“You know, if you want to get jobs, you really need to start thinking about your appearance.” I thought that casting an actress would be about, I don’t know, acting. Not all casting calls are as overt as the one above (though I have seen this type of call a few times), but so often it seems like I signed up for a beauty pageant instead of a profession. Maybe the sacrifice might be worth it if the roles themselves possessed some kind of value. But you reach a point where you’re in an audition room simulating sexual intercourse with a zombie and you start to wonder, is it really worth it?
I’d like to say that this is because I’m just starting out and I shouldn’t have high expectations for low-budget films. Or that I’m being overly critical. But even in the good projects I’ve been a part of I couldn’t help but feel like I was ornamental, a pretty face next to the leading man. Maybe it’s because I apply to casting calls that have “pretty” in the description, that they are being upfront about what they are looking for, what they expect of you, but if I stopped applying to films looking for a pretty girl I doubt I’d be going on many auditions.
I can keep pushing through, hoping that it’s going to get better when I graduate to a more professional level, but if Rose McGowan’s infamous casting call is any indication, it doesn’t get better. Maybe that’s because young actresses told themselves to just push through it when they were making student films.
Or I can find the most professional acting situation I can hope to be in, an industrial film, or spokesperson audition. I did, and at the audition I was told my outfit was “distracting.” I was wearing a tank top and jeans. I think he was referring to my breasts, but if I was wearing a turtleneck – surprise! – I’d still have breasts. That experience was significantly more embarrassing than the simulated zombie sex. At least in that scene I knew what I was getting into. Despite the catcalling in the streets of NYC, the audition requests for full body pics, the leers on the subway and the insults when they realize you’re only pretending to listen to your headphones, for some reason it caught me off guard to discover that no matter what situation I put myself into, no matter how hard I tried to avoid it, someone would always make me a sexual object.
It’s easy to feel helpless and mope about it. I know that there is no perfect situation where I will be completely free from being sexualized without my consent. I could hope people would be a little less vocal about it, but I could also hope for a million dollars… Let’s see which one comes first. You could say that as an actress I’ve signed up for this kind of sexual focus, but I’ve worked as a waitress, a barista, an office assistant, and more, and men don’t stop harassing you for your phone number just because you’re trying to help another customer with a sale instead of performing.
It’s harder to feel inspired and try to make a change in an industry with a history of dismissing and misrepresenting women.
The best I can do is to make my own work, and I’ve had some success (I wrote a web series, “HOUSED,” that won Best Sit-Com at the Miami Web Fest). I’m incredibly lucky to have met a fantastic director and editor, Simone Kisiel, who shares my belief that the path to responsible representation of women on camera and in the industry begins with creating work that shows audiences are willing to watch films where women are more than a pretty face, a sex toy, or (in our beloved field of horror) an explicit titty shot. Yes, I’m a pretty face. I’m also a vegetarian. I’m also a horror fan. I’m also a writer. And I’ve decided to write a film where the heroine’s main concern isn’t how she’s going to love the leading man when she is clearly too vapid to possess strong feelings about anything. I’ve decided to write about real issues women face that I choose to represent through the lens of my favorite genre. Issues such as failure to find help or be taken seriously by doctors as a patient in distress. Or the expectation of an innate sense of mothering instinct and desire to raise children.
Or being transformed from girls into sexualized objects.