Despite the chaos going on in the world right now, Vanessa Simmons is feeling good. This is true despite the fact that she’s distanced from the big family we’ve watched her bond with, fight with and entertain us with all these years. She is, instead, quarantining with her small brood, her daughter Ava, 6, and her longtime partner Michael Wayans in Los Angeles while the rest of the Simmons clan is in New York.
“I definitely miss my family a lot,” she said. “That’s why I think I love doing Growing Up Hip Hop so much because it kind of brings us together for a couple months out of the year. We get to work together.”
Vanessa stars on the hit WE tv show with her sister Angela and brother Jojo, with both younger siblings acting as executive producers for the series.
“That’s always been our thing with reality TV. Run’s House was a way for us to spend time together and have some fun and Growing Up Hip Hop is kind of the evolution of that,” she said. “They get to come out to L.A. for a couple of months out of the year. Our kids get to hang out and have fun and I get to see my siblings. Even my dad made some appearances this season. He was out here. So I’m always appreciative of moments like that.”
She’s also appreciative of her close relationship with sister Angela. During this pandemic time, though separated, the two moms stay in constant communication, supporting each other through and ensuring their kids can spend time together, too.
“We were literally FaceTiming yesterday until our phones died,” she said. “Our kids usually take over our calls, too. We call with different recipes and medicines we can take to keep our immune systems up. She’s really big on that. We are keeping the good vibes going by staying connected through video conferencing and different fun activities so it feels like no time is really passing at all.”
When she isn’t having that family time with her sister, she’s focused on her daughter, playing temporary schoolteacher for Ava and trying to keep her happy with all the time her family is spending indoors and/or away from others.
“It definitely hasn’t been easy but I’ve just been keeping her spirits really high with lot of crafts and fun activities, bike riding and then yeah, the schoolwork,” she said. “It’s a lot, but you’ve just got to look at things on the bright side and find the good in the situation.”
She tries to keep Ava’s regiment consistent and “keep happy vibes in my house,” especially for herself. She has, in recent months, had a lot on her plate, starring in the UMC drama Monogamy (which she’s also an EP for), working on her clothing line Glitter and Lace that she has with Ava, as well as her Sugar Me skincare line and operating, solo this time, the shoe line Pastry, which has stayed in business since the beginning. But the 36-year-old is slowing down in quarantine. She takes advantage of meditation these days to stay calm. She also doesn’t fall into the idea that this pandemic has to be an opportunity to be as productive as possible. Instead, she prefers to just be kind to herself, keeping in touch with loved ones and taking things day by day. She’s taking care of her body inside and out, including doing a lot of self-care, enjoying a lot of baths à la her dad Rev Run, taking care of her skin, and working out. The latter has been very important in her life lately.
“I’ve been taking the time to really get myself back in shape and really just love myself again,” she said.
Getting to do her dream of acting and being on television more than ever hasn’t actually been the easiest thing for her, and she admitted she’s been battling with body image issues and changes.
“There’s definitely an unspoken pressure that comes along with being a woman in Hollywood, fitting certain beauty standards,” she said. “Over the last year I’ve gained a lot of weight. It came out of nowhere to me. I’m in the middle of realizing a lot of my dreams, and having to be in front of the camera, it’s pretty uncomfortable being less confident because of something physical. But I feel like quarantine, funny enough, has helped me reconnect with who I am and what I want to represent. It’s not that I want to be like stick skinny or anything like that, but I want to feel healthy, mind, body and soul.”
She’ll share her journey to making that happen on this week’s episode of Growing Up Hip Hop in the hopes of encouraging others who are sick of seeing people look virtually perfect online and on TV, and end up feeling like less than because of it. She admits her weight gain was weighing heavily on her while filming Season 5, but being inside, she’s realized it’s “not that deep.”
“We’re all perfect in our own ways and we don’t have to fit any type of standard. That’s really what I’m learning in quarantine,” she said. “I hope that telling my story this season on Growing Up Hip Hop helps.”
And not taking things too much to heart is something she’s worked hard to do over the years, especially with criticisms she has received being in the public eye. To this day, she said she still gets flack from people online about having a child outside of marriage as a PK (preacher’s kid per se). In addition to that, she also has dealt with comments about her body. She does her best to not let such commentary get to her.
“Oh people still harass me and try to write things,” she said. “I just think that’s the nature of being online and it’s one of those things you have to learn over time to just brush off. Sometimes it does get a little frustrating and bothersome, but I think overall, you just learn not to care what other people are saying and thinking. That even goes back to my weight-loss journey. I do have people bother me all the time like, ‘Oh my God, you’re pregnant! Congratulations!’ It’s something I deal with consistently. You just have to love yourself, know yourself and lean on friends and family for support and love and ignore that world. The trolls and the negativity, those are the things you have to weed out and keep it moving.”
She also ignores the trolls that can show themselves on her popular WE tv reality series. Instead of bickering with people, you can often catch Vanessa stepping in to keep her sister and brother calm during confrontations with cast members. It’s complicated dealing with a lot of the different personalities, but she attributes keeping a cool head to not being interested in drama.
“You’ll always see me trying to pull everything together. I think that’s how I got caught in the middle of stuff with Angela and Romeo [Miller], just trying to be like, ‘Wait, no, you guys talk.’ It has nothing to do with me but I don’t like the bad vibes and awkward tension. So I just remain myself and try to bring the good vibes and the good energy,” she said. “I’m never going to be in someone’s face, I hope not [laughs]. I won’t be throwing a drink or fighting like that. I just always try to encourage everyone to keep it pretty positive.”
A new episode of “Growing Up Hip Hop” premieres Thursday, April 30 at 9pm/8c on WE tv.