Acting and Disordered Eating

Updated: Feb 6, 2020

- TRIGGER WARNING FOR EATING DISORDERS (if that wasn't obvious) -

Raise your hand if you've ever gone to extreme lengths to lose weight specifically so you'd be more employable as an actor!

Dieting used to be the thing I did when I felt like I wasn't talented enough, as a way to regain control and feel like I had even slightly more potential for success as a performer. It was a surefire way to feel like I was worthy and capable of something (restriction, and math - I did love to count a calorie). I was thirteen the first time I remember doing this.

Lately I've been giving a lot of thought to how many actors I know who struggle with disordered eating. It's not always directly related to theatre or film itself, but for many of us who aren't naturally thin, becoming a performer can feel like a constant battle with your body. And in an industry that is so blatant about body shaming, where people are told to lose weight before they can find representation or play certain roles, where character descriptions often specify that characters are "attractive" and/or thin for no real reason, where we applaud "dedicated" actors for losing tremendous amounts of weight for roles, where an actor's weight loss or gain is literally front page it any wonder eating disorders are so prevalent?

The tricky thing about acting while having to stay thin - theatre in particular, I think, because it's more physically demanding, especially if you're doing intense movement or dance - is that we need food to function. Like, a reasonable amount of food. I was struggling with this during the rehearsal process for the show I'm currently in. If I don't eat, I will not be able to focus, and I struggle with focus on my best day. If I don't eat, I will not be able to make it through back-to-back dance classes, or at least I won't have the energy to dance as well as I could otherwise.

But eating disorders (and disordered eating, which I think is far more common) don't just affect performers. I think that depictions of fat characters in film and theatre as across-the-board tragic, disgusting, or the butt of a joke, help to strike fear into the hearts of people across the world. You don't want to live the life fat characters live. You want to be a beautiful main character who gets a real storyline that isn't about how much you like to eat. You want to be a character that is loved and respected and taken seriously. So if you're fat, what are you going to do so that you don't have to live out that sad narrative? And if you're not, what are you doing to do to make sure you don't get fat? Something healthy (physically or mentally)? Does it matter? A lot of people will do literally anything not to be fat.

This is something that scares me about entering the industry as a fat actor. I worry that if I take a job where I'm playing a funny or tragic fat character, I'll just feed that fear of being fat and possibly contribute to others' toxic behaviors or attitudes around food and body image. But how many jobs will I be considered for that aren't stereotypical goofy and/or tragic fat roles? I don't know, but I think some, because I have faith that the industry is changing.

If you're wondering what brought this post on, it's that I've been reading The Fuck It Diet, which is a must read for literally everyone on this entire planet who has ever dieted ever, which is like almost everyone on this entire planet! PLEASE READ IT. The end.

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