Sydney Sweeney on How Social Media Can Damage Our Self-Esteem

"I think people forget that their words actually have an effect on people," says 'The White Lotus' star.

To most of us, celebrities seem untouchable. Red carpet gowns, luxurious vacations, fancy movie premieres—it all feels like a far-off world from our own. With social media, we’re able to catch a small glimpse into A-listers’ real lives, but still, the idea that anything us common folk say or do will reach them is doubtful. But according to The White Lotus star Sydney Sweeney, offhanded comments from fans on social media aren’t always lost in the void; sometimes, they can cut deep.

“I think people forget that their words actually have an effect on people,” Sweeney, who just wrapped up playing Olivia on the hit show, tells HelloGiggles over a recent Zoom call. “People can hide behind their screens or keyboards and they can just step away and nothing has changed in their lives, but those words do have power in someone else’s. I think people need to be conscious of that.”

“What happened to ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’? I don’t know where that went in the world.”

Sydney sweeney

In May, the 23-year-old actor broke down during an Instagram live, showing her 3.5 million followers a mascara-streaked face while she urged them to “be nicer on social media.” According to Sweeney, her name was “trending on Twitter for being ugly”, and she tearfully explained that she felt people needed to see the impact these words had on her. This public moment of vulnerability was a rarity for the Euphoria star (who is currently filming Season 2 of the hit HBO show); now, she reveals it’s because she’s cautious about oversharing online.

“For me, social media is a space for work where I put my press or different things that surround my work, but sometimes I feel guilty that [people] aren’t getting to see the real Syd,” Sweeney explains. “But I don’t know if I should cross that barrier. It’s this fine line of trying to show the most authentic me through my work.”

If she wasn’t an actress with thousands of people liking her photos, however, Sweeney says her Instagram page would look a whole lot different—and way less glamorous than the magazine cover shoot snapshots she often shares.

“[My Instagram profile] would definitely include a lot of my dog,” she says, smiling. “I grew up on a lake, so it would be me cliff jumping or skiing or on hikes. I love being outdoors and finding something to climb and jump off of.”

Another off-the-clock hobby of the Washington native’s is reading (“I’m looking for a good sci-fi recommendation”), and sometimes, Sweeney’s work and play get to overlap. Currently, she’s working on an HBOMax TV adaptation of Jessica Goodman’s high school thriller They Wish They Were Us, in which the actress will star alongside singer Halsey. The film, renamed The Player’s Table, marks both the first venture for Sweeney’s production company Fifty-Fifty Films (which she launched in July 2020) and her first time executive producing. So far, the star says she “absolutely love[s]” the new gig.

“It’s been so incredible learning about all the different, intricate roles that different people play in the development of a project,” Sweeney explains. “It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of time. There are a lot of ups and downs and moving parts that play into it.” And although she remains tight-lipped about any details of the show (no release date has been announced), the actress teases, “We honor the book but take it to a darker place.”

Tackling projects with dark themes isn’t new for Sweeney, whose roles in shows like Euphoria, Sharp Objects, and The Handmaid’s Tale are chock-full of heavy subject matters like drugs, suicide, and even executions. According to the star, these complex characters excite her. “If it’s challenging or scares me as Sydney, like, ‘oh my god, I don’t know if I can do this,’ I usually make myself do it,” she explains. “I know it’ll be more challenging in an artistic sense.”

Most recently, Sweeney starred in Amazon Prime’s The Voyeurs (out today, September 10th), an erotic thriller that follows a young couple, Pippa (Sweeney) and Thomas (Justice Smith), who begin to spy on their neighbors across the street. A series of twisted events unfold that keep the viewer guessing until the final scene—and the plot had its star “shocked” when she first read the script, too.

“I was sitting on the edge of my seat thinking, ‘this has to be the ending,’ and then all of a sudden more twists kept happening,” Sweeney recalls. “I was so curious about all the different choices the different characters made. When I, as Sydney, thought something was going to happen and then it completely turned a different way, I was like, ‘oh my god, I have to do this.'”

Between all these films and shows, Sweeney has a lot going on these days—but that’s just how she likes it. “I love putting a lot on my plate and feeling overwhelmed,” she says. “That’s when I thrive the most.”