Redefining Beautiful

Chronicles of a Teenage Feminist

As fall 2014 approaches, I look towards my future with bright eyes and fierce determination. I will be attending college to get my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting–this is my time to shine. As a 5'4", slightly overweight girl with a knack for comedy, I fit right into the “funny sidekick” role. I’m usually cast as the hotheaded lesbian, sweet but absentminded old lady, or the caring and sturdy nanny. You get the idea.

Until about a year ago, I never really had a problem with it. Type casting was part of the game and I was great at the parts I was cast in. Additionally, I was comfortable playing the absurd blocking character. To this day, I feel completely at ease making a total fool of myself onstage. Bringing laughter to people by making myself look ridiculous is something that fills me with joy, not embarassment. But I am anything but brave.

It was not until I attended an acting conservatory last summer that I had to face my inexplicable fear of playing any romanticly-involved character. When I was given a love scene to do with a boy in my class, I did not think much of it. I loved the scene and my character. I was excited. Then we started rehearsing. I froze up, completely and totally uncomfortable reciting these passionate lines. I couldn’t even look at my scene partner’s face, much less his eyes. When I was finally able to force myself to look up at him, I cringed at the thought of what he was looking back at–my chubby frame and naked face. After about an hour of this torture, he said something to me I will never forget: “Alyssa, you have to believe I am in love with you. You have to believe that you are worthy of love.” I was shocked and totally at a loss for words. Nodding, I told him I would be better tomorrow and ran back to my dorm, where I cried until my eyes were almost swollen shut.

He was right. I’d lived my entire life with this ridiculous notion that because of my weight, no one would ever have romantic feelings for me. Unfortunately, I am one of many girls who believe this to be their reality. I can’t turn a corner without some form of media taunting me with a tan, slim, toned, airbrushed model that I know I could never dream of resembling. I’ve been told to always put on makeup for a job interview or audition because painting my face to cover my imperfections is what it takes to be “professional”. Who would want to hire a girl with pimples? Likewise, why would any audience member believe that anyone onstage could fall in love with a fat girl?

It took that traumatic (but in hindsight, completely lovely) incident with my scene partner for me to realize that I–a smart, independent, emotionally intelligent, and ambitious young woman–was still being tainted by society’s idea of feminine perfection. I have since been working to overcome the wrongly-formed concept of beauty embedded in my mind, but it has not come without its obstacles.

Throughout my college auditions this year, I’ve been frequently reminded of how difficult it is for bigger girls to make it in the entertainment industry. I even had one auditor tell me how a great I would be at a role if I “shed a few pounds”, as if my performance would be affected by the size of my costume. To those nay-sayers, I calmly respond that I am aware of the stigma against women with-dare I say it–normal bodies in the world of film and television. I assure them that my mission is not to change myself so I can blend into that unjust culture, but to rise above and become a force for change within it. My mission is to show the true standards of beauty; standards that have to do with compassion and confidence, not body type or skin color. My mission is to show people who feel their physical appearance renders them inferior that looks are not the medium by which their worthiness of love is measured. My mission is to redefine beautiful.

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