If Bella Hadid were an ice cream, she’d be spicy, sultry, and a little bit melted. At least that was designer Alexander Wang’s take, as the two unveiled a campaign for Magnum Ice Cream at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this week. The 21-year-old supermodel went giggly over her friend’s description of her.
Hadid wasn’t always so willing to flash her pearly whites. In fact, you may have noticed that she’s garnered a reputation for never smiling. That’s not lost on her.
“I was always really self-conscious of myself and I didn't like my smile,” she tells InStyle backstage. “I thought I had a crooked smile my whole life.” Then, when her modeling career took off, her serious look suddenly became her signature. “When I started modeling, it was such an intense force that I guess I just didn't smile and I didn't want to, and then it became a thing that I didn’t smile,” she says, but not for the myriad reasons people have hypothesized. “I just wasn't really feeling well and I didn’t like my smile.”
Hadid is, in fact, a bubbly presence—outspoken, even, when she’s feeling like herself. But for a long time she wasn’t. “I got really sick for a few years, so I kind of lost myself in that,” she says, of her long battle with notoriously energy-zapping Lyme disease.
But Hadid says her no-smiling days are behind her—not because of all the headlines but because she actually has something to smile about. “Now, I smile so much more, because I'm so much more in my power and finally centered,” she says. “I'm such a people person, and I kind of lost that when I wasn't feeling well, so now that I'm back working all the time, getting to do press like this is really fun. I love interacting with people. I'm figuring myself out along the way.”
That’s the advice she would give young women getting started in their careers. “I wish somebody had told me to really be myself when I was younger,” she says. “When I started working three years ago, I think I tried to mold myself.”
“There were all of these things that I didn't think were cool,” she says of the interests she suppressed because of peer pressure.
One of those secret passions? Knitting, of all things. “I loved knitting my whole life and I kind of dropped it off, and then recently I was like, ‘Wait.’ Now I'm like, ‘I really don't care if anybody thinks it's cool or not, because I enjoy it.’ So I hope girls know that if people around you don't think it's cool, it really doesn't matter, because you're cool and you're you, and that's the best you can be.”
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Surrounded by cinema's elite in Cannes, Hadid is eager to chat about her ambitions to eventually act—except that she can’t memorize lines to save her life. “I did theater a lot when I was younger, but I couldn't remember any of the lines, so I would always be the best friend, and my sister [Gigi Hadid] would play the main one,” she confesses. “One day I want to get into it. Maybe when I'm getting to the end of my modeling career, then I'll start acting and see how it goes.”
While Hadid reveals that she mostly returns home just to re-pack her bags and go somewhere new, there is always a couch full of friends waiting for her when she makes her pit stop. “My girlfriend go-tos are the girls I've known for 10 years and that have known me before all of this,” she says. “My best friend Ally [Aflalo] has been my best friend since I was 14. My God sister, Olivia [Perez], who was literally in the delivery room when I was born, we lived together for two years in New York. They're just so proud of me, and when I get home, I just want a hug, and they're just always there.”
“My sister is the same way. We keep the friends around us that we've known our whole life,” Hada adds. That helps her stay grounded when she receives online criticism. Often, she says, the persona described in those remarks is one she doesn't even recognize. “Things that people say about me could not be more false. I'm such a bubbly person, and I think that my friends will always respect me for who I am on the inside.”
Does that get tiring? You bet. But she credits her parents with teaching her how to ignore the noise and power through. “If you're tired, you're tired, and you have to get over it,” she says of their approach. “I love my job, and at the end of the day, my bed feels very sweet at night.”