make time to lay down on my yoga mat in shivasana for however long I need to.

Self-care is crucial right now, for sure.

Self-care has always felt like a weird concept for me. I always found it difficult to conceptualize it like that—it felt too big—and just lately I realized that it can be something different. It can just be like, I’m just gonna be my own friend today. What would my friend tell me to do? How would my friend talk to me? Being my own friend feels like a more doable kind of thing than self-care and self-love.

Being my own friend feels like a more doable kind of thing than self-care and self-love.

So what are some of the things that you as your friend have been telling yourself to do lately?

You know, like the voice in my head? [LAUGHS] Um, I’ve been doing a lot of yoga. I grew up dancing a lot when I was younger, and yoga has always been a way for me to kind of take my dance training into a smaller space, especially when I’m traveling. And I play ukulele to just calm down. I’ve played instruments all my life, and my parents are both musicians, so music has always been a really big part of who I am. And something about playing my ukulele, especially right now—it helps me go to sleep and get up in the morning and all that stuff. Actually, you can’t see this, but I have my yoga mat, and then I have a framed picture of Josephine Baker right above it at eye level, ‘cause Josephine Baker is my hero, and she’s got a ukulele in her hand, and sometimes I just lay on the yoga mat with my legs up the wall and play the ukulele and stare up at Josephine Baker.

Aisha Dee
 Emma Mead

Since the pandemic started, what has the general rhythm of your life looked like, and how is that different from what it looked like before?

Well, I think this is the first time in probably 12 years that I’ve been in one place for longer than a month. I’ve spent so much time on airplanes, I realized, working all week and then flying back the next day, and I guess I’ve been using all the things on my to-do list as a way to kind of avoid some personal stuff. So kind of having the space to sit in that a little bit more has been new for me. I hope that having the extra space allows everyone to really live in the stuff that’s been so uncomfortable, because you realize all the ways that you’ve kind of been distracting yourself.

This may be too much, but a few weeks ago I was watching The Lovebirds, and we’d paused the movie, and I was like, “For some reason I am now thinking about some girls that ran away from me in 2nd grade and pretended to be my friends.” Like, it just came out of nowhere, just because you have too much time to think and really kind of go deep in terms of self-reflection, which is a blessing and a curse. But it was weirdly a good revelation for me to have and kind of assess and be like, “Okay, maybe you’re projecting sometimes when you think people don’t like you. Maybe they do, or maybe they don’t and it doesn’t matter.” [LAUGHS]

I hope that having the extra space allows everyone to really live in the stuff that’s been so uncomfortable, because you realize all the ways that you’ve kind of been distracting yourself.

Have you picked up any new hobbies? Have you been cooking? Or just sleeping more—sleeping is a good hobby.

Sleeping is a great hobby. My sleep schedule has been all over the place, which—I know I’m not the only one. I’m realizing my arms get in the way a lot when I’m sleeping. Like, wow, my arms are really a hazard when I’m trying to get these hours in! Yeah, I have been cooking, and I’m not really much of a cook, so that’s sort of a new thing. I send Katie [Stevens] pictures of the things that I cook just to brag, because she’s been trying to get me to cook for years and I’m finally doing it. And I’ve been working on some music stuff, too. You know how sometimes your brain is all over the place? For some reason, making music is the one time where I feel like I’m able to focus and zone in, and I have my headphones on, and I can just float away to my own little planet. I’m gonna release some stuff soon, but it’s really just for me at this point. It’s just something that makes me happy.

How long have you been making music?

Well, my mum is an opera singer, and my father is a jazz drummer.

Oh, so from day one.

Actually, they’re both very bougie, judge-y musicians. [LAUGHS] Which is part of the reason why I’ve always been like, well, I’m not gonna dare try to do music, because I respect it. But I’ve probably been writing music for about five or six years, and before that I was always playing instruments. I grew up playing violin and cello and would kind of dabble in different instruments here and there, ‘cause my mum worked in a music shop as well. Music’s always been a really big part of my life. And it’s also just been like free therapy, really, from when I was super young.

I know the albums that have influenced me and have really marked a new chapter. I remember the night Lemonade came out: I remember how that changed my perspective of how I felt about myself and my Blackness, and how for the first time I started wearing my hair out more. Before that, it always made me uncomfortable—I felt like I was taking up too much space, having my hair out. And it’s a process, one that I’m still very much in. But, yeah, I think music has the power to change you.

What are you listening to right now?

