Vanessa Hudgens Shape Mag November 2021

Vanessa Hudgens Is Done 'Trying to Suppress Pieces' of Herself

The free-spirited actor and singer has figured out exactly who she is and what she wants. Here's how Vanessa found her happy place.

Vanessa Hudgens is always up for an adventure. And the more spur-of-the-moment, the better. "My friends and I are spontaneous," she says. "We'll ask, 'Do you want to get an RV and drive to the woods and see what happens?' We won't have a game plan at all. We'll just do it."

Jumping in and going full throttle is something Vanessa, 32, has come to appreciate. "I love a good challenge," she says. "It forces you to figure out who you are and what you stand for." One of her greatest accomplishments right now: Feeling confident in her skin.

"Over the past couple of years, I've really come into my own," says Vanessa. "When you're fully accepting of who you are, and you stop trying to suppress pieces of yourself, you can conquer the world. I love how silly I am. I love how excitable I am. And I love that I'm finally at a place where I can access those things. Even the quirky stuff that might have been shut down by other people in the past, like being ridiculous with my friends, those are things I'm now allowing to thrive. For some people, I'm way too much. But I love who I am, and there's such power in that."

Vanessa Hudgens Shape Mag November 2021
Credit: Thomas Whiteside, @thomaswhiteside

The star, who became a household name as a teen in High School Musical, has been channeling that hard-won strength into projects that stretch her creative muscles. One she's especially passionate about: Her role in the much-buzzed film Tick, Tick...Boom! (in select theaters November 12 and available on Netflix November 19), Lin-Manuel Miranda's directorial feature debut about Jonathan Larson, the playwright who created Rent. The movie is an adaptation of an autobiographical musical Larson wrote; Vanessa plays Karessa, a singer in the musical. "It's so gratifying to be a part of Jonathan Larson's legacy," says Vanessa, who also starred in Rent: Live on TV in 2019. "To be a part of his story, bringing it to audiences everywhere, is such an honor."

The role took her back to her roots, doing musical theater as a kid. "I grew up being the girl in the sidelines, singing the harmonies," says Vanessa. "That was my musical theater upbringing. Some of my fondest memories are of being in the rehearsal studio, practicing. Plus, I love singing. Any chance I can get to do it, I'm totally there for it."

Vanessa Hudgens Shape Mag November 2021
Credit: Thomas Whiteside, @thomaswhiteside

Vanessa also recently landed her first voice-over gig, starring in the animated movie My Little Pony, which came out in September. "I cried when I saw it the first time," she says. "I'm excited to have [the movie] in my back pocket for when I have little kids," she adds, explaining that she likes to do films "for all stages of my future children's lives." She's got their teenage years covered too: For the holiday season, Vanessa returns to her leading role in The Princess Switch 3 on Netflix.

But why settle for two careers? Vanessa has become a businesswoman as well. In May, she and a friend released Caliwater, hydrating cactus water that's rich in antioxidants (Vanessa doesn't like plain water and says she has fainted twice from dehydration, so drinking it has become one of her healthy go-tos). And in June, she teamed with singer-songwriter Madison Beer to start Know Beauty, a skin-care brand. "I'm proud to have companies I believe in and that I want to share with everyone," says Vanessa. "Working on them is a fun, creative expression for me that doesn't rely on getting the next [acting] job."

Since then, she's learned how to juggle her different roles — and still find time for the adventures she craves. Here, Vanessa shares the healthy habits that give her energy to cover it all.

Vanessa Hudgens Shape Mag November 2021
Credit: Thomas Whiteside, @thomaswhiteside

Do Workouts That Make You Want to Dance

"My fitness has taken a turn. Cardio has been put on the back burner, and I'm very OK with that. The things that have become the most important are balance and mental health. During the pandemic, when everything was paused, I created a little community. I'd get my friends together over Zoom and we would do Isaac Boots's live workout classes. As the world started to reopen, I found myself obsessed with Dogpound. I go with my best friend; we're extremely competitive. We have the best time — the amount of dancing we do between sets is ridiculous. Everyone knows when we're at the gym. They say they hear us before they see us.

