EXCLUSIVE! Lilia Buckingham is everyone's best friend

When was the first time you spotted Lilia Buckingham on your Insta feed?

Maybe it was a few years ago, in a v. fashionable pastel poolside pic beside Maddie and Kenzie Ziegler. Maybe it was when you spotted her on summer vacay with Millie Bobby Brown. Or, just maybe, it was starring on Brat TV's Spring Breakaway as mean-girl-goes-soft Autumn alongside besties Anna Cathcart and Jules LeBlanc.

Who is she? you wondered, as Lilia Buckingham became the BFF to nearly *every* cool girl in Hollywood. She's just...everywhere. You didn't know her last name or how you wound up scrolling back to the year 2016 on her profile (the phrase "Why is Lilia famous?" yields 1.4 million Google search results).

But you liked her style (think California cottagecore meets Gossip Girl) and you couldn't miss the star-studded photo shoots at her Beverly Hills house (cut to Lilia, Anna, Jules, Hayley LeBlanc, Nia Sioux and Jillian Shea Spaeder baking Christmas cookies and exchanging presents last year). So, you followed her, because why not?

At first glance, her life seems picture-perfect. A regular teen becoming besties with TV and TikTok stars sounds a little like the plot of a Netflix movie or YA book.

And, in fact, it is. Lilia's novel Influence (releasing Jan. 5, check it out here!), co-written with Sara Shepard, gives readers a *total* insider look at the teen infuencer social scene, from viral vids to dramatic breakups. ("It was the most incredible experience," Lilia says of working with Shepard, who wrote the best-selling Pretty Little Liars series. "Those books are what really made me want to write.")

But dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that there's a reason so many celebs wanted to know Lilia. She has a rare, earnest charisma that puts everyone she meets under a spell (us included).

When we catch Lilia for our interview, it's a chilly fall Friday afternoon. She's far away from her iconic Cali home, visiting Jillian, her girlfriend back East.

Huddled up in Jill's room, Lilia's alternating between scribbling in her journal and fieldiing calls from her various work commitments, braving the East Coast cold in an oversized sweatshirt she borrowed (ahem, stole) from Jill's wardrobe.

"I never buy sweatshirts, I just steal them from Jill or Jules," Lilia says with a laugh. "I have maybe 700 of their sweatshirts in my closet. They're comfier." Like books, cozy clothes are just better when they come a little worn.

Unlike the characters in Influence, Lilia never changed under the spotlight—at least not in a bad way. Though she has over a million Instagram followers, she's remained unapologetically sweet, honest and drama-free.

Lilia is the girl who invites you to sleep over when you're lonely, who listens to your rants even when they're long and rambling, who brings you a cup of tea when you're totally stressed about school. 

Her followers understand this. Lilia takes the time to get to know her supporters—she asks them how their science exams went or cheers them on when they decide to come out to their families.

And when it comes to her besties, she's not only endlessly loyal but a personal hype squad—giving us the same warm and fuzzy vibes as a cheesy Christmas movie and a mug of hot cocoa with marshmallows. And isn't that everything we need right now?

Lilia's wasting no time becoming the politically active cinema queen she's always wanted to be. Lately, aside from spending time with Jill and guzzling way too much coffee, Lilia's focused on promoting Influence (which—scoop alert—she's definitely adapting for the big screen) and working on a voting PSA she wrote and directed.

Lilia's comfortable using her voice now, but it wasn't always that way. Struggles with anxiety, sexuality and the pressures of social media fame once threatened to keep her quiet. It was easier to stay uncontroversial and blindly positive.

But in 2018, someone outed her as bisexual to her friends, family...and her whole school ("an awful feeling," Lilia recalls).

That experience taught her how incredibly important it was to speak up. Soon after, she was using her sizable platform to paint the version of a world she wants to see for herself—and for others.

"At that point I was like, well, everyone in my life knows, why don't I just tell the internet?" Lilia remembers. Impulsively, she shot off a tweet: "I need a cute boy or cute girl to hold my hand right now or I might spontaneously combust." 

In the seconds after hitting post, her nerves dissipated as the comments quickly flooded in with support: "Bicon," "queen," "we stan," "I love this tweet and you."