Right now I’ve been recommending this rapper a lot. His name’s KOTA the Friend. All of his stuff is incredible. One album in particular, Foto, has just been on repeat for me especially in the last week. It celebrates the culture in a way that I think is really relatable, and it celebrates family and how complicated that can be. It’s amazing to me that more people don’t know who he is, because I think he’s probably my most-listened-to artist on Spotify. Also Chika, the rapper. She started out on Instagram, actually, and released a mixtape earlier this year that’s, like, really, really dope. And PJ Morton, as well. I could go on forever.

Maybe Kat will become a DJ next and you can just think about music all the time!

[LAUGHS] I would love that!

aisha dee
 Emma Mead

It must be really surreal to have the new half-season of the show premiering June 11 in the middle of this huge cultural shift we’re all experiencing. What has that been like?

Well, it definitely feels bizarre to be talking about anything else right now. But I really believe and hope that watching the show can be a place of refuge for people, because I know for me that the shows and movies and music that I’ve been consuming have really meant even more to me, especially now. In any time in my life when I’ve faced the most adversity, I’ve always turned to art, and I hope that anyone at home who just needs to take a break can watch the show and feel a little bit of comfort.

What’s always been so great about the show, and about Kat in particular, is that she’s always been very reactive. She’s very attuned to everything and very outspoken, and I feel like having that at a time when a lot of us are stuck in one place, it’s a little like being able to live vicariously through her.

She has this strong sense of justice that I’ve always really admired in her. I think that it’s really inspiring to see that in a person, just in the way that she kind of approaches her work and also love and her identity as a queer woman of color. I think that she’s been so brave and just open and willing, you know? Even though those things are scary, she kind of just seems to have her chin up high and walk straight into the fire. And I think that that’s really, really cool to see. And sometimes she’s a little misguided, and sometimes she’s a little naïve, but I really love that about her, too. It wouldn’t make sense to see someone take risks like that and never fail. I think it’s really inspiring to see her fail—although I hope she succeeds and thrives soon, because I love her and want good things for her!

In any time in my life when I’ve faced the most adversity, I’ve always turned to art.

Have you picked up any style hacks from starring on a show about a fashion magazine?

Um, I’m still pretty lame. [LAUGHS] I haven’t gotten any cooler. I thought I would! I had my fingers crossed that I would somehow by the end of all this be a trendy chick, but a lot of my friends say I dress like a little boy who hasn’t gone through puberty yet. [LAUGHS] If anything, being a part of this show has made me just embrace all of the things that make me different and that people used to tease me for. Now I’m like, “You know what, yes, I’m a very hairy lady. That’s just what it is! I have ingrown hairs everywhere, ‘cause everything is curly, and sometimes I get acne. I’ve got a lot of eyebrow hairs, I got my big thighs and whatever.” If anything, being a part of the show has encouraged me to embrace that a little bit more.

Aisha Dee
 Emma Mead

Well, your skin looks great through Zoom.

You know what, I used to struggle with acne for a little while and still do from time to time, and I was using such harsh products on my skin to try to get it under control, and I realized that the simpler I made it, the better my skin was. There’s one little trick that a friend taught me about: you get chamomile tea and some ice cubes, and you throw a washcloth in there just to cool it down in chamomile tea, and if you just put it on your face after the shower, it feels so good, and it calms down all of the acne. Also, if you’ve been crying, which unfortunately all of us have been doing right now, it’s a great little trick. I try to do it whenever I can remember.

I love a quick post-cry beauty hack.

[LAUGHS] That’s what I’m here for, shit! Oh, wait, one thing—this lotion called Rixx. This lotion is life-changing. You would think that I’m their sponsor, the amount of people in my life that I’ve recommended this moisturizer to. Literally the first thing I panic-bought in quarantine was this moisturizer because I was like, “I don’t care what happens, I will not be ashy!” So those are my beauty hacks, the chamomile tea and that moisturizer. I’m always trying to calm stuff down, you know?

Same, but internally.

Well, it does penetrate the skin and go straight to the heart. [LAUGHS]

What’s your skincare routine like in general?

I kind of change it up so much that I never really stick to one thing. I guess my routine in the morning would be, I cleanse my skin with Philosophy cleanser, and then I use Biologique Recherche Lotion P50T. It’s great for acne scars and stuff like that, and great for just exfoliating skin. And then my Rixx lotion everywhere. Face, body—everywhere.

We love a product that can multitask.

Oh, yeah, I think it’s the greatest discovery I’ve made in recent memory. I’m so glad I finally get to talk about it! Katie and Meghann [Fahy] are always making fun of me because every guest star who comes to set, I’m like, “Oh, here, have some lotion, it’s called Rixx!” And they’re like, are you talking about that lotion again? Like, “Yes, girl!” [LAUGHS]

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