- Rachel S
Honest Actors Podcast
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
So in 2018 I was listening to the Honest Actors Podcast (big fan!) and I approached Jonathan to write a blog post about life as a plus-size actress and the ridiculous situations I end up in because of my size as an actress, and it made it on to bearing in mind a size 16 is the average size of women in the UK. So it shouldn't be that strange to have someone on stage of that size, right?!
This blog post led to me being interviewed on BBC 5 Live in response to James Corden speaking out about being typecast & gave me the confidence to start writing my one woman play 'Fat Chance'.
Also DISCLAIMER - I am now a comfortable size 18... I blame the 4 lockdowns!
An article for Honest Actors Website
I am a size 16. The size that flies off the shelves in my local New Look. The size of most of my female friends. The average size of women in the UK. In life I feel quite confident – I wear bikinis on holiday, got married at this size and generally live my best life – as long as no-one mistakes me for pregnant, I’m good… (I must disclose this has happened once – I blame IBS and the copious amount of bread I was eating on my honeymoon). However the actor in me has suffered. For days before a movement or dance audition I wonder that casting directors and directors will assume I am unfit and cut me before they even see what I can do – and generally they do. I see industry people’s faces when they acknowledge my face from my headshot and then watch them change as they take in the rest of my body. So much so that I have now put a full length body shot on my Spotlight – if you invite me to audition and then are shocked that I have some meat on my bones, shame on you for not doing enough research.
Not all curvy women have fat faces. I have been in regional theatre costume departments where elderly women have fat shamed me and said they couldn’t possibly have anything already in stock for me and then gasp in horrored amazement when I fit in to period clothing – put me in a corset and tie these 34F’s in and I am good to go! I have also done jobs where I have sent my measurements in months in advance and turned up and they have assumed a stretchy material will fit – I’ll be able to get it on but it will NOT be appropriate for a children’s show my loves. I have had the embarrassment of being told to go onstage in front of primary school children in a Lycra bodysuit and Rara skirt after telling the all-female team of my hesitation – only to get feedback off teachers that it was far too sexy and revealing. At least the children in the audience weren’t already tainted by the world – they didn’t even bat an eyelid. They were just in awe of my super hero character, and I hope subconsciously they took in the fact that you can sing, dance, act and rap as a curvy female. You do you kids. I have also been given a job and then had it taken off me after I have reiterated my size as I didn’t fit in to the costumes that had ALREADY BEEN PURCHASED.
This has happened to me twice in my three years in the industry – if you are casting to fit a costume then talent really doesn’t matter, and that is incredibly depressing. I have also been told by a big agent in London that ‘I’m female, fat and northern… and you can’t be 3 of those things and succeed in this industry’ Depressingly this is advice Victoria Wood also gave to Maxine Peake, so she dropped her weight whilst at drama school after Dinner Ladies. I refuse to change my body for the industry’s preconceptions – if Shane Meadows said he wanted me to play an anorexic/heroin addict I would gladly drop 6 stone. But I will not change my body for a job that might not exist – or isn’t even equity minimum. Politically I want to see women like me on stage, TV and film and the stubborn part of me wants to succeed despite the industry’s hesitation. And at the moment I only see representations of myself on American TV & Film – like American Housewife. I could literally play Melissa McCarthy’s daughter – look at her career in the US from her humble beginnings in Gilmore Girls. It would be much easier for me to do a few casting seasons in America then it would be for me to drop 6 stone and keep it off, to still be the biggest girl in the room.
Also I am a brunette Caucasian woman – they are millions of women like me who consider themselves an actress. Why should I blend in to the background even more? The industry needs to change to show the people in our country. I want to see all sizes, shapes, colours and disabilities on our stage, screen and TV. SO despite being unable to get an agent because of my size and base in the North East, I am still going strong and will not apologise anymore, albeit through body language or words when I turn up to auditions and workshops. If you are a casting director or director, I hope this makes you think twice before you grimace when your eyes gravitate to a woman’s hips but you gladly cast bigger men. And no I haven’t had children – I am just born this way.
