As if carrying Disney Channel’s sitcom Jessie wasn’t enough, Debby Ryan has taken on another role: philanthropist. On her hit show, Ryan plays an 18-year-old Texan who fulfills her dream of moving to New York by becoming a nanny. But in real life, her aspirations have taken her as far as India. As an ambassador for Disney’s Friends for Change, the bubbly 19-year-old Southern belle traveled to Udaipur, where she focused her humanitarian efforts on bringing positive changes to the community and youth. “It was amazing and definitely the most beautiful thing I’ve ever done; it was such a dream come true for me in so many ways,” says Ryan, who filled her days bonding with the local children over games of patty-cake and trips to the water well.
In the months before the "absolutely culture shocking" trip, the actress-turned-advocate educated herself about the region’s issues. “Education, clean water, alternative businesses and healthcare all form together to rebuild the community and help break the cycle of poverty. I believe in kids and my generation and the fact that we were able to help kids just like me but in a completely different culture was incredibly inspiring,” she says.
“My biggest take-away is the beauty and the joy of simplicity. I saw people who had very little, by Western standards nothing, and they were so happy to just be in a sense of community and to just celebrate us coming to the village, not because I was on TV, not because we were American, not because we were wealthy or anything, but because we were friends.”
Ryan is already planning her next trip back. “I realized that at the end of the day, living your dream and doing what I do is beautiful and completely fine and well, as long as it’s also impacting people for the better," she says. "Whether that means the 30 people I go to work with, the millions who watch my show or 100 people in a village in India, I just want to be able to make a difference.”
We asked Ryan to take a break from her do-gooder efforts and crazy-long work hours to talk about something a little less intense. Fashion!
Lucky: What stood out to you about women’s style in India?
It’s so funny because I have been on the Disney Channel for four years and so I’ve seen my fair share of people dressed in primary colors. Yet going there and seeing that they don’t have running water, but they get themselves in four different colors of an embroidered, beautiful sari was incredible. And I loved the bright colors and the armful of bracelets. I used to only wear bracelets on one arm and was very asymmetrical with my jewelry, but they would wear matching bracelets on each arm or matching anklets. I was really interested in that. But what was really interesting was their traditional Indian style, which I went with, the hot pinks and the whole thing, and mixing that with the modern Indian girl balloony dropped-crotch pants which was really cool.
How would you describe your sense of style?
Classic, definitely classic. There’s a Marilyn Monroe quote: “Clothes should be tight enough to show you’re a woman, but loose enough to show you’re a lady.” And I love that quote because I am at the point where I’m definitely more mature, but I never want to grow up too quickly. I want to show that that I’m growing up or maturing without taking my clothes off, which a lot of people do. I do it by picking more classic pieces and more sophisticated necklines and different materials. I also dress for my shape, which is a hard thing to learn.
What are some of your favorite brands and designers?
I’m a huge Tory Burch fan. I started gravitating more towards Tory Burch actually after India because she always has something a bit natural or a bit earthy or tribal in her look, which I think is really cool. For my classic side, of course there’s Chanel. I love Celine. I love Balenciaga. I like Sam Edelman just for really good basic flats and JBrand jeans, for the way that they fit. I’m into Timo Weiland who is this New York duo and I think their stuff is amazing. My really casual work-day uniform is a pair of black JBrands and a Joe’s Chambray shirt buttoned up, a little tucked in with a solid belt and a good wedge.
What are some of your favorite pieces in your wardrobe?
I have a silk Equipment button-up that I love—it’s a really, really good staple. And I have these Tory Burch camel booties. I have a peplum top, which is amazing and obviously super hip for this season. But I’m loving silver staples. Silver really came back in on the runways which was really exciting to me because I’m a huge silver fan. I love wearing my grandma’s old rings or raiding my mom’s or my aunt’s jewelry box. I always have two hands just full of rings and actually ever since I was like in eighth grade, I’ve had these tiny, itty-bitty little fingers so I mainly just buy baby rings and like I’ll wear them above my knuckle.
What hair and makeup items do you swear by?
I love Falsies mascara. And I love L’Oreal Sublime Sun, it’s like spray. It’s like silk, you just put it on your skin and it’s gorgeous. And it also has a huge SPF which is good because I’m totally in California and I can’t have too much sun. And I love Young Blood Body Glow as well, for after your sun fades, when you still need a bit of a glow. When I was in Australia, I discovered this stuff called papaw and it smells amazing and it has papayas in it and it’s really natural and organic.
Click through the slideshow to see photos of Debby’s time in India and watch her star in Jessie, Fridays on the Disney Channel.
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