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

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My Favorite Fierce Film Heroines Part I: Scarlett O’Hara

As you may or may not know, I am beyond obsessed with Gone With the Wind and Titanic.  Both feature spunky leading ladies who are played by amazing British actresses with studied American accents.  There are also insanely gorgeous leading men in both films aka Clark I-don’t-give-a-damn Gable and Leonardo Dreamboat DiCaprio each with impressively amazing hair.  Both Scarlett and Rose challenge society’s notions on womanhood.  Also they both have terrible boyfriends before they realize the heinous error of their ways and ultimately choose Rhett and Jack (although, I gotta say that Billy Zane had a pretty handsome head of hair himself).  Not to mention each has to survive some pretty crazy stuff like a giant boat sinking and the burning of Atlanta before they come out on the other end stronger, fiercer ladies.  In short, Rose and Scarlett are two of my biggest heroines.  Like, I wanna be just like them when I grow up with a dash of the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey added when I’m an old lady.

BUT I’m 95% sure I won’t be anything like them.  In this two-part blog, I’ll break down why Rose and Scarlett (both named after shades of the color red…coincidence?  I THINK NOT!) are way more awesome than any woman alive and why I’ll never live up to them.

SCARLETT O’HARA

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

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

    First and foremost, Scarlett has a 17-inch waist.  I do not have the discipline (or probably the frame) to support that kind of petite waif-ery.  I’m from the Midwest and was raised on a diet of carbs and potatoes, so…ain’t nobody got time for that, ya know?  Even in a corset after the Master Cleanse AND P90x, I wouldn’t be able to hit that number.  After having a baby, her waist is like, what, 19 inches?  Then she COMPLAINS about it.  I MEAN, COME ON!  Can you even TRY to make us feel less inferior, Scarlett?!

  • Vivien Leigh.  I adore her, she was the most beautiful woman in the world, her acting is unreal, and she was married to Laurence Olivier, the greatest actor in the world.  Can you guys imagine anyone else playing Scarlett?  NO.  Because Vivien is perfect.  And no one else is.

    The only time I'm ever surrounded by this many good looking men is when I'm at a gay bar with friends.  YEP I'M SINGLE!

    The only time I’m ever surrounded by this many good looking men is when I’m at a gay bar with friends. This might explain why I’m still single.

  • Scarlett goes to the Twelve Oaks barbeque mostly to see Ashley Wilkes (ugh) and winds up surrounded by a bevy of hot Southern gentlemen who all want to feed her ribs and probably okra, but really they all just want to politely get into her pantaloons.  I’m going to be honest when I say I would mostly be going to Twelve Oaks for the barbeque, not the men, because I really love barbeque.  And unlike Scarlett surrounded by men, I would be surrounded by empty plates.  This is why I’ll never have a 17-inch waist and probably be single forever.  See?  No discipline.
  • Scarlett possesses an undying devotion to her family’s plantation, Tara.  When she finds herself in times of trouble, she always goes back to Tara.  After the war, she takes it upon herself to revive her land by working it with *gasp* HER OWN HANDS.
    "As God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again! " - Scarlett...and also me when my bank account is zilch

    “As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again! ” – Scarlett…and also me when my bank account is zilch

    Keep in mind this is 1865, and proper young ladies only use their hands for delicate needlework or raising cups of tea to their mouths.  I’m so impressed Scarlett actually knew how to plant and pick crops even though she was raised to take afternoon naps and be admired.  I may have grown up in the Midwest, but I don’t know the first thing about real farming.  I can barely keep floral bouquets alive for more than a few days, so…saving a plantation?  Forgeddaboutit.

COMMON GROUND: the Ashley Wilkes problem

Here is where EVERY woman can identify with Scarlett: we all have or once had an Ashley Wilkes in our lives at some point or another.  You know, that one guy you just feel all the feelings for, and they’re kind of unrequited but also kind of requited which makes everything extremely confusing?  That’s Ashley Wilkes.  Scarlett throws herself at Ashley every chance she gets despite him being in love with his cousin Melanie (Was incest like, seriously a thing back in those days?  I mean gotta keep those bloodlines going, I get it, but…ick).  However, Ashley perpetuates the situation by constantly giving in to Scarlett’s advances.

"Scarlett, I'm just not that into you.  But I kind of am so let's makeout."  ASHLEY IS THE WORST.

“Scarlett, I’m just not that into you. But I kind of am so let’s makeout.” ASHLEY IS THE WORST.

After the war, he even makes out with her a little bit at Tara.  This is clearly not okay now or pretty much EVER.   Ashley is the kind of guy who likes all the attention he can get, even though he’s just not that into you.  I’ve totally been there; probably 75% of all the guys I’ve seriously liked were Ashley types, and it’s just not fun.

YOWZA.  Am I right, ladies?!

YOWZA. Am I right, ladies?!

