wise words

Kat Graham on Beauty and Changing the World

Kat Graham believes in power.
Kat Graham believes in power. Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Kat Graham isn’t quite like other celebrities. She greets you eating cheese, travels sans entourage, and happily does her own makeup for red-carpet events. Without ever power-tripping, she uses her influence to engage her passionate fan base, the Katpack, to support equal rights, telling the Cut, “I will always do everything in my power to bring awareness to any sort of injustices that are happening.”

Here, the new Caress spokesperson took a break from filming in the Georgia woods for her rumored final year on The Vampire Diaries to talk to us about the Katpack, unrealistic beauty standards, and being herself.

What’s your morning beauty routine usually like?
If I’ve got a really long day on set, I usually will have to shower before bed. But if I’m tired and I haven’t been shooting in the Georgia woods for 15 hours, then I like to start off my day clean and fresh. I’ve been showering with Caress. I can’t even remember a time I took a shower or a bath without it.

I don’t believe in sleeping in your makeup. I think that is death to your skin. I believe in eating well. Sugar for me quickly manifests — and fast food and anything processed with GMOs or anything foreign — onto my skin. I’ll see a pimple here and that’s the sign of you weren’t eating well.

I always do my makeup in the morning. I start off with moisturizing and then I go into makeup and a finishing spray, and I usually carry around a travel-size bottle of water. And I always refresh my face throughout the day with something like an Evian spritz. I give myself a nice spritz. A lot of people think that you should immediately touch up your face, but I believe in hydrating it. That’s really where your skin is at. Sometimes I don’t even need to reapply any makeup.

I was looking at your Instagram account, and at the GLAAD Awards, it seems like you had done your own makeup.
I always do my own makeup. I don’t let anyone do my makeup. Sometimes Mary Phillips or Edward Cruz. But other than them, I’m pretty good. They’re masters, but I feel like I’m a master at my own face. I know exactly what I want, and I’m a Virgo. I can do it. I like to be self-sufficient and kind of a one-woman army. I don’t like a lot of fluff around me. Even in my team, it’s just me here right now with my Caress PR women. I don’t have an entourage. I like to keep things low-key.

Have you always done your own makeup for events and for the red carpet?
Sadly, yes. I should have known better when I was younger because I hadn’t mastered it yet, but I’m into trying to figure out who I am, trying different things, and not letting anyone dictate my image, how I smell, or how I look. Psychologically, being an actor and musician, I almost feel that I have to be hyper-independent of being vulnerable to other people’s wishes or other people’s opinions. When you’re an artist, you’re like, This is me, this is who I am, and I don’t need anyone telling me.

As an actor, you’re asked to be a clean slate. Or if you’re like me, who has been on something for almost a decade, a lot of people are attached to an image that really isn’t yours and you don’t own. I’m constantly feeling a sense of self-ownership when I’m not working, so that I am able to completely let go when I’m an actor and let them put whatever on me and do whatever. Outside of it, I need to be completely myself.

From what I hear of the celebrity world, it seems like most celebrities like having a lot of people around them.
I think that’s a lot of insecurity. I don’t need all of that. I don’t even think I need security. Again, I’m not Justin Bieber. I feel very connected to my fans and I have been so for so many years. If I talk to my fans and challenge them to understand respect for each other, space, and energy, then I feel like they will hold each other responsible.

You have to start with something, and that’s you. If you don’t have a solid foundation of who you are, you can’t really share anything with the world.

Your fan base seems like it’s a reflection of who you are, and very empowered.
They’re loud. They’ll tell you what you’re doing wrong and how you can do it better. If you’re a fan of me, you understand my background. They understand diversity, equality, acceptance, human rights, animal rights, story, and character. They’re pretty profound. I’m constantly more and more impressed with them. I have a lot of very, very intelligent fans that are paying very close attention to what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, and I appreciate them and I hope they know that I see them.

