Editor’s note: a number of months ago I read the following article on Aedra’s blog and I asked her permission to repost it here on Ms. In The Biz. The reason that I feel this article is valuable for our community is to show that sometimes it’s important to walk away. This industry is full of good and bad. It’s important to me that we give a voice to all sides and all experiences.
I haven’t talked much about my experience in the TV and Film industry since I’ve separated myself from it. Only now, 7 months after moving away from LA, can I begin to talk about it without a break down. I remember talking to my therapist about certain experiences, a month or two after moving, and not even being able to fully express myself because I was sobbing so hard I could barely speak. Now I can speak. This may all come off as bitter, so I should mention that I had some amazing moments working in the industry, I’m just not going to talk about them right now. Instead I’m going to share what scarred me the most: the loss of my self-esteem.
It seems that everyone in LA is gorgeous and thin (like really thin), with perfect skin and flawless hair. Now, I rarely compare my physique to others and I’ve never put much effort in my appearance. Yes, I exercise, but that’s so I feel great, not to lose weight. And even when I moved to LA I didn’t feel the need to compare myself, mostly because I was in a different “category”, I wasn’t going for the role of the leading lady; I was playing teenagers, and quirky gals, and nerdy ladies, and “hipsters”. My short hair and ethnic ambiguity put me in a category where I could just be me, and that was okay, in fact that’s what they wanted -me. Great, nothing to worry about. But then shit went down… I started having health issues and a lot of things changed; I couldn’t work out as much because getting out of bed was hard, my skin broke out until I had teenage grade-A acne, I lost a bunch of eyelashes, I gained weight… Yes, this seems like it is mostly internal and not industry related, but to make matters worse I had some self-esteem killing moments working on different sets. With the mix of my personal issues and the push of the industry I managed to lose myself. I didn’t know whose body I was in and I lost confidence in the way I looked. In fact I hated my body. I was so angry that it was betraying me.
Here are a few of those esteem-breaking moments:
I was in the make up chair getting ready to shoot a commercial when one of the producers comes into the trailer and starts pointing to my zitty chin and asking me “what happened?!”, and then starts to speak to the makeup artist angrily in Japanese. I had no answer. Simply “I don’t know”, because I didn’t. If I knew what was causing these breakouts, then I would have made them go away by now. I felt tears welling up on the inside and I did all I could to keep them from showing. I saw the apologetic but frustrated face of the makeup artist; she was trying so hard to cover it up, but didn’t feel successful in the feat. They picked me to do this job, but they didn’t want me, they needed to cover me, to hide me. This type of situation happened to me at least 3 times. And I wanted to scream “IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THE WAY I LOOK THEN WHY DID YOU HIRE ME!!??”. But I kept my mouth shut, because that’s what you do.
I was working on a smaller project and the producer had a problem with me eating (there is usually food provided on set), he would make comments about it and how I shouldn’t eat too much, or if he saw me eating he would suddenly need me to be doing something else. Basically his actions made me feel like I couldn’t take care of my body the way I wanted to. It made me feel like I didn’t have control of myself, I was a pawn in someone else’s game, and respect for me was an un-offered commodity.
At almost every single audition you are asked for all of your measurements, and some productions won’t even see you if you’re “too heavy”. This is coming from a “normal” sized person; even at my heaviest I was never more than 130 pounds, at 5’4”.
Situations like this damaged my self-esteem. I stopped loving myself, I thought I was too fat and too ugly. And I was neither. I can see that now. A few days ago I was watching a video of me doing yoga in my underwear, and darn it all, I looked great, but I couldn’t see that then. Other people’s comments had been shoved so far into my mind that my judgment was clouded…
I miss a lot about working in the TV and film world, but I sure as hell don’t miss hating my body because I took other people’s remarks and actions to heart. Whenever someone asks me if I plan to get back into film these experiences come to mind, and I wonder about the type of people with whom I want to surround myself. I know that I don’t want to be around people who can’t let go of my lack of Twitter followers, and can’t help but make distasteful comments on my appearance. I acted because I love the art; I got hired because I’m good at it, but I can’t sacrifice respect for myself to be in front of the camera. In the end we have to be able to live with ourselves, so if I go back I would have to do it on my own terms. The world deserves to see real people on screen, not made-up, covered-up artists, whose appearance has been selected over their skill.
I feel a lot more beautiful now that I’m surrounded by people who value me, no matter what I look like on the outside.