I’ve lately been obsessed with fat activism and body positivity. I have been ruminating on the effect that fat shame and diet culture have had on my acting life.
I am a medium-sized woman. I have spent many many years torturing myself over this fact. I have obsessed over every meal and exercised for hours upon hours in the pursuit of thinness because I believed that thin women and petite women are hired. They get to play the roles I have dreamed of. Juliet, Blanche Dubois, Joan of Arc.
I often wonder what kind of actor I would be if I never worried about what my body size is, and just concentrated on how to use my body to create the best work I can. Being an actor requires flexibility, awareness, sensitivity in the body. Uta Hagen (Uta the Acting Buddha, as one teacher of mine called her) in her book A Challenge for the Actor recommends dance, sports, and mime, to perfect the body. She doesn’t talk about having any particular shape of body, she talks about alignment, imagination, and kinetic awareness.
My application of Uta’s recommendation look like hip-hop dance class (because I can work out my feelings of aggression AND develop physical control) and softball (increasing a kinesthetic awareness in the context of a team). In this way, I can concentrate on the development of my body (essential) without concern for the elusive, socially imposed “perfection” of it’s appearance (distracting).
Acting is extraordinarily difficult. It takes enormous concentration, imagination, preparation. It takes intense study and development of sensitivity. Worrying about what my body looks like is not preparing for anything at all.
I recently had a baby, and my body has, for many months, been a tool for growing, carrying, birthing, and feeding a tiny human. For this process I haven’t thought much about what my body looks like because it has been busy, oh, you know, creating life. But the instant I was called in for an audition, my mind was flooded with thoughts like: do I look right for this part? Am I thin enough? This character should be thinner than I am. I should eat less. It was remarkable! There is a tiny gremlin in my mind. The gremlin is called body hate.
But the thing is, when I see actors up on stage, I am not worried about what their bodies look like. I want to see their humanity and humans come in all shapes and sizes. And all shapes and sizes of human do what humans do in plays. I can’t wait to see a fat Juliet, a medium-sized Blanche Dubois, a Joan of Arc à la Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones).