The Headstand

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GUYS. I did the first headstand in my life EVER in my yoga class yesterday. Let me attempt to explain what a huge and momentous deal this is.

For years and years I’ve told myself and believed that I am too big to do tricks/inversions with my body. I wasn’t a child who ran around outside learning to cartwheel and walk on her hands; I preferred to stay indoors playing with my guinea pigs and doing interesting craft projects with my Oodles Caboodles kit. God, they were great. Does anyone else remember these from 90’s Australia? My Dad used to go to the newsagent to get the paper and come back with a clear plastic pencil case filled with bits of fluffy foam-covered wire and blue-tac and wooden balls and googley eyes and shit… glitter, glue… you know. It was awesome. I’ve tried to find those kits online but no joy. I guess the craft industry has evolved since 1994.

In Year 7 I had the most amazing teacher, Mrs Pendal. She was the pride and joy of St Columbas’ Primary School, to the extent that even the troublesome children who hated school knew that they just had to stick it out til Year 7 because then they’d have kind, funny Mrs Pendal and everything would be right with the world.
Mrs Pendal immediately recognised that my skills lay in writing and craft projects, and that being forced to participate in PE benefited nobody – least of all the school. She couldn’t let me skip an entire year of PE, but I knew she understood that Friday afternoons were harrowing times for me. I distinctly remember a Friday towards the end of the school year when our class was sent out to the basketball court to exert ourselves together for one of the last times before we all went off to high school. We were split into two teams. At the end of the register, my name hadn’t been called out. “Rebecca, you can stay here and read your book, if you like.” YES PLEASE THAT IS ALL I HAVE EVER WANTED TO DO, THANK YOU MRS PENDAL YOU ARE THE PRIDE AND JOY OF THIS SCHOOL.

It wasn’t that I hated being active; I loved riding my bike to and from school, I went on family bike rides around the Swan River with my Mum and Dad, I liked to do laps under water in the pool and see how many I could do without coming up for air, and at one point when we lived in Darwin for a year I became proficient at cycling around my suburb hands-free, like a really cool person. It was the highlight of my 1996, along with the purchase of Hit Machine Volume 12 featuring Waterfalls by TLC and other such classics. Living an active life is fine by me; being forced to participate in team sports and to compete is not.

 

Hit Machine 12
Lyrics included

By the time I got to high school I was overweight and ashamed of my body. I didn’t look like “everyone else” and I wanted to draw as little attention to my body as possible. I rarely went to PE because a) PE sucks, and b) I didn’t want to be seen in a bathing suit by the athletic boarding girls, or forced to race and compete and lose and have everyone know how unfit I was. Also, what 14 year-old girl wants to play cricket? Fucking nobody, that’s who. Thank god I went to an all girls’ school and didn’t also have to contend with boys seeing my body. I think that would have sent me over the edge.


At drama school I was one of the heaviest in my year and a non-dancer. I know what you’re thinking – how did someone who hates their body so much end up training for a profession where people stare at and judge your appearance all day long? I DON’T KNOW, GUYS.
I was embarrassed that most people already knew how to handstand and cartwheel and backward roll whilst I, a 23-year old woman (which also made me the oldest person in my year) couldn’t do any of it. I hated having to try to heave my body up into the air in front of other people. I didn’t want anyone to see the strain, or hear the weight of my legs crashing onto the sprung floor. GSA was an incredibly supportive environment and I count those classmates as my family but even whilst surrounded by chums in a safe and nurturing drama school, my brain was still screaming, “everyone can see how fat and heavy you are, baaahahahaha”.

Today, I’ve been practicing yoga on a regular basis for coming up to three years and it has changed my fucking life, guys. It’s really hard to love your body when you’ve been mean to it for 20+ years but yoga is instrumental in slowly rewiring my brain, strengthening my body, flooding my soul with self love and loads of other hippie shit that you read about yoga. IT’S ALL TRUE, GUYS. I love that even in a class full of people, everyone is focused on their own practice. There’s no comparison, no having to keep up with anyone else. I love that you can break a sweat, increase your heart rate and boost your mood for the entire day without having to do sprints or pick up a sodding cricket bat.

I never thought I’d be able to lift my legs up into the air on my own. Yesterday I lifted them up, felt them touch the wall and then immediately started crying whilst upside down. It was very glamorous. And also, very overwhelming. As I balanced there with blood rushing to my head (so to speak – did you know there’s a valve in your neck that stops blood flooding your brain in these situations? Clever!) I was overcome by all the negative body thoughts that have circled through my brain over the years. They all hit me in a flash and then dissipated as quickly as they came. It was like there was another little voice in my head that had elbowed its way to the front to say, “HI – I HAVE BEEN TRYING TO TELL YOU, YOU CAN DO THIS. YOU’RE UPSIDE DOWN NOW. PUSH OFF, EVERYONE.”* (He has to shout because he’s so used to being ignored, you see.)