Do you feel more pressure having that engaged fan base?
No. I don’t feel pressure. Sometimes I feel the pressure to be a young-Hollywood, dimmed version of what I am. I feel the pressure of being like other celebrities who maybe aren’t as proactive in activism, don’t want to talk about women’s issues, equal pay, or equal rights. Sometimes I feel the pressure to not talk about those things because it’s not pretty and it doesn’t look cute on a carpet.

I’m really so grateful and feel so blessed to be in line with a brand that is encouraging me to talk about being a fierce woman. Sometimes that doesn’t always look glamorous. In March, I did this march for the U.N.’s Women for Peace. My mom was with me, and we have our own history of abuse and all of that. And we were arm-in-arm, marching down the streets of New York and traffic stopped. That was the power of being a woman.

Whatever you go through, you take your pain or your experience and you put it into everything you do. I take it and I put it into Bonnie and Caress. It’s just a heightened level of self-empowerment. So I feel pressure, but in the opposite way. I don’t think it makes sense for me to be in an industry where it’s all about me. I can get pretty sick of myself. It has to be about something bigger than me, or else it’s ridiculous.

What do you think about the current talk in Hollywood about equal pay?
It’s a similar conversation as to what’s happening with diversity. These are very serious issues. That we’re still dealing with these issues in 2016 is abhorrent. I will always do everything in my power to support other people and to bring awareness to any sort of injustices that are happening.

I’m an African-American — I mean literally half-African. My father’s from Africa, my mom is from Chicago, raised in Israel. I’m an African-American Jewish girl from nothing, nowhere, don’t know nobody that is in this position. I had a mom who was a paralegal secretary for 20 years who took me to auditions.

I see a lot more from where I’m standing now because I got bullied. I’ve had everything from racism to anti-Semitism to sexism. I’ve dealt with it all. You just can’t back down. When you’re a woman, you have to stand up for what you believe in. You don’t have to be marching down the streets of New York. But whether it’s donating your time or money, it’s baby steps into finding your inner power and releasing it into the world. I’m hoping that through me, that will manifest.

What would you say to people who think that Hollywood is perpetuating unrealistic standards of beauty?
They’re 100 percent correct. Why I want to produce and develop projects is so that what you see on television is what you look at outside. If you’re constantly putting anyone from the Middle East in a dangerous perspective, then you’re perpetuating that that is an acceptable point of view for everyone.

I hope that whether you are a writer, director, or an actor, you are promoting the idea that everyone is beautiful in their own way and showcasing that you can be smart, fierce, sexy at any size or any age, and you can be beautiful and powerful. I’m hoping that I start to see a shift in that, because I’m really getting sick of it. I’m doing everything in my power from where I’m standing to challenge the industry, the media, and myself to shift the consciousness of how we are painting our characters.

Sometimes people can be judgmental of makeup, especially recently, with the idea of “too much makeup” or extreme makeup, thanks to trends like contouring and strobing. What are your thoughts on that?
Hiding behind makeup can be very dangerous, and I don’t support that. I would say, “Listen, if you’re tired and you just want to feel fresh, then absolutely put that on.” You’re not covering anything up. It’s okay to try to match where you’re at psychologically. Sometimes I feel great, but I look like shit. I’m just trying to find the balance of how do I look as great as I feel? And that’s what it’s about — it’s about matching where you are at with it.

I think it’s fun, but you also have to be able to feel okay, walk out, not have any makeup on, and still feel great. If you feel like putting mascara on, put on mascara. For me, it’s like art. I love painting and I love having fun with that. It’s creative for me to use my face as a canvas, to paint, and be creative with my look.

You have to have a balance, monitor yourself, and understand why you are putting on makeup. Are you putting it on because you feel like you’re beautiful already, or are you putting it on because you’re hiding? I’m happy we’re having this conversation, because there’s a lot of young girls out there that don’t know the difference. I’m all about loving yourself first. You can’t do anything, there is no brand, there is no procedure, there is nothing that will beat loving yourself first. I hate to break it to you, but the secret’s out. There’s nothing you can do externally to love yourself.

This interview has been condensed and edited.