As an actor, our body is our instrument. As cliché as that sounds, and technically is, it’s entirely the truth. As an actor, you need physical and mental stamina. Imagine doing a physically intensive show, one or two times a day, nearly every single day for a one to two month run. Insane right?! Imagine the physical demands of that, you’d have to have a certain level of stamina to even get close to attempting such a feat, and then there’s your voice. Safely projecting in a large space, for one to three or more hours, every night, requires such vital care of your vocal cords, lungs and throat. So yes, as cliché as it sounds, your body is your instrument, and you can’t play the guitar with an out of tune or broken guitar, so you can’t really act, at least not to the best of your ability, with an unprepared body.
That being said, there is a horrible stigma around body, in everyday life but also even more so in the acting industry. We live in a world where there is an ideal, a perfect body, which for a lot of people, if not most people, is either impossible or massively detrimental to one’s own mental health. We’re lucky enough to be living in a time where body positivity is on the rise, more and more mainstream media is representing all body types, including ridiculously fit models, but it’s still not enough, and there is still a long way to go.
Within our very vain, very perfection-oriented industry, body image is a huge problem, and it is a ‘selling point’ for us actors. Whilst there is more and more media out there representing other body types, and sometimes even throwing away the idea that body image is even a necessary casting requirement, it is still a prevalent issue to be the best body you can, aesthetically rather than mechanically as your instrument. This can wreak havoc on a person’s mental health and their actual physical body too. Abuse of diet, eating disorders and other unhealthy paths to industry standard ‘ideals’ leave an actor with a ruined mental state and ironically a poor actor’s instrument.
It’s important to fight this ideal, and fight for the healthy ideal that is necessary for a working actor. Aesthetics have nothing to do with a healthy body, and with the media selling us the idea of ‘perfection’ the journey to the desired body can leave you with an extremely unhealthy, and potentially chronically injured one. There is a massive difference between an aesthetically pleasing body and an actual healthy body that allows an actor and person to work and live to the best of their ability.
Obviously, where a role calls for a specific body image, say a biopic, or body specific storyline, there lies a difference. Continuity can become a factor in ‘controlling’ your body image in screen acting, and it is so important in these jobs you work with professionals to keep your mind and body at the level required but also in a space that is monitored, and allows for you to work safely under specific body restrictions.
I think it is essential that the world, and our industry in particular, has an open and honest conversation about the importance of physical and mental health with it comes to body image and acceptance of one’s self. It is essential to blindly ‘body cast’ where possible and provide as much professional help as needed where a project, role or just a person requires it. Celebrate diversity and look after your friends, your actors and most importantly, yourselves.