Saturday, December 9, 2017

That double life

Being an actress is weird, y'all. One of the first chapter books I read, checked out from St. Helen's library in the 3rd or 4th grade was about a young girl who books a suntan lotion commercial because she has a long braid and can blow really big bubbles with bubble gum. It was sort of about the attention and allowance she got...2 things that were probably scarce at that time in my household. Even though my mom was a stay-at-home mom, I was the oldest of 4. So needless to say, it sounded appealing.
I also remember an episode of Full House where Stephanie booked a commercial DJ wanted, or something similar with a sibling rivalry theme. I've always been pragmatic, and it seemed like this commercial career would be a good initiative to get us that elusive dime (If I had a nickel for every time my parents said "I don't have a dime," I'd be twice as rich?)...and prove I was just as cute as my siblings.
Once I had the opportunity to be involved in theatre (the closest thing to a commercial career a 10 year-old can endeavor in Southwest Louisville, KY in 1992), my hypothesis was affirmed. Yes! All these kids are from wealthy families! Clearly, the cause and effect of said demographic was not all that apparent to my young brain.
Later I got to join an improv team that was created expressly to mix up the demographic in the youth theatre scene: the JACKY (Jewish, African-American, Christian Kentucky Youth) Royal Teen Theatre Company. It was there I realized how powerful the art form was...human beings are all the same even if our stories (our mythologies, our histories, our families, our personal experiences) are infinitely varied. Sharing those stories is what unites us. What teaches us about each other. What inspires empathy. What could eventually lead to WORLD PEACE. I was in deep, y'all.
I left the theatre for many reasons, but mostly because I found myself distorting my self-worth with "success." I found yoga did the opposite and switched courses. And I was happy. Until I wasn't. This pull to tell stories is the simultaneous desire to seek truth and indulge in fantasy. It's a double life, and sometimes it wears on ya.
So I came back! But a few things have come to light.
Sidenote: Light was my first word. Though I was told this story when I was young, I recently asked my mom or dad about it and they couldn't recall it. They've done a lot of livin' in the meantime. Apparently my Papa was holding me, pointing to the light near his chair. I miss that knucklehead like crazy sometimes...there were always cherry cordials next to said chair, and somebody had some in the green room last night. He was a light.
Anyway, many less pleasant things have come to light in our world lately. I heard the analogy that Trump's rise to power was like lifting up a large rock on the forest floor...there's all kinds of squirmy hidden creatures that live in darkness avoiding light underneath. Believe me, as a biology lover with very few squeamish girly tendencies (blood being a major exception...which is a crying shame because doctor would have been a much more direct path to said wealth I craved in my youth), I see these creatures as necessary and fascinating and innocuous. So this no longer seems an apt nor sufficient analogy.
Taking it back to biology, maybe the misogyny (and all the other nasty things we're contending...I know the list is long, but this is the soap box I stumbled upon today) is more invisible and insidious. Like a virus. Spread through us all like a cold in the cast of a Christmas play where everybody has to kiss each other and hold hands.
Or a disease. Dis ease.
I was feeling a little uneasy last night, and I thought I might be coming down with something. We recently had "Vanity Fair"-like photos taken for promotional purposes. And I get it. The media is a big glossy terrible animal that has a very narrow vision of what a woman "should" look like. I had reservations about all the photoshop talk, but took it in stride because feminist fatigue is real. I've already had to deal with gender bias and a dollop of sexual harassment in the educational institution these last 3 years. And they chose a group photo where I was makin a funny face, and I was told they could take a better option, and that didn't feel like a complete compromise of the thin (see what I did there) principles I'm allowed to have as an actress.
Now that I think about it, there was mention from our business teacher that he would take out the eye circles and blemishes (ok with those because they're not really permanent and consistent), and trim the waists and arms and such, "whatever we wanted." Well, all I wanted was to not be makin a funny face, and didn't necessarily think I needed the trimming. I mean, I weigh more than I ever have and sure I'd like to be healthier, or gain weight more in my ass than my midsection, but give me a break. I'm not ashamed of myself. Nor should I be.
So last night when I changed my profile photo, I just downloaded the finished photos without comparison. But then I got up today and was interested in the before and after of both our group photo and my own. It was weird that my waist and butt were slightly...interchanged without my consent. And pretty humorous that my classic self-delusion prevented me from noticing. It felt very poetic. And not surprising. But consent is important. And I will stand for women and our freedom from this limiting, oppressive, impossible standard that WE ALL continue to allow to be the norm.
I was at least somewhat reassured by my classmates reaction to the final product. The photographer went a little too far, and tho we were impressed and excited by the originals, the fully airbrushed version struck us all dumb. You could have heard a pin drop. Everybody agreed that if he could perhaps make us less...plastic, we'd like it more. But the photographer's great at his job, and if you're told the theme is Vanity Fair, you are certainly going to paint the picture your client wants.
And to be fair, my own vanity was certainly indulged by all the responses on Facebook. It feels good to be admired. But I'd rather take credit or be admired for things that are true about me, so I felt the need to write this. I get that Facebook in and of itself helps us edit so much of ourselves that it can feel like a big ol' lie, too. But it is the true friends that always pull me back, wanting more. The connections and inspiration and babies to keep up with are generally true so I can't quit you, Facebook...but I won't let ya make a liar outta me.
If you haven't watched Miss Representation, please do yourself a favor and catch it on Youtube or Netflix. And people, the message is relatively simple...if you are gonna touch (or retouch) a woman's ass, get permission (from HER).

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