So – I was wrong. My body can do lots of cool things, and just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke I tried doing another few headstands at home last night… and I did! Even after a G&T, which is rather admirable, I think. Now I’m gonna work towards doing a headstand without a wall for balance and then maybe a pincha. Then, Circque de Soleil.

If there is something you’ve always wanted to do with your body but have convinced yourself that you can’t, then… I reckon you should go out there and try it. I bet you’ll surprise yourself. Do some yoga! You’ll be amazed at how quickly the strength builds in your body.

Thank you yoga! Thank you body! xxx

I’ve been incredibly inspired by Dana Falsetti. Go check her out. She’s badass, and living proof that all body shapes and sizes can be strong and flexible.

 

Headstand
Post G&T headstand

* “Push off” is my favourite Home & Away insult. Let’s bring it into RL. Push off, Irene.

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Do Better

with harmony

Here We Go

I’m a stage actor based in Chicago. I’ve been a working actor for ten years. I have been very lucky in my career in many ways. I have worked with and for incredible people. I have also heard this:
 .
-“You really need to lose some weight if you want a career.”
-“You won’t work until you’re forty, because you’re never going to play the love interest, but after that you’ll work a lot.”
-“You would need to lose twenty pounds for the role.”
-“You’re not believable as a love interest.”
-“You should really wear more makeup, and show your cleavage more.”
-“We can work with your body type, but if you are serious about this career you need to have your nose and teeth fixed.”
-“You don’t have a commercial body type.”
-“They told us you were smaller.”
-“I mean, you’re good-looking, but you’re not beautiful.
 .
There is more. There…

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The 28-inch Waist

In my third year of drama school I took a load of phentermine and lost 15kg in three months. It was amazing and I felt amazing, aside from the constant dry mouth and occasional heart palpitation.

The previous year, I’d managed to lose 10kg over four months by sticking to 1,500 nutrient-rich calories a day and going to the gym a lot. I managed to keep that weight off for about five months through second year before slipping back into my old habits, propelled by the rejection of a guy – obvs.  I was so pissed with myself for undoing all of my hard work, so convinced that I couldn’t lose the weight again and horrified by the idea of coming back from the Christmas break to play Claudia in Nine as a bloated pudding-woman, that I turned to my doctor for an immediate, prescription-only solution.

Oh, Duramine, you beautiful angel drug. I used it to limit my calorie intake to 1,200 calories a day. Aided by a drama school exercise regime, the weight dropped off me. By the time we opened Nine I was 65kg and I looked bloody bangin’. Plus, the speed made me super efficient. I slept very little and organised all my books and sheet music into alphabetical order in the middle of the night. I was absolutely thrilled to be a size 10 for the first time since emerging from the womb. I bought my jeans from Topshop, which was a fucking milestone. I practically erected a monument to those jeans. For a while I weighed myself every Sunday, but only after taking a bunch of laxatives on a Saturday night. Then for a while I weighed myself every day. I measured my waist. A lot. I’d got into this routine the previous year, too, when I was losing weight the healthy way (without drugs). I remember the day my waist measurement was below 30 inches; a goal I’d set for myself. I did a little victory dance in my knickers next to the scales in my bathroom. I would only ever weigh and measure myself in my underpants and preferably after evacuating my bowels because poo is heavy (I assume).
After four months of that healthy calorie intake and lots of cardio, my waist was 29.5 inches – still enormous to some people, and by the media’s standards positively obese, but to me it was everything and I was starting to consider myself… not fat.

S0 – in my second year, shortly after decreasing my waist size to 29.5 inches, I had a one-to-one meeting with a senior tutor to discuss where we thought I would fit within “the industry”. I said I had absolutely no idea. Neither did he. There didn’t seem to be a pigeon hole that I would fit into, I worried. No, there wasn’t, he agreed. So, how was I to market myself to agents and casting directors? We flipped through my rep file. ‘Practically Perfect’ from Mary Poppins was the first song in there and I’d had it in my file for a while because it showed off my voice and my personality, and I could do it justice, I thought. Maybe I was being naive, but I’ll never forget said senior tutor’s reaction as he looked down at my song choice. “Lovely song”, he said. “Of course, you’ll never play Mary Poppins.”
“Why…?” I asked, offended, but fully expecting him to point out the obvious: that I can’t tap to save my life. What he actually said was, “because you don’t have the 28-inch waist.”

The 29.5" waist that will never play Mary Poppins.
2010: A 1,500 calorie/day diet & lots of exercise got me the 29.5″ waist that could never play Mary Poppins.

