Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

Mayim reflects on how Hollywood treats women

Plus, she opens up about her experience as a 'character actor'
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 08/17/2015 at 10:04 AM EDT
Rose McGowan has been credited with starting a 'revolution' in Hollywood. Wikimedia Commons

In this industry, you see things. And you hear stories.

In June, actress/director Rose McGowan tweeted the wardrobe requirements for an audition she was going on: “Black (or dark) form fitting tank that shows off cleavage (push up bras encouraged). And form fitting leggings or jeans.” She was then dropped by her agent, and subsequently has emerged as a feminist figure, “starting a revolution” in Hollywood. While it may surprise you that these wardrobe requirements are required at what is presumably a test of someone’s acting ability, unfortunately — to this actress — it’s not shocking.

Another recent story: Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, age 37, was told she was too old to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man. Again: astounding, not shocking.

I have been on auditions where I was asked to state my measurements, as in: “What size are you really?” I have been asked to “turn to the side slowly,” so that the video camera operator could slowly (creepily!) pan the camera up and down my body to check out my figure. Feels yucky, I promise. And I’ve had this happen at auditions for major motion pictures with big name stars. I guess even major productions have no qualms about treating female actors like models at best when we audition for things. I honestly have felt like I was auditioning for a porno sometimes just because of the “gaze” and body focus aspect. True story. It’s not like this all the time. But it’s like this enough times that it does deserve attention.

Non-traditional-looking female actors (such as myself) are called “character actors.” We are used to getting called in for roles that women of all kinds are called in for because technically the “quirky friend” can and should be not as attractive as the lead actor, and should look different than the typical lead. So character actors like me get called in to play roles where “all races and sizes” are encouraged to audition. Because I am not a size 0 or 2 (and, truth be told, I haven’t been a 4 in a long time), I often get scripts that call for me to play the “zaftig” secretary (“zaftig” being the Yiddish word for chubby/plump/hefty/curvy) or the “overweight” friend.

Here’s the deal: I have no problem auditioning for such roles. It’s potential work, right? I’m an actor. I can be as mad as I want that our industry prefers super-skinny women with small features and “perfect” bodies. I can do whatever I want to express that outrage with my manager, my publicist and my unlucky-but-devoted close circle of friends and loved ones. But here’s the thing: This bias also exists outside Hollywood circles.

I’ve found that mature men have more interest in the different types of women’s bodies than, say, the teenage boys who called me flat-chested throughout junior high and high school (I showed them with my growth spurt as a senior!). I’ve learned that some men like different body types than what the boys in school thrust in all the girls’ faces: Playboy magazine and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue were what we all should look like, they sneered.

But for the most part — generally speaking — I have found that men who generally do prefer women to look as close as possible to their heterosexual, American-centric, artificially-supported-by-unhealthy-media-images fantasy as possible. They do like skinny women. They like model bodies. They prefer traditionally “attractive” over quirky or ethnic. This doesn’t mean ethnic women aren’t beautiful and that prominent features or a round tummy aren’t desirable or totally lovable. But for the most part – again: I’m generalizing from my experience – it seems men generally do prefer women to look as close to their fantasy as possible. Many end up with women who look different from their fantasy, but even the nicest guys, when hard-pressed, tend to get all lusty and weird about model-types. The media, including Hollywood, is undoubtedly to blame for at least some of this “preference.”

I don’t begrudge Rose McGowan her outrage. I share it. I don’t begrudge Maggie Gyllenhaal her speaking out. She’s totally justified. But I guess I have sort of moved into a phase of acceptance about it, that it’s far from ideal, but that it’s part of this industry…for now.

In my life, I celebrate “non-traditional” females and I celebrate the men — and women — who love us. I know that there are many of you out there, of many races, shapes and sizes, who celebrate each other and yourselves, independent of whatever “standards” Hollywood may be showing us are “ideal.” Even Hollywood itself has come a long way in terms of showing different kinds of women, but all of us — especially those of us who would be classified as “nontraditional types” — know that there is still a long road ahead.

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