“What you want is a model and not an actress.”

  • Abbie Harris

I have always been a massive fan of Emma Thompson, and, having finished the first year of my drama course at university, I think now is an excellent time to reflect on my experience so far, alongside an interview of hers conducted in 2013. The interview can be found on YouTube, on the channel BAFTA Guru, and the video is titled Emma Thompson: On Acting.

In this interview, Thompson addressed the issue of body image in the world of professional acting. When asked what advice she would give to aspiring actors, she responded:

“Never let yourself be defined by how you look. […] If people go on and on about how you look, you have to challenge it. […] You have to exist as a person and a character and a brain. And that counts for boys as well. But it’s particularly bad for girls at the moment because they seem to be required to be models as well as actors. If someone […] says to you that you have to be thinner, then you have to challenge them by saying why? […] Give me a reason, because if this is a cosmetic reason then what you want is a model and not an actress.” (Emma Thompson: On Acting, 2013)

As a curvy girl with some extra lumps and bumps on my body, it is one of my biggest worries that I will be denied acting opportunities because I am not conventional front-page material. I am 5’5” and dress size 14. Not exactly the typical red carpet ‘beauty’ I’ve grown up believing to be the norm for models and actresses alike.

Thompson’s words struck a chord with me. I am guilty of comparing my appearance to those of my peers at university all the time. It’s something I have done for as long as I can remember, but it’s a habit I must try harder to break. At the end of the day, we are all taking the course because we love the industry, not because we want to prove we have the best bodies.

Moreover, my hips do not dictate my competence. If I am correct in believing that I have a degree of talent as an actor, then my body should not stop me being awarded the chance to play the likes of Belle, or Eponine, no matter how slender the role’s predecessors may have been. I never want to be confronted with the situation of being rejected for a role because the casting director had always assumed that character to be skinnier than me. In my opinion, if the shape and size of a character are not integral to the story, and will not change the plot entirely if it is altered from the social default of size 8 and well-toned, then any woman of any size could get the part if their talent warrants the merit.

It is utterly unfair to place the pressures of the modeling industry onto aspiring actors because casting agents and directors want picture-perfect stunners on their websites and posters. The acting industry should not become a toxic beauty pageant.