Mirror Mirror On the Wall

I have a confession: I am another young woman with body image issues.  There are parts of me of which I am pretty self-conscious.  I think my face looks weird in profile.  When I wear my hair up, I have a Widow’s Peak that, to me, looks like Eddie Munster’s hairline.  Some days, I hate how round my face looks in pictures because of my German ancestry.  At auditions, I always hate feeling like the lone Amazonian woman, believing that I can will my 5’10” frame into a 5’5” one.  My feet look a bit worse for wear from years of being put through dance classes (including pointe for a few years).  And don’t even get me started on my midsection.  Actually, don’t get ANY woman started on her midsection, because you will never, and I mean NEVER, hear the end of it.

But guess what?  The only person who sees these flaws is me.  And the only person who sees your flaws is you.  You may think society is telling you that you need flatter abs to attract a Bradley Cooper-esque man in your life, but it’s really just a bunch of magazines that are given money to help promote a bunch of people and products, which in turn, help them stay in publication and in your supermarket aisles.  Basically, these magazines have to keep telling you that you aren’t perfect so you’ll keep buying them for their tips and tricks.  That’s how they stay in business: by putting you, their consumers, down (albeit in a roundabout way like, “This diet is SO easy!  Lose those 5 extra pounds fast and look pretty for summer!”) so they can build you back up again.  It’s a never-ending cycle of self-loathing and self-love, and frankly, it has to stop.

Now you can pair Jen Aniston's abs with her "Rachel" haircut!

Now you can pair Jen Aniston’s abs with her “Rachel” haircut!

Once, I mentioned to my best friend, Hassan, that I hated my profile.  He just laughed and said, “What?  You’re crazy.  You have this cute, little button nose that makes people just want to touch it!”  And then he did.  “I love your little button nose!”  Another time, I bemoaned what size I had to wear at a certain store and how fat that made me feel, and a girlfriend of mine gave me a pointed look and said, “Are you kidding me?  When you turn to the side, you’re skinnier than me.  I don’t believe that for a second.  You’re ridiculous.”  While best friends are always supposed to make you feel good about yourself, I also trust these people to be honest with me.  When they look at me, they aren’t seeing what I’m seeing.  They’re seeing the bigger picture; the sum of all parts.

I will admit that I am a perfectionist.  I like things a certain way and can always find things which need improvement; I am never satisfied with the end result.  But in this age of self-improvement and health, have we become too focused on the NEED for self-improvement instead of the acceptance of our flaws?  Why do we let our minds have this power over us to tell us that we have to look or act a certain way in order to be accepted by the world?  To look for acceptance in superficial things promises to be a fruitless search.  By placing our happiness in our skewed perceptions of what others think about us, we are producing generation after generation of women (and men too) who are destined for lives of eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and general misery.

Certainly as an actor, I have even more pressure placed on my shoulders to look a specific way, and you’d be surprised how easy it becomes to rationalize not eating this or that or eating at all, working out to extremes, living on solely coffee, smoking cigarettes to curb your appetite, saving your calories for just a night of drinking all for the sake of “your art.”  “Oh I’m going in for this role,” someone will say, “so I won’t be eating for the next 3 days!”  Recently, I was at a friend’s apartment for a gathering, and someone joked that all they were eating was chips and salsa and drinking whiskey to stay skinny, but I knew it wasn’t a joke. I myself am guilty of making such jokes, when in fact, there’s always a kernel of truth in there.  And when we laugh at such statements, we’re actually encouraging this warped kind of thinking; we’re encouraging each other’s body self-loathing.

The new "it" diet of poor actors: chips and salsa

The new “it” diet of poor actors: chips and salsa

I’d like to tell you actors spend more time discussing Shakespeare than protein shakes, Wasserstein than weigh-ins at the doctor, Ibsen instead of inches, but these days, I feel like all I hear is complaints about how our bodies are not good enough for our profession, how no one will hire us because we have a few extra pounds around our midsection or god forbid our inner thighs touch.  We are obsessed with being “jacked” or “snatched” or having this “Broadway body” instead of being obsessed with text and subtext, story and character, truth, objectives, bringing a story to life.  That’s why I got into acting, and yeah, I guess I’m supposed to subscribe to some antiquated standards of what actors “should look like,” but I’d like to believe that my skills and work ethic are what will ultimately keep me working rather than whether or not I let myself eat carbs or do a juice cleanse for two weeks (maybe that sounds naïve, but that’s how I feel).

