Recently I’ve been blogging about some flashbacks to significant parts of my life in regards to my eating and body image and today I’m going to continue that trend. Last week I installed the Timehop app on my phone – which if you’re unfamiliar with, is an app that will go through your social media use (for me it’s Facebook) and will tell you exactly what you posted a year ago, 2 years ago and so on. It’s a harmless, fun little app but it’s also a great memory jogger which allows me to instantly remember how I was feeling, what was going on in my life and maybe most importantly – I’m able to remember what was in store for me next.
I haven’t talked much about my career and experiences as an actor before but it’s come to my attention that it is pretty much exactly 2 years ago where an incident occurred that definitely solidified some nails in the coffin for me for working in the acting industry.
This time 2 years ago I was just about a month binge free. How I felt about myself and my body was still quite raw but obviously I was a much happier being. I remember I had started to do some more exercise as I was in the very, very early stages of trying to feel positive about how I looked and learning to rebuild my self-worth and self-esteem. Although I had applied and been accepted into college to study counselling I still had an agent and was working as an actor.
2 years ago I got a call for an audition; a 2 hour movement workshop audition. For those reading who may not be actors this sentence roughly translates as ‘Oh Fuck No’. I was no different. I knew the company I was going to audition for, I had seen the show I would performing in if I was lucky enough to get the part – it was extremely strenuous and demanded peak fitness. A few years earlier when I was much fitter and weighed less, I would’ve been honoured and thrilled to be asked to audition, but when I did get the call I was filled with complete dread.
I had anxiety until the morning of the audition arrived, I was terrified of making a complete fool of myself, of feeling inferior next to all the super fit and toned actors that were sure to be auditioning beside me, the audition panel wouldn’t be able to conceal their surprise when they saw how I had let my once thin frame go and instead had expanded into something uglier and chunkier. I was going to be completely out of place. I didn’t deserve to be there.
The irony of this whole situation was that after the audition I felt great and incredibly proud of myself because I felt I ended up doing really well! Yes it was tough and physically demanding but I did it, I kept up with everyone else – I actually proved myself wrong by having such little expectation of my own ability therefore I left that audition feeling good, positive and whether I got the part or not didn’t matter too much because at the end of the day I had learned to believe in myself a little more in the future.
A few days later I received a phone call from my agent. I didn’t get the part which was fair enough, it’s a pretty common occurrance working in the industry. However my agent also had some feedback for me which when I think on it now was a odd thing in itself. One because I rarely received a phone call to say I didn’t get a part – the norm for me is when the phone doesn’t ring you can conclude you weren’t successful, however I’m almost definitely sure I never once had a call with feedback – regardless whether it positive or negative.
The feedback was that I didn’t get the part because I wasn’t fit enough. Sure okay, I can deal with that. However my agent then managed to bring the words I had always been dreading and in fear of hearing into reality, they preceded to tell me that I needed to think about getting in shape. I’ll be honest I can’t remember exactly what they said throughout the rest of the limited conversation because I was so distressed and it would be unfair of me to paraphrase something untrue, yet I distinctly remember the getting in shape part.
The reason I can’t quite recall the words spoken is because I was trying so hard to cover the quiver in my voice and the fact that there were tears that were falling down my cheeks that were rapidly becoming uncontrollable.
What they had told me was one of my worst nightmares. I was waiting for the day I would be told I was too fat to get the role, that I didn’t look right, or that my body wasn’t thin enough. I felt I was pathetic, fat and shameful. I wasn’t worthy to be an actor, actors are all about control and discipline and maintaining your looks exactly so that you always match your headshot perfectly for a casting. Oh the shame and hate I felt for myself when I had to change my weight on my CV and change my body type from slim to medium. I was a loser and had let myself down. Before then at least I could try to convince myself that only I cared or was aware of it, this conversation with my agent proved otherwise.
In fact a year earlier they had come to see me in a theatre show and I was scared because they were going to see I had put on weight. The girl they hired who was a size 8 no longer existed and a part of me knew they would notice instantly. I was terrified they would mention it. I already hated myself enough, I didn’t need any more ammnuition to make those feelings stronger.
When the phone called ended I cried and I cried and I cried. I felt like I wouldn’t ever be able to stop. I was in the early phases of recovery from my eating disorder, just learning how to feel better about myself and here came this massive punch to my face and my soul. The tears maybe would stifle for a minute and then I would start again. The only thing that made them stop was writing a letter to my agent requesting that my contract be immediately terminated and for them to never contact me again.
Once I had printed that letter, even though I was still angry and upset, I felt a huge relief and weight off my shoulders. In all honesty I was never happy with that particular agency, I knew I had to get rid of them and this incident was the best kick up the butt I received to get the guts to do it. Soon I was going to be free. Yes it’s scary and disconcerting to be an actor who is agentless but it’s far better than someone who makes you feel miserable and weak.
There was also another amazing positive thing that came out of this incident – the support of other people. In true modern time style, in the heat of the moment I did post a rant on Facebook which I later took down. However in those short couple of hours I received multiple incredibly sweet, kind, caring messages who were equally outraged as I about the whole thing and I will be forever grateful to those who took the time to counteract how awful I felt. It was beautifully heart warming and it taught me an important lesson.
Every day I was walking around deciding what other people were thinking of me. I knew they were judging me, actors are all competitive and I knew they’d take delight in thinking ‘look at the state of her’, ‘she’s put on weight’, ‘she’s let herself go’, ‘she’s got fat’, ‘she used to be prettier’ etc. etc. Everything was negative and everything was about my appearance. I was too busy projecting my thoughts into their consciousness that it never occurred to me that what I was doing was absurd. I was almost beginning to dislike other people because I was imagining what they would be thinking about me. My self-loathing was so exaggerated I just assumed everyone else was joining in the hate.
What I learnt was that it wasn’t true, other people’s perceptions of me weren’t cruel in nature but instead positive and complimentary. My own inner critic didn’t belong in anyone else’s head because mostly what it was spouting was just nonsense anyway. It was me that had to change my perceptions – no one else, plus I will never, ever know what someone is thinking so why am I wasting my time and positive energy worrying about what someone may think of me? How I feel about myself is the most important thing, not the approval of others and I think that’s a big reason why I have taken a step back from acting industry. It wasn’t good for my mental health and even now it can still trigger negative feelings within me which is something I’ll address in a later post.
For now, even though acting will remain one of biggest passions and I have never felt more alive sometimes than I have on stage, at this moment in time I am the happiest I have ever been and I am definitely the most positive. People may question why I have taken a step back or put it down to ‘not wanting it enough’ but for me it’s obvious. Even though there are great, fantastic things you can achieve when working as an actor, there were also very negative aspects that affected me harshly. I’m not going to compromise my mental health any more and certainly not put up with people who think it’s their right to comment on my body shape. My body is mine and it will be however I want it – not how an acting role dictates it to be.