Recently I took an acting class with a woman in Los Angeles, and it went as such: Do a scene, get feedback. While the other students received comments regarding their acting skills, I was called out of the room to get some private notes beginning with, "What are we going to do about your face?"
She made the following suggestions:
Get collagen injections: She pointed to my upper lip and said, "Now what are you doing about this?" I said, "I get it waxed." She said, "That's not the problem, it's your thin lip." So as long as I have fat wax-looking lips, it's totally cool for me to have a goatee.
Fix that gummy smile: She recommended I "put an old-fashioned match under the top lip to hold it down and cover the gums." Cool, is this the same match I should use to set her office on fire?
Get a nose job: She said, "In Hollywood you need a more mainstream nose." Ah yes, the biz is not about who you know, but about who you nose.
Get a chin lift: "If you really want to go all out," she said "also get your chin nice and tight." Ya know, go all out with my extra $30,000 to waste.
This all after the teacher asked, "What roles do you usually play?"
"Funny friend or ethnic, like European, Latin, sometimes Middle Eastern," I replied.
She interrupted, "Nope, you only can play Jewish or maybe Italian."
Um, I think I know what I've played, but I was polite and said, "Well I am Italian."
"Yeah, you really look it. I mean you're gorgeous, don't get me wrong, but it's really hard to get work when you're too Jewish-looking. Your look is strong, and it needs to be more soft."
And that's when she insisted I needed surgery. Ahem, SURGERY! There are people in third world countries that desperately need to repair cleft lips, poor eyesight, crippled legs, but me, a perfectly fine, healthy young lady, NEEDS surgery?!
Can I blame her? Yes. But I also blame the sad trend that "ethnic" in Hollywood is often a Caucasian version of ethnic.
Then there's me, a girl who has her father's Roman nose and thus grew up constantly being told "You look just like your dad," which is the worst thing you can say to a little girl -- that she looks like a tiny hairy Italian man. And that was just one aspect of the shame and confusion I felt toward my ethnicity.
When I would fill out my info on a standardized test under ethnicity I checked off "other" and wrote in "Italian." My teacher corrected me and explained that I was actually Caucasian. This didn't make sense to me: We spoke a different language in my home, I ate weird lunch food (salami sandwiches instead of my classmates' PB & J) and my name was, according to my classmates and even a few teachers, "spelled wrong" (everyone can easily pronounce Mayor Giuliani's name, but when people see my name Giulia they think it's pronounced Goolia. As if any mother would ever name their daughter Goolia).
How could that teacher think "You look too Jewish, fix your nose" was okay to say, out loud, to another human? I doubt this teacher would ever say to someone "You look too black, fix your skin" or "You look too Asian, fix your eyes." But since I'm Caucasian-ish, it's apparently cool to say racist things about my appearance.
But it's just not ethnic faces that get fixed. More and more TV faces are becoming frozen, emotionless, Botox-filled masks. Mary McNamara put it best in the LA Times: "When we see bad things happen to good faces...I think we need to speak out. Otherwise the younger generation will think that a fish-mouth smile and those shiny cheeks are normal..."
If women, especially public figures, keep giving into this bizarre fake ideal of what beauty is, the cycle will never end. Thank God for ladies like Barbara Streisand who despite the critics, refused to get a nose job (this also inspired Glee's Lea Michelle to keep her nose).
Back to that teacher, who is a former actress and told me, "I know what it's like, I look Jewish and had a hard time getting work, too."
That's when I realized this wasn't about me; it was about her and her own insecurities and failures. And perhaps it was about her wanting me to be some weak idiot who would start sobbing and desperately asking for recommendations of plastic surgeons so she could get a finder's fee.
After she gave my laundry list of procedures I needed to get, I asked, "Do you have any notes on my actual acting?" She said "No."
Awesome, I just paid $65 for a fraud to take a dump on my self-esteem.
"Well, thanks for your suggestions," I said "but I will never get surgery and I am not having a hard time. I write and produce and plan to create roles for myself. Also I think getting plastic surgery would be a big fuck you to my gorgeous Italian parents."
I actually have to thank this teacher, because that day I realized just how far I've come in loving who I am and what I do. Had those suggestions been made to a younger me: a salami-eating, I-hate-looking-like-my-dad, self-conscious me, perhaps I would have felt bad. But I've dealt with enough adolescent bullies, troll YouTube commenters and my own previous cruel self-judgments, that this woman's words were meaningless.
If anything, they simply helped solidify my values and push me to work harder to achieve my goals on my terms. And as karma would have it, the following day I got calls for four auditions in New York City, none of which were for a girl who is "too Jewish-looking."
This article was originally published on XOJane.com
Photo note: My friend mocked up what I would look like if I'd taken all the teacher's suggestions. Photo credit: Anya Garret