There is a certain wholesomeness to Hailee Steinfeld. Her apple-cheeked smile and porcelain-doll features scream “good girl”, and yet the sultry glances she flashes at the camera during Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore’s cover shoot in Los Angeles could easily melt the lens. Clearly, there is more to the 21-year-old singer and actress than meets the eye. For one, Steinfeld is not your average multi-hyphenate. At age 14, she became an Oscar nominated actress after her breakout turn in the revisionist Western True Grit (2010), followed by a blockbuster musical (Pitch Perfect 2, 2015) and an acclaimed coming-of-age movie (The Edge of Seventeen, 2016, which garnered her a Golden Globe nomination).
On top of that, in what was an initially surprising turn, recent years have seen her emerging as a spokeswoman for personal empowerment through her music. First with the self-esteem anthem “Love Myself” (2015), then through the electropop feminist screed “Most Girls” (2017), joining a growing cadre of young female celebrities who have publicly embraced feminism, and use their platform for good. Steinfeld has since become a beacon of unabashed positivity, speaking out on the importance of self-care and not falling into the trap of competing with other women.
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Her epiphany about how society pits women against one another, and how social media exacerbates it, came shortly before she wrote “Most Girls”, she reveals as we sit down for a chat in West Hollywood. “That song came out of the thought that there’s this standard that, in order for young women to be special, they have to be so different from other women. I have felt that at times.”
Thus, the music video starts with “this scene of me on a date with this guy and everything’s great until he goes, ‘You’re so awesome… You’re not like other girls.’ And I’m, like, ‘What does that mean, exactly? Because most girls are amazing.’” The inspiration behind this sprang from her realisation that she was surrounded by so many incredible women. “And instead of seeing a picture of one and thinking negative thoughts, I’m going to save this picture and put it on a mood board. Because for whatever reason, she’s working out a lot, she’s taking care of herself, and that’s amazing. Once I started to have that outlook, everything changed for me. That’s why I felt like it’s so much easier to just be kind and spread positivity.”
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She quickly saw that social media makes the politics of envy even more toxic. “It’s so easy to fall into that rabbit hole and get lost in other people’s opinions, and you find yourself looking for validation in places that don’t really matter.” As for the value she places on self-care, that comes from the fact that she has been working professionally since age eight, when she began booking roles on television shows and commercials. “I’ve had no choice but to take care of myself. When I’m on tour, it’s hard to remember to eat every two or three hours and stay hydrated, and time gets away from you. But I remind myself that if I want to kill at tomorrow’s show, I’ve got to take care of myself.
“That means the obvious, like staying hydrated, eating clean and working out, but also taking time for myself; waking up in the morning and spending 30 minutes on my own, whether it’s reading a book or
listening to music or literally doing nothing before I start my day, or before my day ends.” Work dictates what she wears most of the time. “I get to go from dressing for a red carpet to a performance on stage, which means rhinestones and sequins all day long, or doing period movies where I get to immerse myself in a different era.”
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Off the clock, her personal style is considerably more down-to-earth. “I’ve been in a major jeans-and-t-shirt phase, and probably always will be. I bought a pair of jeans from Urban Outfitters I’m obsessed with—they’re high-waisted, straight-legged, rolled at the bottom and a little baggy. They’re just comfy, cool and probably the jeans I won’t wash for two weeks because I wear them every day.” Half her closet consists of items costing less than US$100 each, she reveals. But one of her most cherished possessions is “a wool jacket that I have from the Miu Miu campaign that I shot when I was younger.
“That’s the one item in my closet where I’m, like, ‘Ooh, is this the night I’m going to wear it?’ I’ll be wearing that when I’m 80 if I can still fit in it.” It’s a remarkably modest outlook, considering her blockbuster career. Pitch Perfect 2 and 3 were the two highest-grossing musical comedies of all time, and Steinfeld will soon be part of another mega-franchise when she headlines Bumblebee, the Transformers movie out later this year—all the while juggling a thriving music career, including the eagerly anticipated release of her debut studio album. “There’s no denying it’s a challenge doing both, but they both mean so much to me. I just try and devote 1,000 percent of myself to whatever it is I’m working on at the moment.”
Right now, this leaves little time for the sort of off-the-beaten path exploring Steinfeld yearns to do—a backpacking adventure or a road trip are at the top of her list, perhaps in Asia or South America, she says. But there are mini adventures to be had in her own backyard, Los Angeles; a city that, thanks to Hollywood, everyone thinks they know. “I’ve been here my whole life but there are always new areas coming up, so I love being here for that reason.” To impress out-of-town visitors—including Niall Horan, the 25-year-old Irish heartthrob of former boyband One Direction that Steinfeld has been seen cosying up with in the city—she takes them to secret spots overlooking the stunning Malibu coast. “Malibu is where my heart is, and I have found, in the last eight or nine months or so, many great, quaint little lookout spots, and some of them require hopping a couple of fences.”
And she plans to keep hopping fences when it comes to redefining how young women, and men, feel about themselves and one another. “When I’m on tour, ‘Most Girls’ is one of the songs that people are
most excited about. I even see guys freaking out to that song. And when a fan comes up to you and says, ‘That song got me through so much’— sometimes it’s a breakup, or them not feeling confident about themselves… Music can do that.
“Music’s done that for me, and the fact that I’m able to do that as an artist for other people really makes everything worthwhile.”
Photohrapger: Yu Tsai
Stylist: Windy Aulia
Makeup: Mary Phillips/Blended Strategy Group
Hair: Ruslan Nureev/Blended Strategy Group
Manicure: Tom Bachik
Production: 88 Phases
Producer: Trever Swearingen
Digital operator: Luis Jaime
Photography assistant: Calvin Mendez
Production assistant: Frankie Lomell
Styling assistant: Alyx Cohen