This is the part where I say something about how inner-beauty is more important and that you need to love yourself and all your flaws.  And yes, I believe all those things, but believing them and living them are two different things.  I thought I loved myself, but truthfully, I didn’t for a very long time.  At age 24 (25 in a just under three months), I am finally starting to accept my body, and that’s only because I’ve finally started to accept all the parts of myself and let go of a lot of the icky things I’ve held onto.  It’s an ongoing mental and physical process every day, and some days it’s easier than others, but I can honestly say that I am happier now than I have ever been.  I journal, I ride my bike, I take dance classes, I spend time with friends.  These are things that keep my body and mind healthy, and I do them because they make me feel good about myself not because they might help me have a Scarlett O’Hara 17-inch waist.  I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know myself the last couple of years, and it’s been hard and scary but also amazing and beautiful.  I’ve cleaned out a lot of cobwebs and really started liking this adult I’m growing into, and when you start taking care of yourself, you start to see incredible changes in your life.  I wasn’t happy – like real, abundant happiness – for a long time, but then I started letting go of doubt and fear and instead started to just trust and have patience.  As those things grew, so has my happiness.  Yes, I will always want to change something about my body, but I don’t let those thoughts have power anymore because I know how much better it feels to let go and be happy; to be loved for my mind and heart and even my Widow’s Peak.  You’re crazy if you think most people care whether or not your inner thighs touch, and if they actually do care, they’re not people worth having in your life.   Trust me.

A 17-inch waist even Kate Moss would clamor for.  As unattainable as a unicorn.

Scarlett O’Hara’s 17-inch waist is as unattainable as a unicorn.

Yes, I’m asking you to love yourself, but not in the clichéd, hollow way so many of those magazines we buy ask you to.  What I’m asking is that we all stop obsessing over things that add no real value to who we are: how much we weigh, whether or not we have six-pack abs, if our clavicle bones stick out enough.  The minute we give these obsessions brain space is the minute they take over everything; they’re Dementors, sucking the joy out of the act of living our lives and doing the things we love.  When ideas take root in the mind, they manifest themselves in our actions whether we realize it or not.  And we let all these warped perceptions of our bodies influence us, we wind up in that endless cycle of self-loathing and self-love I mentioned earlier.  Aren’t you tired of feeling like you’re not good enough for the world just because you don’t look like some Photoshopped magazine cover?  Aren’t you tired of feeling like some slave to your bathroom scale, nerves always frayed because you’re wondering if the number that appears is the one you so desperately desire?  There is always a choice, and you can choose to let yourself be crushed day after day by the weight of these impossible standards of perfection or you can choose to let go.  You can choose to take the power back and put all your energy into your work and friends and family and life.  On your tombstone, after all, the only numbers that are displayed are the years you lived, not the ones that clung to your body.

I know what it’s like to not be happy in your skin.  I know how it feels to stress about whether or not you can fit into single-digit clothing.  I understand looking in the mirror and only seeing what’s wrong and flawed.  I have struggled (and sometimes still do) with whether or not it’s okay to eat certain things.  But I also know that when someone puts their arm around me, they’re not checking my BMI (body mass index), they just want to show affection.  I know that all the times I have laughed the hardest or loved the most, I wasn’t worrying about how I looked and neither was anyone else; what mattered was how I felt.  That sheer, unbridled joy means more to me than any pants size ever could, and I don’t know about you, but I want more joy in my life…my closet is full enough.

I am another young woman with body image issues, but now my issues are with our images of our own bodies.  Yes, you have flaws and so do I, but I want you to know that I don’t see them any more than you see mine.  Start telling yourself “I love you,” and the rest of the world (including your mirror) will follow for love always begets love.

“Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,
I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands,
Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners,
troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you,
Your true soul and body appear before me.
They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work,
farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking,
suffering, dying.
Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem,
I whisper with my lips close to your ear.
I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.”

—Excerpt from “To You” by Walt Whitman


11: The Day After

Yesterday was supposed to be the end of the world.  As if me writing this doesn’t confirm it already, we’re all still here.  Nothing happened.  There were no earthquakes; no burning rain of death.  In fact, the sun shone brightly all day here yesterday without a cloud in the sky.  On such a beautiful day, it’s hard to even fathom the thought of anything bad happening, let alone the end of the world.  So yesterday passed without a single event of any importance, and when I woke up this morning, I felt more refreshed than ever.

