In the Magazine: Shantal VanSanten

Take a look at the life of Shantel VanSanten, a star who shines from within. Not only does Shantel have a successful acting career on the shows One Tree Hill and Gang Related, but her true inspiration comes from spending her free time improving the lives of those around her. Shantel and her friends volunteer with a number philanthropic organizations, because they want to enable people to live more fulfilling lives. Shantel tells the story of courage in children through Rally for Kids with cancer. Their smiles and hope have helped shape her outlook on life. 

Shantel’s passion for TeamTrueBeauty is a very personal one. One of her goals through the organization is to empower women who face issues with body image and eating disorders to accept and love themselves for their inner beauty. She is not afraid to talk about real life issues and be genuine about her own struggle with her body image. She wants to empower women to find strength and purpose in what they do and who they love, rather than what they look like. She reminds women everyday that they are “beautiful, capable, and loved.”

Chat with us about your role as an ambassador for TeamTrueBeauty. What is this group all about? What are your passions and goals for this group?

This group is what I call a movement. A movement to help empower others from within, to see their beauty from the inside out and stop defining themselves based on the physical. We want to help promote healthy body image and raise awareness of how dangerous eating disorders are. We want everyone to know they aren’t alone in their journey to define “beauty” in their life. My passion for spreading their message runs so deep in my heart. It was an honor when they asked me to be their ambassador. I used my voice to share my story in hopes that others could find the strength to do the same. In the end, we can inspire and uplift all those involved to see themselves as a unique definition of beauty to this world.

How do you help women (and men) to see themselves as beautiful from the inside out in a society that emphasizes physical beauty so much?

In order to help create a change, it is important to start an open dialogue and recognize that our society does place an emphasis on physical beauty. We must first see the issue with this, and then decide we don’t want to live that way. The more people who see the harm it creates, from bullying to eat disorders, the more people who can join together and make the movement bigger. We’ve all become obsessed with creating a physical image instead of defining it from our soul and the person we are. It’s time to make the change.

Does your close relationship with your sister inspire your mission to empower other women?

Of course it does. I feel the biggest responsibility to inspire my sister and be an example in her life. But she also inspires me more than I could imagine. She’s not afraid to dream and follow through with those dreams. She has a perspective on life different than mine and it’s one of the most beautiful things about her. She embraces other people’s differences, even our differences, and I enjoy sharing this world with her, looking at it from her perspective. I got to watch her and my brother go through high school. Seeing how tough the pressures of it all were still, only made me feel stronger about the need for empowerment and acceptance of differences. If only everyone could see each other from the inside out!

You have overcome and are continually overcoming this struggle yourself. What helped you the most when you first had to face your eating disorder?

It’s a daily battle with body image for most people I know. I try not to focus on the physical parts and trust that I work out and eat well, then let the rest go. What’s most harmful are the lies we tell ourselves. I do it as well, but they keep us sick and make us stuck. I don’t get on scales anymore. I go by how I feel. For me, it helps to write positive messages on my mirrors, on my phone, on places that surround me. I constantly remind myself that what matters is within. We are not defined by numbers or an image regardless of what anyone around us says. What helped me the most when I first had to face my disorder was my mother and people around me. You must have a strong support! That is why we created TeamTrueBeauty, so anyone can have a support group. Even if it’s comprised of strangers, we know exactly what your fight is and will not let you do it alone.

What would you say to women who struggle with these issues of body image, self-esteem, and eating disorders?

You are beautiful, capable, and loved. You are stronger than you know, and your life matters. What you do with your life, the things you accomplish, how you live it, the mountains you climb, the kindness you show, the people you inspire, and the love you give, that’s what matters. You are a powerful part of a bigger picture and a life that is evolving. Don’t give up. I believe in you.

In your experience with TeamTrueBeauty, how does talking about our problems, creating an open dialogue with our peers help women to conquer insecurities?

It allows everyone to see we aren’t alone. Your voice is a gift, and you should honor it by using it. Change happens with each story told. I’ve seen brave girls who tell their story and inspire me. I know they can reach others and help them as well. I can’t do it alone, nor do I want to. It’s so gratifying to know you are helping others. Only in sharing can we see the beauty in our differences, not only accept but appreciate others.

Tell us about your work with Hope for the Holidays and the Indiegogo campaign they have coming out soon! 

This organization is close to my heart for a few reasons. It was started by some of my best friends, but also because I shot a movie in New Orleans right after the hurricane and fell in love with the city. It was in pure devastation. My drive to help rebuild it started then and continues today. I have been working with Hope for the Holidays for the past few years. I host their annual gala and have helped raise money to rebuild homes in New Orleans. Many people are still displaced, and we don’t want them to feel forgotten; it’s been 9 years and there is still much to be redone. This year, my dear friend Angelique Cabral and I decided we wanted to take this one step further than any other year, and we are on a mission to raise $30,000 to rebuild a home for an elderly woman named Ella Etienne. We are doing it in honor of our grandmothers and in hopes of raising awareness of the charity and the need to help our elders. The Indygogo campaign has amazing incentives for giving, but the biggest reward is in changing & improving someone’s life. We are running it through May and hoping to get everyone to help us and get involved. Please give what you can!

It’s really encouraging for us at Zooey Magazine to see all the ways you help people. How did you get involved with all of these great organizations?

I have found myself so fortunately surrounded by friends who have started charities or are involved in them. Their passion becomes infectious, and you can’t help but feel a deep desire to help. My two very dear girlfriends Liz & Nicole started “Hope for the Holidays” and were involved in “Rally for Kids with Cancer.” They do a lot of charity work and inspire me to keep doing more. TeamTrueBeauty felt like a calling from deep inside, to share my story and use my voice so others might find the strength to do the same.

How do your passions for helping others and for acting coincide and how will it encourage others to give back too?

My job as an actress is a blessing, but I’ve always felt my purpose was to help others and find ways to leave this world a better place. We are all in a position to inspire no matter where we live, what we do, or how old we are. I hope we can all rise to the challenge together and “be the change.”

*This story was originally published in Issue 20.

Story by Michele Davis

Photography by Jessica Castro

Hair by Sunnie Brook  

Makeup by Jeanne San Diego

Styled by Jill McFadden