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When I Stopped Being Pretty

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Silvana Do us both a favor – don’t spaz out about the title. This is not a post where I talk about how I live in a world where appearances don’t matter (humans are judgmental by nature – for better or worse), or about how the entertainment industry should open their scope of beauty (thanks to the internet, our first impression is usually our photo), or how advertisers need to back off and let women just age already (botox and wrinkle creams wouldn’t sell so well if they didn’t work). All those things are true, but let’s be real: those are very big battles that require many more voices than my own. I’m interested in speaking on only what I am an expert of: my own experience, my own journey, and my own growth.

It’s no secret that Los Angeles is the land of the genetic and surgically gifted –high cheekbones, great skin, perfect teeth, cellulite-free thighs. It’s an endless parade of unattainable beauty that somehow seems effortlessly attained by everyone.

I was a 21-yr old BABY when I first moved here: still in my final semester of college, I was unable be taken seriously by actual adults at cocktail party or even rent my own car. Without a tight grasp on my adult identity and values, LA’s knack of rewarding the beautiful people seduced me quickly. I worked in trendy Hollywood bars and as a beer promo girl. I spent a lot of time obsessing about my size-4 waist and not-yet-wrinkled skin. I chose the headshot with the biggest smile and the thinnest looking face and still insisted on photoshopping it. I got an agent who sent me on auditions for “hot girl” and “college cutie”. Every single day felt like a beauty contest that I absolutely had to participate in if I wanted to succeed.

Growing up, I knew exactly who I was and what I wanted. I was an overachieving, field-trip attending, exhaustingly sarcastic theater and orchestra dork. I thrived in that world. I was accepted to my first choice college, and graduated with a Theater degree in Acting and Stage Management. I studied hard! I set goals! I had a strong sense of self! And yet…the moment I got to LA, all this went out the window. My focus instantly turned to being the thinnest, prettiest, most pleasant version of myself. When I went to auditions I was so preoccupied by not upsetting anyone that I totally sucked at booking the job. I always wore full hair and makeup regardless of the description, and smiled as big as humanly possible. I wanted to offend no one and please everyone.

I was as green as they come. I was very certain that the road to succeeding in acting – a business where you must emote, empathize, realize and experience things as fully as you possibly can– was paved by displays of friendly, middle-of-the-road, attractive, pleasant behaviors.

After a few years of pounding my head against this ‘pretty girl’ wall, I realized something very important: I had become one of many interchangeable 20-something dreamers in this city. I traded my joie-de-vivre for a cookie-cutter version of myself because I thought it was the only way to compete. It never occurred to me that booking a job as MYSELF was even possible – to allow myself to be ugly, raw, vulnerable, or intense might actually have merit. I saw only beautiful people everywhere I looked, and I decided that those were the qualities that I had to possess above all other things.

Luckily, I broke up with my first agent. I started taking comedic improv classes, and graduated into a regular performer at iO West. I completed a 2-year Meisner program that stretched me emotionally and gave me confidence to bare my soul. I took audition technique classes that de-mystified what the hell was happening in that magical room. I reclaimed the wit, grit, and charm that got me through the first 21 years of life. I grew up in NEW JERSEY, for Christ sake. I could do this! For the first time since moving to the City of Angels, I measured my self-worth in accomplishments -not appearances.

Slowly but surely, things have turned around. I signed with an agent who sends me out for “funny, approachable girlfriend” and “quirky creative type” and “adventurous hipster”. I now understand that not every audition requires you to look your absolute hottest, and that risking ‘ugly’ can be absolutely beautiful. I lean on my instincts and training, not on the dim idea that an audition is a contest of pleasantries. I know what I have to offer, and I’m comfortable with what I don’t. I’m not afraid to be a human being, with twists and turns of her own, because here is the truth that I missed during those early years: the compelling, amazing, watchable part of acting is seeing the HUMAN on the screen.

As a result, I have booked more work in the last year and a half than I did in the first four years of living in LA. I now leave the single goal of looking gorgeous to the many beautiful women that literally are models for a living (and hats off to you gals, cus that shit is exhausting).

So? Embrace what you ACTUALLY are. Keep your eyes on your own paper and work your ass off in more places than just the gym. Know there is so much work out there for all of us to book, and the best way to let that goal happen is release your tight grip on the unattainable. As seductive as it is to start following the beat of the Playboy Mansion party drum, the truth is this: a very small sliver of reality is represented, even in this weirdo city filled with beauties.

Better yet, celebrate that ish! Are you a petite woman with a peculiar speech pattern? Congratulations! There’s a parade of Comicon-type co-stars and dead-pan commercial campaigns with your name on them. Are you 5’11, weigh 100lbs and have naturally angelic looks? Congratulations! You have a bunch of smoking hot print ads to shoot and Hollywood nightclubs to attend. Are you ethnically ambiguous, own a pit bull, and cut your own hair? Congratulations! You are going to crush every music video audition you go on, and receive crowd-funding for your indie film with ease!

Do not waste any of your precious life trying to fit in, or revamp, or polish up. Show who you are, drop what you’re not, and know that it truly, simply, totally is enough.

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About Silvana Gargione

Silvana Gargione is a New Jersey-born, Emerson College-educated, and Meisner-trained actor and comedic improviser. She is also a walking stereotype - a 1st generation Italian-American, she grew up working in her family's restaurant and convincing everyone that her family wasn't in the mafia (seriously though, they're not). In June 2012, she authored and published her first non-fiction children's book about the 1000 islands region of upstate New York, St Lawrence ABCs. Silvana has been involved in a variety of independent projects, as well as generously contributes her legit chops to the advancement of America's commerce (see: books commercials on the regular). She keeps a large vegetable garden year-round, and can pickle, saute, roast, or stew anything she grows. Her religion is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.