Makes me feel both amused and also sad for those poor people who spent all that money on such a ridiculous cause and its leader, but this isn’t the first time in history a bunch of people have been duped into believing such egregious things (see Hitler and Charles Manson among others…not that I’m comparing Harold Camping to either of those men.)

I slept late today after working such a long shift yesterday at the winery, on my feet for a solid eight hours running around the restaurant.  It felt nice to just lie in bed this morning staring at the ceiling.  I actually do most of my best thinking just staring blankly at my stark white bedroom ceiling.

Anyway, after my mother made a lovely brunch (homemade biscuits with jam, scrambled eggs, and bacon…yum!), I received a call from the winery informing me I could have the day off since it looked like rain, and they had enough people.  Instead of doing something semi-productive like cleaning out my room and closets (a task I STILL am kind of avoiding, and I’m sure this avoidance probably has a psychological reason I’m not paying someone to figure out for me), I spent the better part of my day watching season four of Mad Men with my parents.  We wound up watching eight out of the thirteen episodes.  It’s just such a fantastic piece of television: the writing, the design, the acting.  I would kill to work on a project like that.  It really inspires me when I watch it.  I think about how lucky Jon Hamm (a fellow Missourian!) was to land that project.  It was really his big break, and he’s just incredible to watch.  As a young actor, I learn so much from just watching, especially with this show, and seeing those actors make discoveries and change beats and tactics.  Every episode is like taking an acting class.

In other news, I feel fat today.  I know I need to stop obsessing about my weight and image, but every time I put a piece of pizza in my mouth or eat even a bite of dark chocolate, I feel guilty.  When did that happen?  It’s like I can feel the calories adding onto my body and weighing me down.  That’s probably a really unhealthy mental thing, but that’s how I feel now, especially at home.  We eat better here than we used to, but I still feel this pressure to eat more and the meals are not always as balanced as they should be.  I know my mother just wants to make sure I’m taken care of (she’s like Molly Weasley), but I don’t want or need to eat everything on my plate, and I don’t think she or my dad understand how much my eating habits have kind of changed the last year or so.

(Sigh)  It’s just something I’m going to have to communicate to them better, especially when summer means lots of barbecue (which I love, but I just don’t eat a lot of meat anymore) and sweets like pie (which I also love).  The Broadway Body does not just happen on its own overnight, you know?

Enough body talk.

Maybe I just need an Old Fashioned like Don Draper drinks on Mad Men.  After all, the world didn’t end.  I’m entitled to a celebratory drink, don’t you think?

2: “I wanna lose three pounds…”

REGINA: It’s called the South Beach Fat Flush and all you drink is cranberry juice for 72 hours.

AARON: Lemme see that… this isn’t even cranberry juice, it’s cranberry juice cocktail. It’s all sugar.

REGINA: I wanna lose three pounds.

KAREN: Oh my god, you’re so skinny!

REGINA: Shut up.

As anyone who went to high school within the last ten years can tell you, the dialogue above is from the 2004 classic teen movie Mean Girls.  I’ve been thinking a lot about losing weight today, or at least, trimming pounds from my life.  Okay, specifically three areas: my body, my closet, and my hair.

When we think of weight loss, we primarily think of the act of shedding pounds of fat from our bodies through diet and exercise (and hopefully not through eating disorders, which is extremely unhealthy).  As an actor, I’m expected to maintain a certain look and weight that fits with my “type.”  Obviously, there are both healthy, fit examples (Jennifer Garner comes to mind) and unhealthy, scarily thin examples (a good majority of Hollywood).  I have always been a weight-conscious person (as a lot of young women are, unfortunately), and these last few years of college especially, I have been forced to keep constant tabs on my weight through dance department weigh-ins and Broadway workshops where we were essentially told to lose weight and buff up.  It also doesn’t help being inundated with images of rail-thin women on television, in movies, and magazine photo spreads.  I’m an enneagram type 3 (something we’ll discuss another time, I’m sure), and one of our major flaws is an obsession with weight and appearance.  While I’m conscious of this, my main goal is to simply be more fit and toned, and if I lose weight or inches as a result, then cool.  One of my big goals over the summer before I move to New York is to hit the gym 4-5 times a week in order to lay a good physical foundation for myself; a Broadway-ready body, if you will.  I’ve always been tall and thin, but I’m trying to tone up some areas of my body that I feel could use some improvement.  I’ve been hitting the gym pretty consistently this past semester, and I can already see some good results.  I hit the gym at my dad’s university today for an hour, my third straight day of going this week, and successfully burned a lot of calories (in addition to fending off the wandering eyes of the somewhat cute male athletes who like to stare at my ass while I’m on the treadmill…sigh).  I’m going again tomorrow before I spend the evening with my best friend Nicole, simply to lay more groundwork for the physical transformation I’m working towards this summer.

