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Matters of Size

Matters of Size

DEAR JACKIE:

I am a working actress who has been very fortunate to land many a role in low-budget film and television. I am now working up to jobs in series television and larger-budget films. There is great interest in my work, but I'm not "sealing the deal." That's totally fine with me, as I will continue to hone my craft and I understand it's an odds game.

However, , and I have never been told I am "fat," but I am most certainly not skinny and could do with getting in what I call "film shape," meaning zero fat. But I am often curious if my lack of bookings at this level is due to my being a size 6 rather than a 2. Let's not kid ourselves. Look at the women on TV: Even the "quirky girl next door" is überskinny. Imagine how skinny she is in real life without the extra pounds TV adds. I want to focus on the art, but I'm realizing perhaps what is unsaid in my meetings has been my inability to fit into what co-stars and leads often are: a size many times smaller than me.

The hardest part is that it's a huge lifestyle choice to be "underweight." In the past, it's required a trainer, food coach, and what felt like a team behind my skinny body. But if it means the difference between getting the role and not getting the role, I'd rather be working. Let's be frank here, I don't care that people say that weight doesn't matter. Watch TV and tell me that's true.

— M.S.

via the Internet

DEAR M.S.:

I am torn between telling you to screw stereotypes and ignore the scale and agreeing that your weight may well be a factor in your lack of bookings. It's no secret that physical attributes are important in an industry where so much of our marketing power depends on our looks. It may seem unfair to say that for many television and film roles a size 2 has an advantage over a size 6, but, as we all know, this industry is not about fairness. It's about capturing audiences in a competitive marketplace. When the "in" look is very thin, very thin actors have the advantage.

But note: I said your weight might be a factor, not the factor in your dearth of bookings. Casting is a subjective task, and 10 pounds reads very differently on different bodies. Your size might matter hugely for one role and not at all for another, so if you're sensing a problem at this new level of competition, almost surely other factors are at play. Is it possible your weight keeps you from feeling confident at auditions? Or are you happy with your look and feel you are at your best?

One lovely actor I spoke with, whom I've always thought of as quite thin, says: "I was told by my old manager that 120 pounds was 'a lot,' that it was a lie on my résumé — I haven't been 120 pounds for many, many years — and she would make me turn around 'to see what kind of shape' I was in. She also told me after seeing me on camera that I look 'hippy.' So I guess I've had pressure from representation to lose weight. I've been told on set that they would go get a 'large' size to accommodate my shape. And on seeing me in a pair of my favorite pants I'd brought as a wardrobe option to a fitting, they said, 'Well, those aren't flattering, are they?' If I was wealthy, I would get liposuction and see if that made a difference — though I think it would just give me a boost of confidence, which would help me book, as opposed to my weight keeping me from getting jobs now. By the way, I'm a size 6 or 8, depending on the maker."

Another actor, who works regularly in television and film, including as a series regular, says, "I was told by a manager not to eat for two weeks and by another manager that I needed to starve myself. I ignored them. I wasn't emotionally ready to work. I knew I didn't look good at the weight I was at, and I didn't feel good about myself. But I wasn't ready. When I finally got to a healthy place, spiritually and emotionally, I lost weight and started to work.

"We can't let our identities be wrapped up in our weight," she continues. "Every woman on the planet has to come to a place where she can accept and love her body and be healthy and radiant in her own skin. Film weight is not zero body fat. Look at Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, Reese Witherspoon, Toni Collette: I always think they are at a weight that's really healthy and right for them. Live in the reality, but don't be a slave to it. You are in charge of your body, and you need to do what is best for you at the end of the day."

And these thoughts from a feature film CD: "It sounds as though M.S. is looking for a hard-and-fast rule about the correlation between weight and career success in the current market, and it doesn't exist. It is a subjective business, and casting decisions are made the same way they're made at college theatre departments everywhere, which is to say they are political, sometimes counterintuitive, and usually a reflection of the taste of whomever is in power. I suggest she answer these questions: What are your specific goals as an actor? What is your strength as an actor, and more specifically, what is your niche? What is it worth to you to achieve those goals?

"There are a number of actresses who aren't impacted one bit by their size," adds the CD. "Being 'normal weight' has not held back Camryn Manheim, Chandra Wilson, or America Ferrera. But if your niche truly is leading roles, and you are not sealing the deal, take a look around and honestly assess why. The cold truth is that you are surrounded by people who are willing to sacrifice a lot to achieve their goals — people who are so disciplined they don't need trainers, food coaches, or anything other than their own willpower. Inequities in this business are inevitable, and one actress' ability to lose weight or maintain a certain weight is another's ability to do a flawless British accent on the spot. But if you were to ask the actress with multiple plastic surgeries on the front page of the tabloids and the actress who's a company member of a theatre in the Berkshires if they'd change the level of sacrifices they were willing to make for their careers, I'd bet they'd have the same answer."

Send your questions to TheWorkingActor@gmail.com.

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