 

Fast-forward to now. I haven’t really worked since drama school, aside from a couple of profit shares. In one of them – my first ever paid job – I was, age 28, cast as a mother of three. The actress playing my daughter was also in her twenties. I was accustomed to this sort of casting. At drama school, aside from my glorious mid-diet stint as Claudia in Nine (which hardly anyone came to see, btw, which is not cool because I was so thin and you should have seen me in that dress GUYSitwasamazing), I was always cast in the “character” role – funny mothers, funny aunts… you know, funny fat people. I was pissed about that. I was insulted by the idea that I couldn’t play the romantic part, the winsome beauty. I didn’t really appreciate until later that being able to play comedy is a fucking gift, and being cast in those roles is a testament to your skill and not just your waistline. Being the beautiful young ingenue would be lovely, but the character parts are layered like onions (because thank you patriarchy for writing female musical characters that are almost always one or the other – beautiful with no personality or plump and interesting – and never the twain shall meet).
So, I haven’t worked much. I had some cracking audition opportunities in my first year out of drama school, but nothing came of them. Eventually, after 18 months, the agent who signed me off my showcase and rarely spoke to me, dropped me from her books via an email that I never actually received. It was awkward, guys. I cried a lot.

Now, I’m not saying all this failure is purely down to my weight. It might be because I don’t have that 28-inch waist, but it might also be because I’m just not that great an actor. Maybe I only got into drama school because they needed to fill a quota of international students to pay the full fees up front, and maybe I was never actually going to work. It might be a combination of both my weight AND talent – or lack thereof. This is just a sampling of the many negative hypotheses that swim around my head at any one time. It might be none of those things. It might be ‘fate’. Perhaps I am destined to sit at a desk for the rest of my life, ordering £300 toilet seats for the super-rich.

What I am certain of, though, is that the senior tutor who told me I couldn’t play Mary Poppins because of my size is not alone in his views. This is the industry’s view of women, and I am certain that the reason I have only played characters that are far too old for my casting since graduating is that my body type is what most casting directors consider to be that of a woman who has given birth multiple times. (Never mind the fact that I know quite a few women who’ve given birth multiple times and have better post-baby bodies than I could ever dream of attaining.)
It doesn’t matter that I still get ID’d buying Tanqueray in Tesco, or that my face and voice are ‘sweet’. My body is a size 14 (12 on a good day) and as far as musical theatre is concerned, there is no place for this body/face/voice combination. I don’t know whether I’m a decent actor anymore. What I do know is that ever since that senior tutor commented on my waist measurement, I have entered and exited every single audition wondering whether I’m too fat to be in with a chance.

Whatever the reason for my failure, I decided to throw in the towel. Constant rejection is not my bag. But the idea that an actor’s worth, their ability to tell a story truthfully and convincingly is determined by their waist line, is absolute bullshit.
The average size of women in the UK is 16, guys. Sixteen! ‘Fat’ women can be love interests. People fall in love with us in real life every day. Look, I am literally batting them away! (This is an outrageous lie. I will die alone surrounded by rescue donkeys, and spaniels. It’s fine.) So why can’t we be loved on stage, too?

2011: Phentermine got me The 28″ Waist (I no longer have it)

I am so tired of the idea that only a certain size of woman can be loved on stage and film. I am tired of the idea that audiences can’t empathise with a woman who is isn’t slim, and that they won’t buy into the idea that anyone could love her. I am tired of size 12+ women only being in roles that directly reference her weight or ‘rely’ upon her weight in the storyline.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s tired of this, as we all rightly seem to be striving for diversity in theatre and film. So, the change starts with us. Producers give audiences what they think they want. Producers just want money. So we have to tell them that WE want more size diversity on our screens and stages. Because we do. Right?

Let’s start with ourselves. Ladies, let’s just stop body shaming each other, ok? It really sucks. Let’s stop hurling the word ‘fat’ around like it’s something we must dedicate our lives to avoiding, as though fat means we have failed and are unloveable. Look at strangers the way you would look at a close friend. Would you call her fat or gross? I should bloody hope not. So don’t do it to strangers, either. How can we ever convince men to stop telling us how our bodies should look when we’re still telling each other how our bodies should look?

Men, stop. Just stop.

Casting directors, hi. Please acknowledge that women over a size 10 exist and that we are multi-layered humans, capable of falling in love and of BEING LOVED.
If Cosette, for example, can be performed by a BAME actress then why can’t she be a size 12, 14, etc? If audiences can be colour blind, why can’t they also be size blind?

Basically, let’s all just fucking DO BETTER, ok? I don’t know exactly why I didn’t cut it as an actor but it would be awesome if one day we could live in a world where a woman can walk bewilderedly away from her dream without having to wonder whether she was rejected because of her weight.

 

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This post was inspired by this amazing blog that my friend Grace shared with my last night. You should definitely read it. xx