Thank god Scarlett FINALLY realizes Rhett Butler is way hotter than Ashley, not to mention treats her like gold and truly loves her.  Also, let’s be honest: who would rather kiss Leslie Howard over Clark Gable?  No one, children.  NO ONE.

No offense to Leslie Howard, but Gable is sheer sex with a fab mustache.  I like tall, dark, and handsome, not blonde and wishy-washy.  And don’t forget Rhett paid an exorbitant amount of money to purchase a dance with an in-mourning Scarlett because he knew how much she wanted to dance.  Back in those days, if a lady was in mourning, she wasn’t allowed to have fun, so Rhett and Scarlett basically committed social suicide just by waltzing around.  If that’s not a sign of devotion and ballsy-ness, I don’t know what is.  Ladies, hold out for a Rhett.  Ashleys are just not worth it.

Rhett's the best, y'all.  Hold out for a man who'll dance with you even if you're in full 1860s mourning.

Rhett’s the best, y’all. Hold out for a man who’ll dance with you even if you’re in full 1860s mourning.

  • Scarlett pulls a Lady Sibyl from Downton Abbey and works as a nurse in a Civil War hospital.  Okay, so we all know that Melanie really is the Lady Sibyl of Gone With the Wind because she’s super nice and selfless and quietly volunteers herself to help with everything whereas Scarlett begrudgingly helps so she LOOKS as selfless as Melanie. But Scarlett does start to suck it up and get the hang of it (even though watching an amputation makes her sick…but who wouldn’t want to vom after seeing someone’s leg cut off?).  She sweats and gets blood on her and still looks amazing and beautiful.  Like, her hair looks even better than all those beauty queen doctors on Greys Anatomy (does no one EVER look frazzled on that show?).  While initially I would be gung-ho about helping with the “War Effort,” the minute I saw someone cutting off a limb or scarred worse than Freddy Kruger, I’d probably faint and then hightail it back to Aunt Pitty-Pat’s where we’d discuss her getting a new nickname because Pitty-Pat suggests spinsterhood, cats, and too many hours spent crocheting things.
  • BIRTHING BABIES.  Since Prissy is an idiot (and with a name like Prissy, how could she NOT be an idiot?  My apologies to any Prissys out there because you probably would at least be able to dial 911 in case of a birthing emergency), Scarlett is forced to birth Melanie’s baby while Atlanta is literally burning down around them.  I mean has there ever been a bigger drop-the-mic moment?!
    I don't know nothing about birthin' no babies...or HAVE ANY COMMON SENSE WHATSOEVER.  Basically, I'm worthless.

    I don’t know nothing about birthin’ no babies…or HAVE ANY COMMON SENSE WHATSOEVER. Basically, I’m worthless.

    Like, Scarlett births that baby then flags down Rhett in a carriage and gets Melanie and the baby inside before hauling ass back to Tara.  Hi, my name is Scarlett O’Hara and I birth babies, save people from mass fires, and drive a carriage by myself back to my home plantation.  [drops mic]  Even Jay-Z couldn’t do that…but I bet Beyoncé probably could because she’s a fierce diva like Scarlett.

  • Taking down a Civil War burglar.  Technically, Melanie is the one who shoots him, but Scarlett gives him a whole lotta shade and sass.  Ladies, THIS is how you deal with would-be rapists and plunderers: grab your shy BFF and make her shoot him for real while you just shoot daggers with your eyes and yell things like GET OUT OF MY HOUSE YOU VARMIT!  (Side note: let’s all make a pact to bring back the word “varmit”)  That’s what I’d do…and also call the police, because God knows Prissy sure wouldn’t know how to do THAT either.
  • The curtain dress.  Only two ladies in history have ever gotten away with this drapery couture: Scarlett O’Hara and Maria from the Sound of Music (okay and those VonTrapp kiddos).
    The best in curtain couture

    The best in curtain couture

    It’s a tricky business wearing your own household decorative items, but Scarlett makes it look like literally the best thing in the world.  If Vogue had existed in 1865, Scarlett would have been on the cover in that thing.  I can barely get away with wearing bedsheets at a Toga party, so there’s pretty much no hope for me wearing window drapes.  Also I don’t have any luxurious, long curtains anyway, so I’d wind up in my window blinds, which would probably come off more Lady Gaga and less Lady Cora Crawley.

  • Face it, ladies: none of us will ever find a man as dashing as Rhett Butler.
    You can kiss me ANY time, Captain Butler.  ANY TIME.

    You can kiss me ANY time, Captain Butler. ANY TIME.

    That whole “you should be kissed and often and by someone who knows how” thing makes me weak in the knees.  Men, you have your work cut out for you.  Always be a Rhett, never be an Ashley.

Basically, Scarlett is the bee’s knees.  Also Mammy because she always gives Scarlett the lowdown when she’s acting like a major beyotch.  Anyway, I’m sure there are a million other reasons I’ll never be as cool as Scarlett, but I’ll think about it tomorrow.  After all, tomorrow is another day…

STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO: Rose’s Turn!

Rose