Once upon a time, I was a dorky, shy, chubby teenage girl. Occasionally people would talk to me, but no one was interested in dating me, and no one told me they were physically attracted to me. I was probably the female equivalent of the dudes who get upset because women don’t pay attention to them, except I wasn’t vocal about it. And in the patriarchal world we live in, where women are valued more for their looks than their personalities, it bothered me that I wasn’t one of those women that men deemed worthy of their gaze. It didn’t, however, bother me enough that I obsessed over making myself more attractive for them. It was more a wishful thinking thing than something I needed to fulfil. I would tell myself that it was better to be appreciated more for who I was as a person, and if I wasn’t conventionally attractive, then I had a better reason to trust that if someone was interested in me, it wasn’t just because they liked how I looked.
My appearance has fluctuated a lot over the years, predominantly due to weight and hair colour. A few months ago, I wrote about building my image as an actor, and trying to figure out what I needed to do to give myself a better chance at success. Back then, I focused a lot on weight loss because I wanted to keep brightly colouring my hair crazy colours. However, since then, I’ve stabilised my weight in pounds around the mid-120s such that I fit into US size 2-4 clothing, and it wasn’t helping me find roles I could submit to, let alone get called in for. After a recent rejection, I finally bit the bullet and dyed my hair back to my natural brown. As I’ve only just had new headshots taken (thanks, Dillon!), I’m yet to discover if it’ll actually help with the acting thing.
Aside from the changes to my appearance over the last several months, there has been one other difference in my life that I feel has influenced the unusual position I now find myself in, which was my publicly coming out as polyamorous.
So what is the unusual position I suddenly find myself in? That of being closer to being one of those more conventionally attractive women who get a ton more compliments about their appearance from all kinds of men, and far more expressions of interest from them than I’m used to. There was a time where I enjoyed such comments because they were so rare. Now I feel like I’m getting a taste of what certain women experience on a daily basis (though I can thankfully say it’s not a daily bombardment of unwanted attention at this point). Not being used to it, I don’t know what to do with it.
I’m generally a girl-next-door type of person that many people find easy to talk to. I’m friendly, and I try to give everyone a chance because I know how much it sucks to feel rejected. I like to listen and understand where other people are coming from, even if I don’t agree with them. But that’s a lot easier to do when you’re sure the people who want to talk to you only want to be friends. I’ve generally assumed that over the years because of all the times I was attracted to someone I had good conversations with who wasn’t interested in me in the same way.
Now, though, with several men openly telling me how attractive I am, and/or that they want to date me, I can’t so easily just assume a compliment is about being friendly. I don’t want to turn into a woman who is seen as rude simply because I want to decline an invitation for a date with someone I’m not attracted to, but I also know if a woman tries to deal with such an invitation while worrying about male fragility, and trying to avoid hurting their feelings, the man can be left thinking they have a chance down the road, if only they try harder, or something different. Perhaps I think too much about social psychology for someone who never studied it, but hey, I’m a writer, actor, and improvisor. Understanding people is necessary for my creative work.
I’m innately aware of how harshly women can be judged for their reputations compared to men, and I feel like I constantly have to be aware of certain stigmas that could be attached to me based on labels I carry or actions I pursue. I do try to fight those stigmas whenever I can, or else I wouldn’t have openly talked about being polyamorous, or having battled depression and anxiety in my past. But that doesn’t stop me from being aware of how my words or behaviour can affect how people see me. I’m sure my outspokenness has helped me scare away the attentions of some men who can’t stand that trait (which is fine, because I don’t need people like that in my life). And yet, being publicly open about having no interest in casual sex hasn’t prevented some men from suggesting it. Would I be interested in it if I didn’t have to worry about how it could hurt my reputation? Probably not, because I know how attached I can get to people I’m interested in once they express interest back.