I do squats with a rack, and I love to see how much weight I can add to the bar. That's empowering. And I've just gotten back into Pilates with a reformer. It works your muscles like nothing else."

Celebrate Every Accomplishment

"At my fittest, I feel unstoppable. You think, 'There's no way I can get through 30 reps.' But then you do, and you remind yourself that you can do anything you set your mind to. Those little victories should always be celebrated. That's what contributes joy and happiness and power and strength to your life."

Vanessa Hudgens Shape Mag November 2021
Credit: Thomas Whiteside, @thomaswhiteside

Eat Feel Good Food. Always.

"My overall food philosophy is, if it's real, I'll eat it. Many things are processed and contain chemicals and ingredients I can't pronounce. I want real food. If I'm in Italy, and I see them making pasta by hand, or if it grows from the earth, that's real. I stay away from the processed stuff. I also don't eat meat. I'm a pescatarian. What animals go through is so inhumane. That's not a system that I support.

I eat two bigger meals a day instead of three. Breakfast typically has avocado, maybe vegan sausage, and a piece of healthy bread. Dinner depends on my mood. I let myself have what I want. If that's a big bowl of spaghetti with clams and a glass of wine, then that's what I'm eating. Sometimes I crave a salad, and I'll make a big one with nuts and goat cheese and salmon. Other times, it's tacos and a margarita. I've learned that when I try to be super conscientious of everything I put into my mouth, all I can think about is food. But when I listen to my body and eat what I want, that's when I'm happiest."

Find Your Tribe

"I'm so grateful for my group of friends because they're such unique individuals. We have this bond — we lean on one another, and we're inspired by one another. Whenever I'm stressed, I'll tell one of them and they'll say, 'I'm coming over,' and we'll talk it out. That's so important. Much of the time, when people are dealing with stress or mental health issues or depression, it's easy to keep it all inside. But that's the most destructive thing you can do. Having a community is my stress relief." (Related: Why It's So Important to Experience Both Positive and Negative Emotions)

Vanessa Hudgens Shape Mag November 2021
Credit: Thomas Whiteside, @thomaswhiteside

Lose Yourself In Nature

"I love to be anywhere with a ton of trees. Being in the woods or the forest or the jungle is grounding for me because nature has balance. Everything happens the way it's meant to. I feel like when you can get out of your head and fall into the energy of nature, that's when you're at your purest form. It's when I find my flow." (See: Science-Backed Ways That Getting In Touch with Nature Boosts Your Health)

Keep Your Door (and Mind) Open

"My house has a revolving door. Even when I'm not home, I love having my friends over and knowing that they're hanging out by the pool and enjoying it. I always say that my household supports all forms of expression and creativity. It makes me very happy to have a home that's a safe space for my friends."

Cherish What You Have

"Where I am now is better than I could have dreamed of. My relationship with myself is something I value deeply, even if things don't always go the way I expected. For instance, my mom got married at 25, so I always thought I was going to be married at 25. That didn't happen. But I'm in such an amazing, healthy relationship, so it doesn't matter. What I've discovered is that we all have these ideas — and if they don't happen, then there's a reason why. Learning that has been extremely helpful to my growth. I'm very grateful every day for where I am in this moment of my life."

Vanessa Hudgens Shape Mag November 2021
Credit: Thomas Whiteside, @thomaswhiteside

Photography: Thomas Whiteside, @thomaswhiteside // Styling: Brit & Kara Elkin/A-Frame Agency, @ELKIN // Hair: Chad Wood/The Wall Group, @chadwoodhair // Makeup: Allan Avendano/A-Frame Agency for Clé de Peau Beauté, @allanface // Manicure: Thuy Nguyen/A-Frame Agency for OPI, @thuybnguyen // Creative Director: Noah Dreier, @noahdreier // Photo Director: Toni Paciello Loggia, @toniloggia