Friday, 30 October 2015

Double Chins and Film Making

The lady in the top two pictures is Liz Thomas, the lady in the bottom two pictures is me playing Liz Thomas 

I haven't yet mentioned here that I am an Actress. It feels appropriate to bring that up at this point, as I look at body image. 

This year I was asked to play an incredible real life woman in a sizzle reel for a feature film. A sizzle reel is a trailer for a feature that hasn't yet been made, a marketing tool to help secure the necessary funding. I was asked to play the part at this stage namely because I look a lot like the woman the film is based on.

A common reaction of mine when confronted with a new acting role is to do everything within my power to not take the role. Even as I audition for parts, in my head I have one foot firmly out the door. It's fear and I believe it's normal. Self-doubt has to go hand in hand with a new challenge. So when I was presented with a picture of the woman it was another reason for me not to play the part. Why? Because the picture horrified me. 

You think I look like that?

In fact, I now think she is beautiful, but what I first saw was my own worst nightmare, my biggest "flaw" staring back at me, a round face.

My round face has been my nemesis my entire life. It is my father's and nan's face shape. Both faces, incidentally, that I love. On top of that I have what is known in the family as "the Gannon jaw." I personally think both traits, the round face and the Gannon jaw work fine separately, I've never looked at my Mum or my aunties and paid much note to their jaws, fine jaws so they are. But the round face and the sort of slackness, looseness that comes with the Gannon jaw, together...well.

Now luckily for the character, she doesn't have the Gannon jaw, except on profile in one picture...she has it and incidentally that was the picture where I saw myself the most. But she does have a round face and that was all I could see. I looked at the image and I saw a round face. I saw my own biggest insecurity being presented to me as "don't you look like this woman?" And it made me want to run and hide.

Now in fact, as we've filmed, I've not only seen the similarity between us, I've also realised that Liz has the kind of round face, I didn't realise at the time, but that I used to enjoy. She has a round face but it's not a fat face. I hated my round face but when I look at pictures from a few years ago I realise that it's a fine shape face. The issue is, when you have a round face and you put weight on there is no escaping it. There it is, all over your face.
And when you have a Gannon jaw and you put weight on, well, there's a double chin. Now I think I could cope with one or the other, a fat face but a firm jaw, or a double chin but cheekbones. But both...BOTH?

The thing is, as I have fallen in love with the character I've enjoyed our similarities more and more. In fact, I am proud to say I do look like her. However, when your face is the only thing in frame and you have an insecurity, you will zoom in on it. So as the Director has been excited to play back scenes to me, proud of what we are making, all I can see is a double chin and fat cheeks. And that focus, that criticism of my face takes away all the pleasure I had moments before in creating this character, in following in her footsteps, in learning about her life. And quite frankly, that's not fair. 

Like the crew around me, I want the enjoyment of making the piece to be at the forefront of my mind when I watch it, not my own self-hate. 

Shortly after the last shoot day we had, I went to Devon for a week by myself. When I got into bed in the mobile home I had rented, I realised the wall opposite was all mirrored doors. Handy for me to take my make up off whilst in bed, but less pleasant when sat in bed reading. I kept catching glimpses of my face. 

But then something magical happened. After a couple of days in my own company, doing all the things I love and have missed and for some reason forgotten about this year, I could catch my face in the mirror and it wasn't horrifying. In fact, after a few days I was actively seeking out my own face and even, changing in front of the mirror. Actual upper thighs and belly and stuff. And no, I wasn't suddenly enraptured and overjoyed but I wasn't repulsed. There was me, a little heavier than I used to be, possibly a bit more tired than before but not horrifying. 

My reaction to my reflection was directly related to how I had been feeling personally. For many reasons, this year I haven't done anything just for me. I haven't walked by the river in London, my favourite place, I haven't been to the theatre alone, I haven't been to an art gallery, I haven't sat in a cafe for hours and read, I haven't gone for long walks and I haven't enjoyed myself half as much. I've felt as though my schedule was so busy and on everyone else's terms. I've felt out of control. 

With that feeling, my mood has dropped. With my mood, my self image has dropped. Which, is why I decided I had to do this blog. To take the time to think about the plans I am making, the food I am eating, the drinks I am drinking and to listen to myself. To treat as worthy, my own personal needs. 

I could not have started this blog until that moment. The moment I looked in the mirror, saw all the flaws, accepted them and decided that yes, I want to go for another walk with just myself, because just myself is actually enough. Just myself, right where I am, right now, double chin and all. 

On Sunday, I will shoot the last scenes as the woman with the round face and I hope when we're finished, I can watch the material and instead of zoning in on my chin and cheeks, I'll do the normal actress thing of cringing that THAT is what I'm doing when I'm performing? Which is as it should be. I'm not going to hope to enjoy watching myself, that's impossible, watching yourself pretend to be someone else is far harder than acting it. Heck, it's why Theatre is so brilliant, as the actor, you never have to watch. 

So, if you're here with me, and especially if you have that voice in your head who likes to criticise everything about you, do me a favour, spend time doing what you love and do it with just you, and then see if you can face the mirror a little easier afterwards. It's not about changing who you are. It's about learning to love who you are. Being your own friend is the best way to see you the way everyone else does, and no one else (as every one keeps telling me) notices your double chin as if it were a separate being, they just see you and all that you encompass. Double chin or no double chin, your chin is not all that you are. Take the time to remember all the things you are, and take the time to enjoy who you are. 

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