My tips for other stocky actress’s:
Don’t self-sabotage – if you see your size as a barrier, others will too. That agent might want you, that character can only be played by YOU and your size brings realism to roles. The world is not full of size 8 copies of each other.
Wear something that fits you well and that you feel confident in. I was always told to wear form fitting clothes to auditions – I went to a workshop the other day in an XL t-shirt and sports leggings and I got the job. Because I felt comfortable enough to be present and do my best. That is all they care about.
You might not get that job but you will open people’s eyes to the possibility of casting and can always get a future job from it – I went to an audition for the ingénue female in a Shakespeare play and the casting director was kicking herself because she had already cast Feste as a man. Your loss mate!
Don’t talk yourself out of applying for a role – so many things say sexy/pretty female – I never used to apply for them. I now email asking what sort of pretty/sexy? I can do curvy secretary or girl next door – people will learn to be more descriptive and specific.
The industry is slowly changing – be patient and be you.
Be healthy – do your actors yoga, eat your 5 a day and stay motivated. You want to show people that you can be fat and FIT. I have found so much freedom in exercising to be healthy and not to drop a dress size. I now go to my all-female circuit training class feeling confident and supportive – because I don’t want to look like everyone else in the room for my job anymore. I am quite happy.
Six months ago I thought I had done everything I could to succeed in the industry – then I thought outside of the box. I haven’t gone to Edinburgh Fringe, I haven’t tried Youtube and I haven’t done a podcast. So I am doing them now! Let me know if you can help or would like to collaborate… always looking for more positive creatives
Fat Chance will be at Edinburgh Fringe in August. No venue yet – let me know if you have one…. Shane Meadows…..call me.
The Stocky Actress – Youtube
The Stocky Actress – Podcast
Performing in #methree with Saltbox Theatre Company at The Exchange on the 12th of January 2019.
Work is being done, it is getting better.
Spotlight casting – look at their recommendations
Check the collective agreement guidelines
It is a breach of contract if you are offered a job and they then take it off you because of size – YOU DON’T NEED TO HAVE SIGNED ANYTHING. Go straight to equity.
If your costume doesn’t fit/you are uncomfortable and your voice is being ignored, go to equity.
Take any derogatory comments about weight to the director/artistic director as IT NEEDS TO BE A SAFE SPACE. IT IS JUST A JOB AND YOU NEED TO BE PROTECTED. If it does not get resolved go to equity.
Bullying and Harassment Helpline: 020 7670 0268
Big thanks to Kevin Livgran from Live Performance at Equity. His final words to me were ‘Be brave and strong and escalate what you need to’. http://www.equity.org.uk/
“The PMA – a network of talent agencies in the UK – is committed to working towards an inclusive and diverse cultural industry. Our vision encompasses diversity in its fullest expression to include race, background, age, gender, sexuality and disability. As an organisation we can achieve this aim by promoting and engaging with campaigns that identify and tackle discrimination. As individual agents we recognise our responsibility to engage with our colleagues across the industry – including producers, casting directors and most importantly our own clients: to understand the complexity of diversity; to challenge assumptions; and to play our part in creating stories that are a bold reflection of the world we share.”
“The Casting Directors’ Guild of Great Britain and Ireland is committed to diversity in the performing arts in all its forms. The Guild and its members recognise that the live and recorded arts should reflect our society and the world that we live in and encourages all its members to be mindful that audiences are diverse and that diversity in casting is crucial to engagement with those audiences. It is the aim of the Guild and its members to achieve a balanced portrayal of women, Black, Asian and minority ethnic, LGBT+ and Deaf and Disabled people. The Guild and its members shall strive to enable the casting of actors from all backgrounds, regardless of socio-economic status and to engage with producers and directors to create opportunity and access. The Guild will continue to engage in collaboration and discussion around the subject of diversity with our industry colleagues and other professionals.”