Written by Ce-Lee
Have you ever felt insecure about your body? The weight on the scale, the size of your waist, bust, hips? Do you tell people how much you weigh, or do you keep it a secret? Do you even weigh yourself? Do you admit your pants size, shirt size, or is that a secret too? Imagine for a moment that you had to list those things on your resume. Right at the top you listed your height, weight, measurements and, if you’re a woman, your bra size. How would that make you feel? How would it feel to send in all that personal information to potential employers? What if you knew that those measurements could be more important than the impressive list of work experience and training that follows? How would that make you feel?
Welcome to the life of an actor. It is industry standard for an actor to list their height and weight at the top of their resume. In film, it is common for those to be followed by your measurements, if they even ask for a resume at all, sometimes they only want to know your measurements. It is true that theatre and film are visual mediums, directors are often looking for star quality. But why has “star quality” come to mean skinny and gorgeous? Size and looks are not equivalent to acting ability. This seems like an obvious statement, but when I look at who the popular actors are, the majority of them have the “standard” size bodies that society says are beautiful. I am referring to women who are thin, often with large or perfectly rounded breasts, and have a pretty face; and men who are tall, with muscle definition and a handsome face. It is also worth noting that these “standards” are predominately cisgender, heterosexual and white. Although even when we do see BIPOC and LGBTQ+ actors their bodies still tend to be in line with the “standard” size ideals.
There are, of course, some actors who do not fit into the “standard” image. I have begun to see a sprinkling of size variety in many genres but the majority of actors I see who are not of the “standard” sizing tend to star in comedies. The message that has always sent me, is that these actors seem to be too funny to be ignored. On occasion, the popularity of these funny actors has landed them more serious roles in dramas. The message this sends to aspiring actors is: “If I want to be successful, I have to do everything I can to be thin and beautiful. If I can’t do that, I have to be funny, no not just funny, side-splitting hilarious.” When an actor learns they did not get cast in a role they auditioned for, they are often left wondering if it was because of their acting ability, or because of the way they look. Cue the vicious cycle of self-loathing, body obsession and a dangerous thought pattern of “once I lose weight, I will be successful,” or, “I will never be skinny enough or pretty enough, I should just give up.” These thought patterns can be present in anyone, of any size, at any time in their career. In fact, these thoughts are not just held by actors in general. There are many people of all shapes and sizes who feel that if they just lost weight life would be better. For singles in search of love, body envy can be even more emphasized. We think this because that is what we see in the media.
When we watch a comedy, we are watching something satirizing life, we laugh at how ridiculous everyday situations can be and we escape to the funny world. It is not as noticeable that the actors are varied in terms of their looks and sizes because they are making fun of society, of life as we know it. When we watch a drama, we are watching what is supposed to be a representation of real life. It is still a commentary on life, it still isn’t “real” but somehow, we have come to accept that only “standard” sized people can be taken seriously in these roles. If an audience member feels there is something missing from their life, it is only natural to look at these beautiful, successful people and want to emulate them. It doesn’t matter that we tell ourselves what we see in the media isn’t real, when that is all we see it’s easy to fall into a feeling of envy.
The “standard” casting that we see is a reflection of diet culture that is deeply imbedded in our society (I am specifically referring to North American society). There is a growing amount of literature on diet culture and beauty standards as well as a growing body positivity movement. For anyone interested, I recommend doing some research on the subject. Interestingly, I have found that when I watch British television, the actors are often much more varied in size as well as in general attractiveness. Watching British television is the only time I don’t feel as though I am somehow lacking as a human because I see people who actually look like me on the screen. Although, unfortunately, the actors are still predominately white, cisgender and heterosexual. I am not sure why there seems to be more size variety in British TV, even after having lived in England for a year, I can really only speculate.
As artists, we are taught that it is our job to represent and reflect the range of human experience. If the people we see in the media all look the same then that isn’t really representing a “range” of experience. When I walk into a grocery store, I see an array of bodies with varied sizes and very few are the same. It doesn’t make sense to me that there is not more variety in the bodies that we see in the media. People of all sizes deserve to have a place on screen and stage. By continually omitting size variety, it leaves people whose bodies are different than the “standard” sizing left out of the human experience that is supposed to be represented. This makes it hard to truly believe that “all bodies are beautiful” when we’re continually shown that only some bodies are worthy of being shown in the media.
My hope is that the societal awareness about body positivity will help to influence directors to cast more variety. I dream of the day when an actor’s height, weight and measurements are no longer required on their resume. When actors are cast because of their ability not because of their looks. When we can watch an Academy Award worthy film starring actors who do not fit in with the “standard” sizing. Most of all, when there is no longer “standard” sizing at all. When actors are just actors, celebrated for telling stories for all people. We can help to encourage this change by raising awareness that humans are not “one size fits all” and to create a public demand to see more of a variety on the screen and stage. If we start calling for a change eventually someone will listen.
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Photo by Ady Kay Photography