Every now and then, I’ll receive an email from an actor asking whether I think he or she (usually she) should lose weight in order to have a better shot at success as an actor.
This is such a tough issue (and I don’t just say that because I battled weight and self-image issues as an actor over dress size 8 myself) and one that usually breaks my heart a little, mainly because I believe at its core is the issue of self-acceptance in a career where the goal often feels like “being accepted by everyone else.”
First, a paradigm shift. Being cast has nothing to do with being accepted. Okay, it feels like it does. It may even look on paper as though that’s what’s happening when your name goes from the very long list of submissions to the shorter list of auditioners to the much shorter list of callbacks to the teeny list of potential offers to the final cast list. But none of that has anything to do with someone validating your body’s size or level of fitness. So find a way to separate out your concern over being fit — or especially being thin — from whether or not someone casts you (or will cast you someday).
Here’s why that’s important. Producers are going to cast who they’re going to cast. There is rarely a time when we’re down to two actors and having a conversation about how they’re each amazing, each perfect for the role, each as talented, but one is thinner than the other and therefore a better choice. Nope. Highly unlikely. And in some cases, it’ll be the less-thin of the two actors who has a better shot at the role for whatever reason. And usually the final, deciding factor — that reason — is not an actor’s body size. So the idea that there is a certain level of thinness required in order to “make it” as an actor is a bit absurd.
That said, there is very definitely a certain type of actor, a character type, a primary role type for which being thinner is to your advantage. Just like there are certain character types for which being heavier or more bald or older might put you ahead of the others in that same category. Heck, there are even less-character-y types of actors who just wouldn’t look good if they lost even five pounds.
I have actor friends who would love to lose 20 pounds but who know they’re more “castable” the heavier they are, based on their type. They’d have to lose not 20 pounds but more like 50 or 60 pounds in order to fit into a totally different character type, and then they’d be competing with really good-looking, younger actors and that’s not likely to be a good fit for their look and age anyway. So, why fight it? Instead they enjoy the pizza and donuts, still work out to stay generally healthy, but never work to lose too much weight because of what it might do to their castability.
But what about you? Let’s say you’re a leading man or leading lady type and you really are stunningly good looking (Yay, you!) and you’re just concerned that you’re not “TV skinny.” Yeah. I hear that. I have actor friends who absolutely work to keep themselves at a weight most of the world would consider unhealthy because they know it looks better on screen and there are people in the suits and big offices at the networks who know that too.
Here’s the thing, though. You actually don’t need to be “TV skinny” until you’re going up for TV all the time. If you’re just starting out and building credits and getting tape doing student films, low-budget indies, web-based content, and the occasional spec pilot then I wouldn’t worry too much about trying to get down to a size zero. There will be plenty of time for that once you find yourself coming closer and closer to the network casting sessions. Starting to go in on higher-profile stuff? Consider hiring a trainer and nutritionist. They’ll not only help you reach your goals but also make sure you do it healthfully.
While you’re building your career, creating your relationships, getting branded in your primary type, it is far less important that you spend your energy trying to fit into a certain size. (Again, I’m talking about leading man/leading lady type actors who only have 10 to 25 pounds to lose to be “TV skinny.”)
You’ll know when you’re nearing the “bigger” opportunities. And you’ll have time to put your energy and focus onto getting to the smaller size then.
But here’s what’s most important for actors of any size: Be comfortable in your own skin.
What I notice almost across the board when casting actors of all sizes is that they share something in common (except for the “TV skinny” actors I mentioned above). They are all — at least on the surface — very “okay” with their bodies. They are healthy and even when they are extremely heavy, they’re happy with who they are physically and otherwise. That’s very important! They don’t bring in any sort of neuroses about how they look, or worse, what we think about how they look.
If they do have any body image issues, they are not sharing them in the casting session, and that’s important. We want to cast people who feel good about themselves, own their type, and aren’t trying to hide some (perceived or real) physical flaw. (This is why I mentioned the exception of the “TV skinny” actors in the paragraph above. They are almost always — unless naturally skinny and used to a lifetime of being little — carrying around some nervousness about their bodies and what we think about their bodies.)
It behooves everyone to get “okay” with their bodies. It’s healthier for us all, mentally and emotionally, to love ourselves. And if that’s not reason enough to be okay with where you are, choose to LOOK like you’re okay with where you are because that will make you more castable.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000914.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.