I was a teenager during this weird time where magazines were still something the youths read and social media wasn’t really the dominant force of how we intake information. I grew up in a small town, relatively isolated from mainstream cares. The women around me were kind, but almost uniformly looked down on ambition. I honestly never remember hearing a woman being admired for anything but her beauty or her kindness.
The combination of these factors and the reality that there weren’t really outlets questioning the images we put into young girl’s psyche led to a sort of idolism of perfection that rears its ugly head often for me still. I thought the ONLY successful people in life were size twos, established, came from money, had money, had fame, had a beautiful partner. Don’t even get me started on the heteronormative ideals on femininity I ingested in gulps from the first step I took into youth group.
Black and white thinking ordered my life for a long time. Either you are successful or you are not. Either you are a failure or you are not. Either you are skinny or you are fat. Either you are white or you are Hispanic. Either you are smart or you are not. Either there is a God or there is not. I steadfastly avoided gray areas. I think many of my own struggles with religion came from the inability to find a theological framework that answered every question I had succinctly. The same type of thinking bled over into my ideas about myself.
The leading thought that kept me out of acting for over a year was, “Once I lose sixty pounds, then I will be ready to be an actor.” In my mind, if I wasn’t willing to starve myself for that goal then I wasn’t willing to make the commitment necessary to be a “real” filmmaker. When I finally made myself go out for auditions, I blamed every failure uniformly on my inability to play a thin, quirky girl (which is still an obstacle because of breakdowns written by casting directors blind to social realities). When I got cast for my first short film that would later be selected for SXSW 2019, I was at the heaviest I’d ever been. Walking onto set, I was certain that everyone would be disappointed in my existence. It was that same thought over and over again, either you are perfect or you don’t deserve this opportunity.
It was the same thought over and over again: Either you are perfect or you don’t deserve this opportunity.
Little by little as I got one gig that led to the next, I started to maybe believe that I needn’t reach perfection to continue doing this thing I was obviously good at. I went to classes to improve myself, continued to workout and struggle with my weight. I got used to the constant rejection inherent to acting. SXSW 2019 happened and I got to be a “real” filmmaker for the week – I had a badge and everything to prove it. I wrote and directed and produced my own short. The momentum of success was enough to silence the doubts that plagued me in between projects.
Then I got sick. The momentum was gone. I left my agent when the audition requests stopped coming altogether. I found myself at this same point of needing to believe in myself again, and I felt like I just didn’t quite have the juice for it anymore. My imperfection was a barrier to entry back into the game. It didn’t matter how good I felt, I felt like I had to convince myself and everyone else all over again that I was worth the invest of time and belief. Time passed. I hadn’t applied to any new agents. Hadn’t had any new projects. The weight I had put on during the sedentary lifestyle of illness made me feel like I had fallen backwards.
During our trip to Cancun, I began to ask myself who my role models are now. Unlike the teenage girl I was a decade ago, I have quite a few. Misha Collins is a philanthropist and actor I respect. I love Jamila Al Jamil and iWeigh has honestly changed the way I think about my body. Bryce Dallas Howard is this badass director who is strong and powerful and feminine. So I cleaned up my Instagram feed and let it be filled with people (both celebrities and friends) whose lives looked like what I wanted. Not perfection, but fulfillment. Commitment. Passion.
Universally only one thing was true of all of these people I admire: they weren’t perfect. Some even actively pointed out their flaws in an effort to humanize the idea of celebrity. I hate the idea of “Celebrities, they’re just like us!” (because they aren’t – their personal trainers, chefs, assistants and housekeepers will tell you so). But I finally had found in work and online people who were in the throws of building their life into something meaningful. I wasn’t left with the hollow image of the “final result.” The thought finally hit me, “Why not me?” If I work as hard as these people have at something I’m innately talented at and absolutely love to do, why can’t I build my life again. Whose opinion am I afraid of? Is my fear of failure so powerful I will let it dictate my life?
Failure is such a loaded word anyways. Is it not attaining perfection like I fantasized about as a teen? If so, we are all failures. None of us exist in that perfect state outside of Photoshopped and sanitized essays. Maybe what failure really meant was not even trying. When I asked myself what I was more afraid of, never having an agent again or never getting off of this couch again? – I realized that if I didn’t try, I’d never forgive myself.
So I’ve applied to agents. I’ve applied to some roles. I’ve reached out to a director I’m working on a project with. I’ve started writing the essay for my friend that sounded too important for someone like me. I have as of yet received no gold stars. But I’m trying. I’m giving every day my best, no matter what my best looks like that day. When I ask the question: Why not now, why not me? At least I know the answer will never be because I stopped trying.