In this blog post, Hope Virgo, Mental Health Campaigner and Author of Stand Tall Little Girl shares words of hope for performers who may be struggling with negative thoughts around eating and body image.
Please be aware this blog post refers to sexual abuse and anorexia
Throughout life there is so much that we face that impacts our self-esteem, our relationship with our bodies, with food, exercise and more broadly our self-worth. This is something that cuts across every aspect of society, but for you as actors, performers, as people who perhaps feel often judged, or feel the pressure to change ahead of auditions, it can throw up a whole other dimension to life. You just have to read the staggering statistics from the 2019 “Making an Appearance Report” to see that “53% of respondents’ appearance had been subject to criticism by someone in the industry, of whom 76% reported that the experience had made them feel differently about their body. With these stats in mind, I am sure that it is no surprise to you that it is estimated that 16% of the adult population will screen positive for an eating disorder at any one time, and over the last few years we have seen a fourfold increase in young people also struggling with eating disorders.
I met Anorexia when I was 12 – 13 years old and it became my everything. The anorexia comforted me at night when I was sad and alone, it kept me going each day and gave me this real purpose to live. I loved what it gave me and I longed to please it more and more each day. Before I met the Anorexia I felt like there was something wrong with me that needed to be changed; these feelings towards myself had come from a period of sexual abuse I faced as a child, but you don’t have to be abused to feel this. It could be that you didn’t get the role you wanted, or someone criticised you or your body in an audition, it could be comparing yourself to others on social media… it could be anything. The fact is so many of us go through lives with this sheer disgust to our bodies and this want to fix something.
Anorexia was literally like having this best friend with me the entire time. It served a purpose at that point in my life, numbing emotion, making me feel enough, and distracting me from things that I didn’t want to feel or think about. I thought I had found this magical solution to life, but over the next four years it developed into something I hated.
Fast forward to November 2007 and I was standing in a hospital reception, tears streaming down my face, angry at my family, angry at those around me. I didn’t get it. How could something that made me feel so good, be so bad for me? Even as I stood in the hospital doorway, I was so sure I was right and that everyone else was wrong and I wasn’t able to accept that I needed this support.
I spent the next year in hospital having to tackle that voice in my head, I had to realise that what the anorexia had to offer me was absolutely nothing in comparison to the rest of the world. I had to realise that the negatives of my eating disorder were huge and that there were so many positives about recovery. Holding on to these motivations and making them bigger than any fear was a huge driving force in my recovery.
I don’t know what your story is, how you feel about your body but I do know that there is always hope. There is always a chance to change how you feel about yourself, to own who you are. For me it was about reshaping my future, gaining my identity elsewhere, holding on to what I wanted my future to like and realising that my self-worth didn’t need to come from what I looked like. I understand that in your industry perhaps you can read this, relate but think this would never work for you. You have to be a certain size, have a certain look when performing… but we need to start putting ourselves first.
We need to re-parent ourselves, tell ourselves those things we need to hear at night. Find a way to interrupt the negative narrative that perhaps we have on repeat (especially after auditions) and we need to have those mantras that make us re-frame the way we think about ourselves.
On 1st March at 7pm, there will be a LIVE interview with Hope where she shares her story and discusses her road to recovery. This event is FREE for Samwell members but is also open to the public which you can access here
If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk