My Ass Is My Politics: A Declaration of Self Love
I was in a fitting today, for a show in which I'm wearing a kilt and sword fighting, so I'll be rocking some 90s bike shorts. The assistant said, 'We've got a small and a medium for you to try.' I said, "I'm a M/L." There was a teeny pause. She repeated herself.
I pulled on the medium, told her I was ready, and my stomach started churning about how the rest of this half hour was going to go.
When you're an actor, and you're lucky enough to book a job. You're also hopefully lucky enough to be working on a project that can employ designers to bring the project to life in a visionary, professional way. Depending on how involved the costumes are, or the scale of the theatre, you might have many fittings, to get the details just right. If it's small & scrappy, you might get just one.
The costume has to express the style of the production, based on the aesthetics of the director, designer, and producers.
The costume has to fit the actor’s body & the practical needs of the show, if they have to fight, kneel, sit, fall, dance, or perform outdoors.
Ideally, the costume will also fit the actor in their feelings. They might be scared about the role, aware of the people who’ll be watching, they may have recently gained or lost weight (possibly for an emotional reason); maybe they’re supposed to look hot, maybe they hope to look hot.
Because of the beauty standards of the society we live in, and the persistent casting habits of the past however-many decades,
women who are cast to appear onstage and on screen fall into a specific category: skinny minnie.
When we see these gals on the red carpet, they seem larger than life. But magazine covers and interviews focus on how they stay so small, what they’re eating this month, & they’re chirping along about how going gluten-free ‘just made me happier’. Sometimes the magazine will veil this constant question by asking how they 'trained for a role' - which partly means, “how did you learn to kick ass like a super-hero?”, but also means, “you're skinny-strong, that's new and fun!”
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule.
And these women should get a standing ovation every time they walk on stage or pop up on your computer screen, just for the absurdity it took to get there: the hoops and hurdles and snarky comments, and apparently 'appropriate' industry conversations about them & their appearances that take place right in front of them, that they've had to take in, wait to cry about in the car, and show up the next day after anyway.
Standing in that un-air-conditioned, curtained-off space, I started breathing harder, and the nightmare scenarios crept in.
Looking at the garment rack next to me, I imagined thirty minutes of trying to squeeze into possibility after possibility, with at least two people staring at my body, wondering why it couldn't just fit in and make everything go more smoothly. When you start a fitting off with a size discrepancy, it is then very likely that almost everything else you'll try will have been bought (or pulled from stock) with the same misconception about your body in mind. And this misconception has happened in almost every fitting I've ever had.
If you head to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics webiste, which I would not wish on anybody, you will find that the employment data is not organized by gender. But the professional stage actors’ union, Actors Equity, recently completed a several-year study on hiring biases, and the bummer of a report can be found here: http://www.actorsequity.org/NewsMedia/news2017/DiversityStudyfromEquityNews.asp. Equity notes that while membership is evenly split between men and women, men are consistently claiming 60% of the available contracts. And the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media points out that, even when women are landing the job, their presence on screen and in the script is marginal, compared to the guys (https://seejane.org/research-informs-empowers/data/). And on both stage & screen, women are routinely being paid less, even though in most states we pay a luxury tax on our tampons.
So when we show up on the first day of rehearsal, we've been battling demons since the day we got the offer. Their voices keeping you up at night, waking you up in the morning, popping up in your head when you're in line for coffee, or on the elliptical, spouting fear-based hate for you: 'Why you? You don't deserve it! Here's a mounting list of reasons why, so you can prepare yourself for any of the things they'll fire you for Day 1. And here's a list of people who could probably do it better than you. Oh! Here's a list of all the mean stuff your parents, friends, frenemies, teachers, and other crap-holes ever said about you, I'll play that on loop for a couple hours.'
The first fitting is one of the tenderest times, and it tends to happen that first week of rehearsal, when you're still just faking-it-til-you-make-it on your coffee breaks. You're in your underpants in front of people you may have met just once, it's either too cold or very humid, and you've got to try on clothes, which is like always kind of a misery. You’ll have provided your general sizes beforehand, or if it’s a fancy place, they’ll take detailed measurements, including glove size (what?), ring size, center-back to shoulder-point, oh, the glamour! So when the garments that have been pulled or bought don't represent an awareness of that information, it's hard not to feel like your body, as it is, is an inconvenience.
The nightmare fitting I flashback to?
A rack of twenty pairs of size 2 and 4 white. denim. pants.
It felt personal.
I frantically scanned size tags & measurement tags, separating the two 6's from the bunch, and the 4's that looked 'roomy', and pulling on pair after pair that I couldn't get past my lower thighs, cheerfully calling out 'Oops, this one doesn't work, either!' as tears well up, while the designer feigns confusion, like, “how could a size 4 NOT fit a size 8/10 woman?!" Trying on horrible white jeans for almost an hour, her continuing to suggest, 'well, I DID pull others…’ Meaning, the 2’s.
For one of my day jobs, I work as bridal consultant. I measure women's bodies all the time. And all women have an emotional response to having another person talk to them about their sizing. My long arms can reach around almost any body without seeming like I'm straining. And I perfected a way of framing the size chart conversation to keep it light. And I never react when they (occasionally, more often than you would think, sadly) are rude to me for sharing this information with them. Because, however big & often my insecurities are, I still live in an in-between medium-sized body, and my voice in this larger argument falls in the 'privileged' chorus. And when I tell a woman, based on our absurd designer-sizing, "Your measurements are falling at a Size 14,” and she's spent her entire adult life shopping as "I'm a 10" (note - 'I am', not, 'I wear', or, 'the size that works for me often is'), the conversation’s going to be unpleasant.
I'm just the in-between nebulous medium size, so maybe the assistant didn't notice when she measured my butt it was a healthy 40", which is, in no size chart, a small, and if anything, depending on the brand, bordering, somehow, on extra-large. Not noticing my body, or the measurements taken or provided, equates with not respecting the space I take up in the fitting room, and onstage.
It's important to me to be medium-sized. It's important to me to have lines in the show, so people have to listen to a female voice, coming out of a female body that has muscles & fleshiness and that fills out those pants. It's a political act for a woman to demand opportunity to be seen & heard,
and the way I do it is by going to auditions. The size-8-to-size-10 space my butt takes up is a part of my politics.
So please don’t buy me a size small bike short, or pull me a size 4 white denim pant.