Although I shouldn’t have to worry about having a reputation around casual sex given I don’t engage in it, there are other things I’ve considered with regards to dating and reputation. It’s unfortunate sometimes that I am typically attracted to creative people who can make me laugh, because I feel like attempting to pursue a relationship with such people can actually put my goals to continue acting and improvising at risk. And it’s a far bigger risk for me to do that as a woman than it is for a man. Because women get assumptions like, “She only got that part because she’s sleeping with the director,” or “She’s sleeping with him to get a leg up in her career.” It seems to be rarely looked at from the angle that the man might be using predatory behaviour. These risks of how I could be judged are a big reason why I would much prefer to be friends with someone in my communities than go on dates that aren’t going to lead to a more significant relationship. On top of that, even if I managed to find myself in a relationship with another active member in one of the creative communities I’m involved with, I’d be worried about possible aftermath if the relationship crashed and burned. Chances are, I’d be the one taking a break from it all rather than them. And in improv in particular, when there’s already a significant imbalance amongst genders pursuing improv, I feel like it’s not worth risking the loss of another woman in the field. Part of the reason I bring this up is because all of the expressions of interest and comments on my attractiveness of late has come from people within those communities I’m part of, so I could easily take advantage of that if I so desired.
Being polyamorous also severely limits the number of people who are mutually attracted to me and who are also interested in the kind of relationship I would want, so it’s always safer for me to just assume a friendship with anyone. Granted, if I limit my dating pool to only those outside of my communities, I’m probably not going to be dating anyone because I rarely socialise outside of improv and film spaces, but being polyamorous doesn’t mean I need to have a relationship with someone who is not my husband, it just means it’s okay if I do. It just means I don’t have to temper my feelings if someone great comes into my life where there’s a mutual interest.
Whilst the increased attention I’ve been receiving hasn’t actually led to me finding a relationship I’m interested in pursuing long-term (I’m no longer dating either of the guys I referred to in my “coming out” post), it’s given me more pause for thought about how I may need to market myself as an actor differently than what I had in mind, back before I lacked that interest. Should I play into this apparent sex appeal more? Is it going to give me access to a wider variety of types of roles? And then I look at pictures like the ones below and think, I’m too goofy to have sex appeal.
That’s not to say I can’t pull off being a flirt. I can certainly do that. It’s just not my natural state. I tend to only flirt when it’s based on mutual interest, or I’m in a silly teasing mood and I feel comfortable being a silly flirt with people who I’m pretty sure aren’t interested in sleeping with me (the best example of this is the relationship I have with one of my gay friends, because of course nothing will happen between us beyond shameless flirting, but it does lead to great on stage chemistry).
I haven’t always found it easy to be flirtatious on stage, however. Because people knew I was polyamorous, I used to worry that they might construe my on stage behaviour for what I want in reality. I wondered, would they be thinking, if I’m coming onto them in the scene, will they think I want to sleep with them? It wasn’t until Femprovisor Fest earlier this year when I took a workshop with Susan Messing that I was able to let my concerns slip away. The big take away I got from her is that who you are on stage is not reflective of who you are as a person. It’s to give yourself permission to be any kind of character, however crass, horrible, revolting, or otherwise, without concerning yourself that people might think you actually want to kick puppies, or are narcissistic, or whatever unpleasant trait you might be portraying on stage. After talking to my ensemble YUM about this during a rehearsal, it was great to be able to be on the same page about all of this. I can work with them and trust they know where they stand with me, regardless of my behaviour in a scene, and I feel like having the conversation helped us get over our “politeness” hurdle. We became less afraid of stepping on people’s toes, and developed more range. I wouldn’t have as much freedom in a jam, where I don’t know people as well, or what their background is and where their comfort levels are.
There’s one final note I want to make. During the San Francisco Improv Festival, I took a sketchwriting workshop with Rebecca Drysdale, who was one of the writers for Key & Peele. I’ve been wanting to write scripts for myself, due to my struggle with finding roles I thought I would be suitable for in other people’s productions. I thought signing up for the workshop would give me the kick in the pants I needed to actually write something, which it did because we were supposed to bring in a sketch we’d written. Mine was based off of some of the experiences I’ve discussed above, how it suddenly felt like I had a neon flashing light above my head saying “I’m available” from the moment I started talking more about being polyamorous. Rebecca gave me a lot to think about to help me develop the script further, and a lot of encouragement. I love that it is possible for me to turn my experiences, the ones that feel weird or unexpected, into something I can laugh at with other people.