Emily Soto

Brittany Snow Spoke “Too Early” About Mental Health — But She Doesn’t Regret It

More than a decade after her burst to stardom, the actress and writer/director is ready for the limelight again.
Oct 17, 2019 @ 9:00 am

When Brittany Snow glided across the Emmys stage in September with Almost Family co-star Timothy Hutton, wearing a blue tulle J. Mendel gown, the Cinderella comparisons were instant — but she says the fairytale look wasn’t intentional.

“I am actually not that girly,” she tells InStyle, admitting that the idea might be hard for people to reconcile after having seen her in Amber Von Tussle’s floral dresses in Hairspray or Chloe’s stage-ready ensembles in Pitch Perfect. “I've never been one of those girls that, when I imagined my wedding dress or a prom dress, I think about a princess dress. It's not my style.”

Dresses, frilly or not, have been somewhat top of mind for Snow, who’s currently planning her wedding to fiancé Tyler Stanaland, to whom she got engaged earlier this year. Before cake tastings and venue deliberations, however, the couple first had to relocate from Los Angeles to New York City, where Snow is filming. When the show came along, she had been looking to do more TV work, and the script was the first she’d read in a long time that felt like what she was looking for: a balance of reality, comedy, drama, and depth. Almost Family, which has been given a series order at Fox, premiered on Oct. 2, giving Snow her first leading network TV role since her star-making turn in American Dreams, which aired from 2002 to 2005.

You could say Brittany Snow is having a moment — literally.

After a whirlwind Sunday at the Emmys in L.A., a plane right back to N.Y.C. the next morning, being called in to re-shoot scenes on what was supposed to be her day off, and then rushing right to our photo shoot, the actress is finally getting a minute to breathe when we sit down in her dressing room on a sunny September Wednesday in Manhattan. Even amid the chaos, Snow was a trooper, having brought several of her own outfits to give a variety of choices for the shoot, eventually settling on a striped suit set. When the spaghetti-strapped top that came in the set didn’t photograph as well as had been hoped, she rolled with the punches, taking it off and wearing the jacket over her bra.

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This moment of hers has been a long time coming. Ten years ago, when Snow was 23, she took a step back from the spotlight (“I needed to, for health reasons,” she says). She had found herself struggling with debilitating anxiety that stemmed partly from revealing her nine-year battle with anorexia in a raw, honest essay for People in 2007, detailing her struggle with weight, depression and self-harm. 

Snow was speaking out about mental health and pulling back the curtain on a deeply personal experience during a time when society was much less receptive to conversations about mental illness. In 2007, when Snow wrote her essay, the world had been ridiculing Britney Spears for a personal crisis that at the time was deemed a public breakdown. In the decade-plus since, things have changed, and now celebrities who talk about their anxiety or depression are likely to be hailed as inspirational. In 2019, Selena Gomez has been recognized with an award for bringing awareness to mental health issues by discussing her experiences. The British royal family has dedicated themselves to fighting the stigma around mental health. Actress Jameela Jamil, chosen by Meghan Markle as one of British Vogue’s “change-makers” of the year, has been praised for her openness about having attempted suicide and for advocating for mental health awareness.

When Snow came out with her story, she says, the aftermath was “awful.” At the time, she just thought she would be helping people who may have been working through the same issues she was — but she wasn’t prepared to feel so vulnerable and exposed. The world, it seemed, wasn’t ready for that kind of honesty.

“I think there was still a stigma around sharing so much truth, and it kind of got seen as me being self-indulgent or trying to gain attention,” she says. “I definitely wasn't ready for that. I was too young and not prepared for what was going to happen. And it wasn't even that bad — it just was me feeling like I didn't have the tools to really be able to help people and help myself.”

Emily Soto

Eventually, her anxiety got to a point where she couldn’t speak in public without shaking, and Snow says she spent a period of time not knowing if she was going to work again. 

“I did the Pitch Perfect movies in the meantime and did a show called Harry's Law, [during] which I was usually unable to speak on set, and then had to slowly get myself back to a place where I was comfortable,” she says. 

In the years since, Snow has credited a strong support system of friends, as well as hypnotherapy — which she swears by — with helping her get her footing again. She says that after she gained more of an understanding of herself and felt less like her own worst critic, she wanted to do something to help other people feel more connected and supported. In 2010, she formed Love Is Louder, an online community created to fight against bullying and amplify messages of kindness online. 

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When she was a teenager, Snow recalled reading an article about a woman who shared her struggle with anxiety and depression.

“It was the first time that I really heard my story — she had an eating disorder and when I was a kid I had never even heard about an eating disorder, especially not in a magazine, and I carried around that article in my pocket,” she says. “It was the one thing that I had that was tangible proof that there was somebody else out there that had what I had.”

As chance would have it, a few years ago, a young woman approached Snow at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, telling her she had carried around in her pocket an article the actress had written. Her story moved Snow to create another organization called the September Letters, based on the concept of carrying letters of inspiration around in your back pocket, whether it’s a physical clipping or a message on your phone. She’s still in the early stages of putting the new initiative together, but says it will be a website and Instagram page full of daily doses of hope, understanding, and strength for those who need it. 

“Now, so many people are so open with their stories, and it's very, very cool and accepted that people are sharing their truth,” she says. “I might've spoken too early, but at the same time, it started and was the impetus for so many changes in my life that have worked out really well, so it's okay.”

Though she doesn’t think that she alone paved the way for dismantling the stigma surrounding mental health, she does feel part of something that led to this era in which people are being more open with one another. 

“I think that that's a really nice thing to feel like I was a part of, where I can tell my daughter one day, ‘I was really honest when a lot of people weren't being honest,’” she says. “In my thirties, I can confidently say that it's almost like another life that I look back and [say], ‘Wow, I was so anxious and scared, and now I'm just not.’”

Nowadays, she’s channeling that self-assurance into her career. In addition to her latest starring role, she’s recently tried her hand at writing and directing, putting out a short film called Milkshake earlier this year, which starred Pitch Perfect co-star Anna Camp. But she’s taking this next step cautiously and studiously. 

“I think that a lot of people just feel like, ‘Oh, you're just going to get into directing,’ and it's not as easy as that,” she says. “I still have a lot to learn, so I'm not going to jump into something without doing the due diligence of researching and shadowing as many people as possible. I know that I have a lot more to do.”

Starring in a TV show, writing, directing, launching a mental health support initiative, planning a wedding — Snow is doing it all. And this time, the world is ready for her.

Photographs by Emily Soto. Hair by Richard Marin. Makeup by Robert Sesnek. Art direction and production by Kelly Chiello, assisted by Erin Glover.