On screen appearances and the travesty of body dysmorphia

Jr. HS me was too fat to be anything...still I manage to rock that flared shirt and clogs like no one's business
Jr. HS me was too fat to be anything…still I manage to rock that flared shirt and clogs like no one’s business

It was a time when I was seriously struggling with my self-image and didn’t want to be seen in any way, shape or form. I was about 25 years old when my friend and mentor Doc Tudor asked me to be an extra in one of his short films.

As a future director I realized then, that I must know all the aspects of filmmaking. In order for me to be a successful writer, director I had to know what it felt like to be an actor. However, the fact that I saw myself about 20 sizes larger than I actually was, instilled an incomparable fear within me of being in front of a camera, a fear that one can bold enough to call it a phobia. Still, I managed to say yes to my friend and proceeded to sit down at the table at the restaurant the last day of shooting. Hoping that I wouldn’t mess up the take when they did the wide shot.

During my formative years I was often told I was too fat. Both in school and at home I was told that I was too fat to be loved, too fat to be in the choir (or how the choir director called it ‘not aesthetically pleasing enough’) too fat to be ballerina, a singer, and even too fat to be pretty.  I was told that if I didn’t lose weight, I’d never find a boyfriend or amount to much in life, that it was only the thin (and light skinned) girls who got anywhere. When a boy confessed to me that he loved me and I rejected him, one of my family members told me I should have been grateful to have someone love me, because at my weight, that would most likely never happen again.

early 1980's when I wanted really badly to be a bellerina
early 1980’s me when I wanted really badly to be a ballerina

It was only during the past seven years that I came to realize that while I’ve never been the thinnest person ever, nor will I be, I’ve also never been the heaviest person ever – nor will I ever be. However, before coming to that realization the constant barrage of negativity towards my weight led me to think I wasn’t good enough to achieve my dreams. Still, it wasn’t long before I realized that people are just absolutely absurd when it comes to weight, and beauty standards and no one would ever fit in all of the standards. Because we are all different and different societies have different standards. So, after being in numerous relationships in my life (relationships with really attractive men I might add) I learned that I can be and have been loved. Most importantly, I learned that I needed to love myself before proceeding to enter another relationship and to achieve my dreams of being a filmmaker.

it was during the mid 00's when I started to really love me for who I was
it was during the mid 00’s when I started to really love me for who I was

It was for the sake of the longevity of my career, and the longevity of my sanity, that I began to focus on learning to love who I was entirely. Learning, exploring, and appreciating my body, mind, heart and soul led me to being able to pursue a writing career and subsequent film career. This moment of self love and discovery led me to realizing the strength I have and the amazing person I am. Although I am still haunted by the past when I step in front of the camera, I don’t let that deter me from doing so.  While, many people have told me that I am a natural when it comes to performing, I have to mentally prepare myself for weeks – practice the dialogue and make sure that my face doesn’t tense up when that recording light goes on, because I still remember the negative words that echoed through most of my younger years.

“Nobody wants to see a fat person on screen.”

A guy I dated once told me that. He was trying to encourage me to not only lose weight, but to be less assertive – or how he said it “less like a man, because men don’t want to date a woman who is like them.” Although it’s been almost a decade since I heard those words, I have to say they influenced my life for a long time, longer than I would care to admit. However, it hasn’t influenced the REST of my life, nor my decisions in attaining success or relationships since.

Working at the UN a colleague snapped this photo of me asking Linkin' Park a question about their composting stove program (Photo Louise de Hemptinne)
Working at the UN a colleague snapped this photo of me asking Linkin’ Park a question about their composting stove program (Photo Louise de Hemptinne)

I have practiced and conditioned my brain to being in front of the screen. While right now I’d like to stay behind the camera in order to let my work speak for itself. I tense up less, and am less frightened about how I will look once I’m on the other side of the camera. I’ve been able to do several videos, interviews and appear in photographs without a problem. I’ve even conditioned myself to not ask for a do over in photos. Accepting myself, just as I am, is an important part of my success story, because once I realized that I was capable of loving myself and being loved – I realized that I could achieve my dreams and that nothing, other than myself was able to stop me.

One thing I do now, that I didn’t do before is search for body types that resemble mine. Finding solace in several Latina actresses and plus size models I’ve come to realize that I am not alone and people do want to see my body type on screen and on the pages of magazines.  Although I’m in no hurry in doing any cameos, I have no qualms of filling in for an actor/extra if needed. Now, I remember what my mother used to say to me when I was younger “you’re already a movie star, you were an extra in a movie when you were a baby.” Filmmaking has been in my life since I was in a 1970’s stroller.

at the Rincón International Film Festival with some of the Forever Boogies crew/supporters
at the Rincón International Film Festival with some of the Forever Boogies crew/supporters

Success is not measured by the size of your waist, nor the color of your skin. It’smeasured by the amount of passion and determination you have towards anything you set yourself in achieving. This, I learned the hard way, and I’ll do whatever it takes to spread the word for others to know what took me a little over two decades in learning for myself. As of now, I’m happy with my weight, happy with my life and continue to strive to achieve all the goals I set out to.

P.S.
For further body positivity – here is a song by the lovely Thomas James Smith, which I’m sure you’ll love: We’re all the Same on SoundCloud

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3 thoughts on “On screen appearances and the travesty of body dysmorphia

  1. Dear La Shawn,

    My name is Ashlee. I’m co-founder of the Youshare Project, with the mission to connect people around the world through true, personal stories. I recently stumbled across your blog and read the above post entitled “On screen appearance and the travesty of body dysmorphia.” It’s honest and compelling. I think it would make a wonderful youshare, because perhaps it could help encourage and inspire other people who have endured similar verbal abuse about their weight, and let them know they are not alone.

    If this sounds interesting to you, I would love to email you directly with more information and formally invite you to adapt your story to youshare and share it with the project. You have my email address and website. I hope to hear from you soon.

    Best,
    Ashlee
    http://www.youshareproject.com
    ashlee@youshareproject.com

    Like

      1. Hi LaShawn – Thank you so much for my email and now I apologize for the delayed reply. My notification center for comments and likes has not been working properly, and I only just received your comment today. I will email you more information later today. Warmest regards, Ashlee

        Like

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