Another area in my life that needs trimming of pounds is my closet and my dresser drawers (something I brought up in the last post, which you can read here).  I started going through a lot of my old clothes today, taking a trip down memory lane with each t-shirt I pulled from my drawers.  Here was the all-state choir shirt from 2007.  There was the old dance recital shirt from 1996.  It was funny at times to see my life as a collection of t-shirts.  Getting rid of so many of these old t-shirts feels like getting rid of my past.  However, it’s something that has to be done…NEEDS to be done, and while sorting through and letting go of the past is never easy, it’s something we all have to do at some point in our lives.

The other area of my life I trimmed today was my hair.  It was kind of the highlight of my day (as lame as that sounds).  I hadn’t got it cut since Christmas break, and it had grown a tremendous amount.  While I didn’t mind the length, it was getting heavy on my neck, because I have thick hair.  I feel like I lost three pounds, and THAT is something of which Regina George would surely approve.

The Skinny on Skinny Celebs

Yesterday as I was scanning MSN, reading the news, I came across a link to a featured article on Newsweek.  The article is entitled Unattainable Beauty: The Decade’s Biggest Airbrushing Scandals. It’s an excellent discussion about our current society’s (and Hollywood’s) obsession with unhealthy body standards and just how far magazines are willing to go to promote these standards.  It also dissects every featured photo, listing each body part that had been photoshopped and what procedure had been used.

Photoshop is nothing new in magazine publishing or Hollywood.  Since the advent of computers, photographers have been using these kinds of programs to get rid of everything from blemishes to weird scars.  Nowadays, however, editors have become even more vulture-ish when it comes to finding and eliminating “flaws,” giving electronic liposuction and boob jobs in an effort to “perfect what must be perfected.”  Through the magic of computers, we’re now able to create superhuman beauties, goddesses, if you will, who have no imperfections whatsoever.  They appear to be so effortlessly beautiful that it almost makes you sick to your stomach every time you look at them: smooth, firm skin, tiny waists, cascading hair, perfect breasts.

Unfortunately, most young women (even some older ones) don’t know the extent of the photoshopping and airbrushing done on the photos of their favorite female celebs.  Teenagers are snapping these magazines up because the cover stories often promise that with a few simple diet or beauty tricks, they too can “look like their favorite cover girls!” Older women too seek the promise of bettering themselves through “secret celebrity diet tips,” but the real secret diet tip is just the click of a computer mouse.

Just a few weeks ago, there was a major media storm about a photo of sultry Mad Men star Christina Hendricks at the Golden Globe Awards.  A fashion blogger for the New York Times  altered the photo to make the curvaceous actress appear even wider to prove a point that “you don’t put a big girl in a big dress.”

The altered photo of Henricks appears on the left, and the original photo appears on the right. Note how the photo on the left appears squished  to make her look wider.  Also note that the colors of the altered photo are distorted and make Hendricks’ already porcelain skin look even more translucent.

Yes, Christina Hendricks has a voluptuous body, but she’s not fat, people.  She has a naturally tiny waist and beautiful skin!  Look at the dramatic red lips!  The gorgeous, fiery hair!  Actual hips.  Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, and Kate Winslet have them too.  They’re all incredibly gorgeous and completely uncompromising when it comes to altering their photos.

If this is considered “fat,” then sign me up!

Body image perception is so completely off these days.  If an actress doesn’t have a pencil for arms or a size zero waist, she’s automatically considered “curvy.”  By today’s standards, sex symbols like Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch would be considered practically obese.  What happened to embracing flaws and having hips?  When did it stop being okay to just love your real body?  Young girls are inundated with these false, photoshopped images every day, everywhere and they’re learning that they’ll never be perfect until they look like these images.  This is damaging and dangerous.  We’re basically endorsing eating disorders and plastic surgery procedures that strip these girls of their true beauty and turn them into self-absorbed, vapid creatures like this woman.

It’s time to start a revolution.  We need to embrace our bodies, ladies.  Embrace our scars, our hips, our tiny or big boobs, our real waistlines.  Your body is perfect the way it is and don’t let any photoshopped celebrity tell you differently.

You are beautiful.