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

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26 thoughts on “The 28-inch Waist

  1. I absolutely LOVED this blog!!! I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so so much for sharing your story, and if it’s any consolation I think you’re beautiful! X

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are gorgeous, just as you are. I don’t recall Stanislavski ever mentioning a waist measurement, or Lee Strasberg a BMI measurement. Nothing related to that could ever define your worth either as an actor, or as a person. And also, to put to bed this nonsense about men liking a certain ‘type’, with a pre-defined waistline or dress size, I’m afraid it’s complete rubbish. We all have types, sure enough some men are into waif like models, but just as many of us love women with curves and contour, agents and the media don’t speak for us, never be fooled into thinking they do.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. At age 21, I was 32 22 34. Over 50 years later, I think they all start with a 4! Trouble is, I haven’t got the height to carry it off. As for the relationship between size and ability to do a job of work, unfortunately too many employers seem to see a connection that isn’t there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I worked at GSA when you were a student there. I used to see all the shows. I thought you were fantastic in everything I saw you in. You absolutely got a place at GSA based on your talent, and you should never think otherwise. As for the 28 inch waist…Pah! What a ridiculous thing to be told. I know that industry may think that way, but people, in real life couldn’t care less. The industry is mad, for placing looks above talent. Though why you would ever think you were too big (even before the weight loss) is beyond me. X

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good for you!

    “Personality more important than Pounds”.

    ” Interesting and Interested more important than Inches”

    ” Wellbeing more important than Waist measurement” …

    .let’s have more verbal “punches” to use in defence of being allowed to be normal/ different and content with our lot. See how many more we can produce…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You’re so right! Acting should be about ability not size! I’m currently studying acting at university and I’m wiritng about this topic for my dissertation. I know this is cheeky, but would you be willing to take my survey, and pass it on to fellow actors please? I’ve also created a survey for directors/casting people about sizing and actors, as I’d like to get an opinion from each ‘side’.

    If you have the time, here are the links:
    For actors: https://gabrielle35.typeform.com/to/oSjehD
    For directors/casting: https://gabrielle35.typeform.com/to/T5k3Iu

    Thank you 🙂

    Like

  7. Lady Macbex may have been a crap actress. I doubt it. She may have been too fat (really?). I doubt it, but then what do I know about casting? What she undoubtedly is, is a great writer. Subtle, concise, and succinct. That’s the shortest rant I’ve ever read for so heartfelt and well made a point. I take my hat off to her and am going to subscribe to her future rants. She should have a column in one of the nationals. Or take up script writing. Well done her.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is absolutely true and shames our industry. What angers me most is directors adopt this casting strategy without even realising it. Even the women directors.
    You look around the real world and people are together with people their own age. Men marry older women all the time. Yet in theatre, and even more in film, only classically beautiful sticks are ‘believable’ as a love interest. What tosh.
    Great blog

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Firstly, I really hope you’re in a better place with yourself these days! I’ve never heard a performer, screen and stage, amateur and professional, speak even slightly highly of casting directors, so please never feel alone on that. What was said to you is how every touring musical/West End production operates literally to save on time and costume alterations. Wish I was kidding…

    My personal axe to grind is the relationship with the execs. They have the hideous job of balancing marketing according to the execs specifics, and public opinion, in one go. I remember a director telling me about a one-off tv movie she did with a woman battling cancer. They had the perfect actress, everything was good to go, the tape is shown to the exec, and they pulled it. Why? Because this particular portrayal of cancer, i.e. the bald cap with patches of hair, the pale face, wasn’t palatable enough. Energy, money, time, all wasted because “viewers wouldn’t be able to handle it”, so they had to re-shoot the entire thing. A story important enough to tell, but not enough to accurately depict.

    Lastly, I remember the day I fitted into a pair of jeans from H&M. It was as glorious a day as you described for a lady with a size 10 lower half that literally fits into no size 10 on the high street. Great piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Keith! Well, erm… after this, Lady M couldn’t think of a single other thing to write about that hadn’t already been written and so she vanished in a cloud of one-hit-wonder mystery.
      I’m racking my brains. Inspiration could strike at ANY MOMENT.

      Like

      1. Well, I look forward to reading it whenever it lands, but don’t wrack your brains too hard. I think I was intrigued to know whether you stuck with it and continued as an actress or whether you gave up on that after experiencing the lunacy of the pursuit of the 28″ waist? Good luck, anyway.

        Like

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