I am face down on my yoga mat, trying to muster the strength to attempt another half plank.
I can feel the instructor’s eyes on my back and know I have to get up. I use every muscle in my arms – muscles I have just discovered I have – to push myself into position. I stifle a whimper and think for the hundredth time that hour, “Why the hell am I doing this?”
There are a lot of answers to that question (wedding, acting, general loss of metabolism) but the answer I like to tell people is that it’s ‘for my health.’
The real reason is more complicated.
Growing up, I felt pretty comfortable in my body thanks to some skilled parenting and a delusional self-confidence. But after moving to Los Angeles things started to change.
In Hollywood, beauty is everywhere. This industry draws the most beautiful people from all over the world, setting the standard inconceivably high.
Unlike most places, these beauties are not just safely on the big screen or in a magazine. They are living among us. This sculpted, surgically enhanced, wealth-injected beauty can be seen in the grocery store, in the audition room, in the women’s bathroom at the McDonald’s by my house.
In fact it’s right next to me in my workout class not breaking a sweat while doing the most advanced version of the pose.
I work in an industry that exports fantasy and I would be lying if I said it hasn’t shaken me up a bit. It is incredibly difficult to focus on what truly matters when the way you look is a factor in whether or not you get a job.
After a few years of living here, I started to notice that my positive inner monologue was starting to change. Rather than focusing on what I loved about myself, I started to fixate on what I considered my flaws.
I thought about that as the fitness instructor adjusted my position for the seventh time. I smile at her, which turns into a grimace as she pulls my leg further out.
For a while, I had managed to keep my negative thoughts at bay, but after a few years of auditions and working in Hollywood, they became louder.
I began skipping meals and once caught myself considering a product that ‘freezes fat.’ I felt caught in the ridiculous expectations women are forced to meet – expectations that are even higher in this town, in this industry.
Until last pilot season.
I had read a script for a TV show that I knew would be perfect for me. I emailed my manager, asking her if she could get me in. A few minutes later I had a response in my inbox.
“They are only seeing really beautiful girls right now but I’ll let you know if that changes.”
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.
I stared at my phone, shocked that this email came from one of my biggest champions. I sat down on the bed and felt something welling up inside me.
And then I started to laugh.
The whole situation seemed ridiculous. The fact that I worked in an industry where I would get a work email like that. The fact that I put myself in this position over and over. The fact that she was right. The TV show was casting models. And I’m not a model.
After that email everything seemed to come into focus for me. I felt myself rise a bit above the fray and realize something that my manager already knew.
It wasn’t about me. I wasn’t the one setting the standards of what is considered beautiful.
And even though I might never be the most beautiful girl in the room I still have something to offer.
I sank into my last pose of the day – thankful that it was over and proud of myself for coming. Proud that I was here just for me. Because I wanted to be here not because I was trying to compete with a certain standard.
I walked out into the California sun, holding my yoga mat and feeling very LA.
I caught a glimpse of myself in my car window and stopped. I had become one of those women in Los Angeles who does a lot of yoga.
My phone dinged with a text from my fiancé, Jason.
“Pizza for dinner?”
I wiped the sweat off my face and smiled.
This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum. You can find them (and me) here.