What I learned in acting school is that my body was a problem.
I was told to lose 40lbs or gain 40lbs because I just wasn’t castable at my current human weight.
I was told I wouldn’t work “until Kathy Bates died”.
I was told to keep writing, because there wouldn’t be roles for my body until I was in my 50’s.
A guest artist came to speak to us, made a point to show and note how thin all the women’s bodies on TV were, and how that was the expectation if we intended to be on screen.
One teacher told my class that “none of us were good-looking enough to be on ABC, NBC or CBS.”
Once an instructor set up a private meeting; they needed to speak with me. It all felt very serious and hushed. When we met, they told me that it was clear–that I hate myself. When I scoffed, they said, “I mean…surely you must”. They gestured to my body, moved their hand up and down. “Surely you must.” Surely I must. Right? I thought a lot about that.
I thought about whether or not I hate myself while I spent 3 hours on the elliptical, eating only 800 calories in cheerios that day. I thought about it when my weight loss was praised in classes. I thought about it when I gained it all back when I still wasn’t landing the dream roles. I thought about it when I saw the costuming for Chicago or Guys and Dolls or any show with scantily clad women who did not look like me. And now, many years later, every time an offhand comment is made about my body or something is said that reinforces my wrong-ness, I think about that again. Surely, I must hate myself….
Although we have come a long way in the representation of women’s bodies, it is still ingrained in us, the expectation to hate ourselves. Recently, a friend posted that her online ads featured a thin fitness model. The comments screamed, “Eat a sandwich! She’s too skinny!”
As a plus-sized human, my ads often feature other plus-sized humans, doing wild things—like, daring to wear underpants, or working out, or smiling. The comments yell, “LOL disgusting no one wants to see this”.
So we cannot be small. We cannot be large. We cannot be any size or shape or weight without judgment or hatred. You cannot be too muscular, you can not lack muscle. Your hips and your chest and your butt must all be just so–but also are somehow always still wrong. You cannot wear too little or too much makeup. You cannot be your height, your weight, your complexion, your skin tone, your gender expression, your natural hair. Every piece of you is wrong, and when you’re in the spotlight–everyone is ready to discuss it.
At some point, I knew that I didn’t want to be an actor. This played a part, I’m sure. But when I revisited theatre, knowing that I wasn’t done with it, I had to ask myself…what happened? What did I even love about it to begin with?
When I was a child, I was big. Frizzy. Pale. I had acne before anyone else had acne. I tried various sports and clubs and activities and friend groups, and in all those places I could feel that I took up too much space. I heard whispers. I got teased–badly. I felt lost. And then my parents signed me up for a drama camp.
And oh! Drama camp was everything. A beautiful collection of children, so different from each other. So many faces and voices and bodies and skills! And the instructors made us each feel individual and talented and respected and loved by them. And we loved each other too. And each experience I had in a theatre class or theatre camp during my childhood was that same vibe. Supportive, fun, risk-taking, encouragement. I was myself, and I was loved.
So where’s the transition? How is theatre a place that is lauded as so inclusive and welcoming for children of all bodies and backgrounds and skills and genders and sexualities? And then at some point, it turns ugly. We are pitted against each other and made to battle.
Sure, things are a bit better now.
But…better than what? Yeah okay, let’s celebrate that we’ve come a long way. And let’s also acknowledge that that is not enough.
But you? You are enough. It’s trite and I don’t care. You’re enough. Your body is enough. Just as it is, right now. And if you have a dream to lose weight, gain weight, add muscle, smooth wrinkles, dye your hair, shave your legs, stop shaving your legs, cover that tattoo, or even just shower a little later today–your body is still a blood-pumping home for you, right now, in this moment. And hey, if it doesn’t feel right to you? If this body doesn’t seem right? You want to make changes for your own self? Okay. But that’s not someone else’s call to make. Your body’s right-ness is not at the discretion of a casting director or a bad teacher or the comment section on an internet ad.
You don’t have to be your version of ideal to be a person worthy of respect, kindness, and creating art. Your body exists as it is right now. Whatever it is capable of, however it appears, it is the only one you have in this moment. And if you can’t love it, then I’ll love it for you if you want.
But don’t let someone else tell you to hate it. Don’t feel that you need to change it to have an edge. Because your humanity, your YOU-ness, your ability to care about yourself…it’s worth more than a potential edge at beating out someone else, who is also likely having many of the same feelings as you.
Be a champion for all bodies. Welcome seeing casts that represent all types, sizes, abilities, races, genders. Be happy for those who’ve found self-love and have empathy for those who are working on it. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Don’t compare other people to you. Extend kindness to yourself in the way that you would to others. And trust that any theatrical rejection was not the role or job for you.
When I was a kid, theatre was a place of affirmation and inclusion of all the people I worked with. And…that’s the only kind of theatre I want a part of now, too.
Maybe we’ll get there. In the meantime…your body is not the problem.