"It was just a tweet," Lilia reflects, "but it really helped me reclaim my story. I was like, nobody else is going to tell it for me. Not anymore." 

Now, followers message Lilia all the time about how her coming out inspired them to do the same. "Seeing those stories is the reason that I know I made the right choice to speak out," she says, offering a piece of advice for young people still figuring out their sexuality: "Don't put too much pressure on yourself to fit a label, and don't be afraid of where your heart is going to take you. Wherever it goes, it's valid."

The more her followers encourage her, the more Lilia feels comfortable opening up about other things, like her relationship with Jill (who's also a wildly talented actress and singer. Power couple alert!).

She's taken her activism to her art: "I remember getting to push for that lesbian storyline," Lilia shares of her behind-the-scenes production debut on Brat TV's Crown Lake. "Seeing it come true onscreen was a feeling I'd never had before. It was so exciting." 

Her posts have gotten way more political, too. "Seventy-five percent of my posts on Instagram are activism, because it's getting harder and harder to turn a blind eye," she says.


A post shared by lilia buckingham (@lilia)

Lilia's friend group has historically stayed pretty quiet on big issues like feminism, racial justice and LGBTQIA+ rights. But now, that's changing.

"After I came out, I thought, what else can I do with my platform? Then I saw more of my friends opening up about politics, too," she reveals. "We're getting to this poinit where we're talking publicly about things we care about, because we're unafraid of the consequences. We used to have this fear of talking about controversial things, like 'Oh, it might take away jobs. It might make me look like this or that.' But a lot of us are realizing those things don't matter as much as helping people."

Almost 18, Lilia's on the precipice of her future. She's busy ("I have some things in the works that would seriously change my life," she says, unable to stop a smile from coming across her face)—but she's not too busy to comment something sweet on your latest post, listen to your problems or apologize and ask for clarity when she's done something wrong.

"As teenagers, we mess up and make mistakes and do dumb things, but we aren't afraid to learn," she says.

Often, Lilia's followers will point out if she's used a non-inclusive word or has misunderstood a social justice concept.

"And I think that's awesome," she says. "Even though our followers are learning from us, we're also learning from them." 

Does the pressure ever get to her? Of course. "I wish I could say I knew how to cope with my anxiety all the time, but every day I find a new struggle to deal with," she admits. "I think the thing I had to learn was, it's OK not to be this perfect, cheery person all the time. And when you lean on friends, family or a therapist, you allow your mental capacity to relax."

Don't be afraid of therapy, Lilia presses. "Whenever I've felt like my anxiety was never going to go away, my therapist always told me, 'It's bad now, but it'll be better then.' Now, whenever I'm sad or anxious, I remember all the times when I thought it was going to last forever, and then all the lovely times I've had since."

Lovely times. Borrowing sweatshirts from Jules, celebrating an exciting career milestone, sharing a sweet moment with Jill. She's self-disciplined yet idealistic. "Sometimes I'm like, ahhh, why did I choose this career?" Lilia reflects. "Because everything's so up in the air. But I'm so hopeful for the future. Things just keep getting better and better."

Lilia's big dream is to make movies about the issues she cares about, like social justice and LGBTQIA+ themes. "I want to tell authentic stories, and part of those stories includes sexuality and the fluidity of it," she says, adding that she hopes to become the next Reese Witherspoon or Margot Robbie.

You can't help but smile, too, excited for what's to come. For Lilia, for her besties, for your generation. When people enter Lilia's life, they become a little more hopeful, a little kinder, a little more accepting and less afraid to say what they believe. They begin to use their feeds for much more than aesthetics—to take a stand for those who can't and find the projects that make them tick.

And Lilia's there to cheer them on.

Check out behind-the-scenes moments of our cover shoot with Lilia on TikTok @girlslifemag

Hey, girl! Just wanted to let you know that this story originally ran in our December/January 2021 issue. Want more? Read the print mag for free *today* when you click HERE.

Credits: Photographed by Sean Scheidt. Styled by Lo VonRumpf. Makeup by Elie Maalouf for Cloutier Remix. Hair by Gui Schoedler for Exclusive Artists using Kevin Murphy. Story edited for digital coverage by Katherine Hammer. 


by Amanda Montell | 1/5/2021