It all started back when I was about eight years old. We had cheerleader tryouts for junior league football. My older sister and I were so excited! We both tried out– she made the cut– I didn’t. However, I was offered the chance to be the team mascot. A lion! I was going to be considered a good luck charm for the team! The next best thing… to a cheerleader.
Thus started my long, confusing and uphill quest to become an actress, being cast and stereotyped in everything I auditioned for– as the next best thing to a lead female role. Or the next NEXT best thing. Or sometimes, nowhere near the next best thing, but more like the very back row on the end of a stage with a paper bag over my head… but in my mind, I was still equally important to every single lead I was supporting.
You’re familiar with the term “Always The Bridesmaid Never The Bride,” yes? If you look (or don’t look) a certain way, this very same thing can be said for how the industry typecasts you.
Lemme break down my unconventional looks for you: I have naturally curly dark hair, I’m 5’7”, I’m size 14/16 (depending on the day), plus I haven’t seen Onederland in almost two years (#tbh– as long as I’m healthy– I honestly could give two swags). I carry most of my weight in my boobage area and from the hips down, which makes shopping for any type of shirt or pants in a straight size fashion world super fun(!); and although I work out on a regular basis, I have never had, nor wanted, six-pack abs. Sometimes I’m asked if I am of mixed ethnicity (I am Caucasian) and one of my first agents I had right out of conservatory training would only send me out on auditions for African American roles. She didn’t think I would be “believable” as a white person. #WhatTheF*#?!
Now, lemme break down LaLa-Land’s take on what actresses should look like: Hollywood has been notorious for rigidly setting “beauty standards” in our culture since the first female glided across a silent silver screen (see Mary Pickford, among others). From the very beginning we have been given the message via film/tv/media that if you want to “have it all” you best be petite, blond, fair-skinned and young (with the ability to wear high heels and tight clothes ridiculously well), regardless if you are a doctor, lawyer, wife, mother, scientist, stranded on an island, or a superhero.
Fortunately, 2015-Hollywood seems to be making baby steps in the right direction by casting different looks and races in empowering roles… but– please!– let’s not get distracted by the very few actresses who are getting this type of work. For every Melissa, Viola and Kathy who break through this shallow, image-is-everything-ceiling with a meaty, nuanced role there are literally thousands of other actresses who are NOT allowed this leeway to stray from the Charlize, Angelina, Jennifer “model” that rules tinsel town. Sure, all of these aforementioned women have proven to be exceptional in both skills and talent– but LOOKS still have a disproportionate sway over who gets to play what. In other words… we still have a long ways to go.
BUT DON’T DESPAIR!! This all leads to why I couldn’t be happier that I don’t fit into a box that Hollywood so desperately wishes to squeeze me into. Through many trials, struggles, heartaches, disappointments, frustrations and rejections of what the industry has attempted to condition me to “think” I should look like, I can see now that Hollywood has done me a huge favor! Why do I say this? Because Hollywood forced me OUT OF THE TROPE BOX… and into creating my own projects.
I realized that I didn’t want to keep feeding the masses the lie that my type is somehow unacceptable, unattractive, unintelligent, lazy, unsuccessful or gluttonous. I came to the epiphany that inverting the “same old story” and flipping the script(s) was the only way to truly make significant change in this industry (for me, sure, but for others, too!). I want to show the world that my type (along with hundreds of other non-traditional types, shapes, sizes and races) can be seen in every role that streams across our screens. We can all be anything and anybody we wish to be, we just have to create it and SHOW it.
These days when I wear my actress hat I am super selective on what I submit for outside of my own projects. I spend most of my time creating, writing and game planning on what my professional future is going to look like. With each new role I create, I am punching mean ugly trope trolls in the face, racing through the Hollywood hallways and tearing down the paint by numbers posters of what they say we represent based on our looks.
And you know what’s awesome? Not all of Hollywood is this way, anymore. A couple years ago I did eventually get cast as a cheerleader in a really cool music video by a super dope up and coming director and band that “gets” that it is WAY better to celebrate diversity and go against type, than it is to just fall in line with everyone else.
I say if you can’t beat them… DON’T join them. Take it upon yourself to break down the stereotypes and be the change in how we are all seen.