For our final project in a Theater class we were required to perform our audition pieces in front of a panel. Later we got our notes back. One of them (the responses were anonymous) wrote this in the appearance category:
“Mieko is a beautiful young woman. Her looks could potentially be a great asset to her- if she wants to succeed, she needs to take this seriously and take control, before she starts auditioning.”
Oh, how little he* knows the lives of women.
In this country- in many many countries- a woman’s place in society relies heavily upon her appearance. Studies show it affects our grades, our pay, our choice of romantic partners, and how we are treated in general. According to victim-blaming types, it even affects our physical safety.
Because of this, we are trained from a very young age to take our looks very seriously. We receive dolls with instructions to groom and dress them. We are told to buy the latest clothes, shampoo, makeup, surgery, or diet plan to “correct” ourselves. We see photos of celebrities on newsstands everywhere whose lives and careers have improved dramatically once they lost the weight (and got shapewear and photoshop).
Oh how much happier and successful at life we are now that we are thin and have silky hair and perfect skin! They say, and we believe them. Because who doesn’t want to be happier and more successful?
So we starve ourselves, spend our money on beauty enhancers, exercise not for strength but sleekness, worry ourselves into binge/purge cycles, or just stand there, in front of the mirror, trying to guilt ourselves perfect.
In this country, over 40 billion dollars- roughly the equivalent of the federal education budget- is spent on diet related products. 40% of American women are trying to lose weight at any given time. Among first to third-grade girls, 42% expressed a desire to be thinner.
According to the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination, young girls are more afraid of being fat than of war, cancer, or losing their parents. In another study, most of the female college participants said instead of being fat they would rather be mean, stupid, or hit by a truck.
And these are only the statistics on weight.
OF COURSE, I take my looks seriously. In a climate like this it would take a superhuman effort not to.
There is a mirror in my bedroom, in the bathroom, in the acting studio. There are ads everywhere. Every time I look at myself or another woman my training kicks in to analyze and compare. I wish I looked different, I think, my imagination shaving bits off my arms, legs, and stomach. Smaller. Thinner. Tighter. I’d be perfect. I pinch and poke myself almost daily, tallying my flaws. I call myself good or bad based on what I eat or how often I’ve worked out. Sometimes I cry in frustration, knowing that there are things about my body that will never change, no matter how “seriously” I take them.**
Control? The desire to control my body threatens to control me every single day.
I know very well going into the world of acting means my appearance will be scrutinized more than most. I know I’m expected to trade upon my looks. I’m not stupid- I can see I don’t have an audition-worthy body. But I’ve also read about eating disorders, weight scandals, and obsessive beauty regimes and how they can easily consume an actor’s life. And I don’t want that. I want to fight the system that makes me feel this way, not buy into it.
I want to be like America Ferrera.
The star of Real Women Have Curves, Ugly Betty, and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is beautiful and successful because of her body, not in spite of it as many in this image-obsessed country would have us believe. She’s talented, and confident, and doesn’t give a damn about losing XYZ pounds in order to get work.
“I was never told to lose 50 pounds, If they think that they just don’t bother with you. You just don’t get the role and you never know why. That’s still better than physically harming yourself and becoming unhealthy just to star in a movie.”
I’m not usually one for fan-worship, but as a fellow Latina with a larger body***, she’s my role model; an inspiration to others who want challenging and fulfilling careers without sacrificing their physical or emotional health to the industry-standard. She’s healthy, happy, and doing good work. I want a life like that.
“It’s so reassuring to have a woman heroine who triumphs with more than just what she has on the outside… who has more to offer the world than just a pretty picture. To me, the tragedy about this whole image-obsessed society is that young girls get so caught up in just achieving that they forget to realize that they have so much more to offer the world.”
She’s right. We do have so much more to offer. Let’s get serious about that.
*I’m pretty sure I know who this is.
**Don’t even get me started on hair. That would get you into an entire post on race and beauty regarding hair texture alone, and neither of us wants that.
*** Lemme’ lay my size-privilege on the table: while I don’t have the “ideal” female body I don’t face nearly the discrimination many others do. By fashion industry (for example) standards I’d be plus size, which is still smaller and more accepted than most of the US population.