All artists have a set of tools. A painter has their canvasses and brushes. A photographer has her camera. A musician has their instrument. But as actors, we only have one tool…our bodies.
Because of this, a huge amount of attention is placed on our appearance. Much more than if we were doctors or teachers. Add in societal pressures of what the “perfect body” looks like, and this attention can quickly turn to obsession.
Many actors can attest to the impact that the industry has had on their body image:
When I was 17, I weighed, like, 98 pounds. I was totally obsessed with everything I put in my mouth. I was way too skinny. Not cute. And my body wasn’t that healthy — my hands would cramp up a lot because I wasn’t getting the nutrition I needed. That constant pressure of wanting something different than I had? I regret that.
I was told I was fat for the first time when I was eight. I’m not fat; I’ve never been fat. But ever since then, there has been a monster in my brain that tells me I am—that convinces me my clothes don’t fit or that I’ve eaten too much. At times it has forced me to starve myself, to run extra miles, to abuse my body.”
A lot of girls have eating disorders, and I did too. I got obsessed with it. When I went from a girl’s body to a woman’s body with natural fat in places, I freaked out
I was bulimic when I was 14, it was clearly about getting out of myself and isolation. Feeling inadequate and unpleasant.
I’d look in the mirror and still see an 180-lb. guy, even though I was 138 pounds. For many years, I was obsessed with what I was eating, how many calories it had, and how much exercise I’d have to do.
I myself can personally relate to many of these actors. During my time in my BFA program, there were months where I was thinking more about food than I was about acting. I’d be in watching my classmates in scenes, all the while calculating in my head what I should have for lunch, trying to take into account whether or not I would walk the 3 miles back to my apartment, or take the subway. Measuring out whether I could have a cracker with my soup, or croutons on my salad. I’d severely restrict my food for days only to binge and eat everything I could think of. It was awful.
I had gotten it into my head that if I could just look a certain way if I could just lose X amount of pounds, then (and only then) I would be able to be a professional actor.
But I was abusing my body, my only tool, and my work was suffering for it. Riddled with insecurity, it was impossible to work without second guessing everything. I felt foolish in scenes where I played a love interest because I didn’t think I was attractive. Looking back, I wonder what would have happened if I had put half, heck even 10%, of the brainpower that I was putting towards my body and used it to instead focus on my craft.
It’s so important for us to maintain a healthy relationship with our body, and unfortunately, we’re in an industry that doesn’t make this easy.
The turning point for me was when I finally went to my school’s health center and talked to a doctor about my anxiety. She put me in touch with a support group offered by my school that was specifically for body anxiety and eating disorders, which I started attending weekly. The most valuable thing I got from this appointment was validation that what I was going through was real and treatable. It reassured me that I didn’t have to feel this way forever.
If my story, or the above quotes, sound familiar, you’re not alone. Go to https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/. They have tons of resources and will help you find support in your area.
Everyone is different, but here is a list of things that I found particularly helpful for me.
I found a donation-based studio in my area started taking 2 classes a week. I never felt as good after exercise as I did after yoga. I always left feeling blissed-out, balanced, and my anxiety levels were significantly lowered.
2. I stopped weighing myself
You can read more about this here. This was by far the best thing I ever did for my relationship with my body. When I was weighing myself, I was focusing only on a number on the scale. When I stopped, it forced me to actually listen to my body and stop the daily judgment of stepping on the scale. I’m serious, you guys. Please give this a try.
3. Make a Self-Love list
Make a list of every compliment you’ve ever received. Include personal accomplishments, positive reviews, and anything else you can think of that gives you a little boost of pride. Keep these in a journal or binder and review on a daily basis.
4. Thank your body
At the end of the day, go through and thank your body for all of its hard work. “Thank you, legs, for helping me get to class on time.” “Thank you, arms, for carrying my books.” “Thank you, throat, for helping me speak clearly and confidently.” Acknowledging that your body does amazing things every day will help to keep your focus away from how your body looks.
5. Channel that energy into your craft
Imagine what it would be like to take all the energy spent on criticizing our bodies and instead, dedicate it to furthering our craft? When I would feel myself getting sucked down a wormhole of negative self-talk, I would pick up my favorite play. Or watch my favorite actor’s best performance. Or write about my dreams and goals in my journal. Distract yourself in a way that will keep you inspired and focused on what’s important.
6. Get support!
Like I said above, giving yourself the validation that what you are going through is real and deserving of support and help can be a huge step forward.
Acting is amazing. It inspires empathy, connection, and a sense of community. Theatre gives voice to the voiceless and tells stories that remind us that we’re not alone. It influences how people think and feels about the world. This power far transcends the physical body. It comes from vulnerability, the free expression of emotion and the human experience. This is what actors have the power to do. I can’t think of many things that are more beautiful than that~