In my early twenties, I left a corporate job to pursue my lifelong dream of being an actress. I did everything I could to prepare -- I studied up on the industry, I took countless classes and I started lying about my age.
Now that I have been an actor for a few years, I've realized I still have a lot to learn. Acting is work. I'm constantly working on my craft. I take every note seriously, particularly ones such as "you're short," or "we need a redhead."
As a diligent student, I have written down all of the notes I've received, and I've tried to incorporate them into my performances. Most often I'm asked to be a little less Indian, a little more Indian, less big-eyed, more big-eyed, a little taller, a little younger, a little older and a little more blonde.
With that in mind, I'd like to provide a short guide of key industry phrases that it took me years to learn firsthand.
Coming from a non-acting background, I had no idea how prevalent this was until I started working in the industry. Gabourey Sidibe was allegedly "lightened" on the cover of Elle magazine to appeal to a broader market. Natalie Portman is Natalie Hershlag. Everyone in their twenties is in their thirties. Most names have to be made "more pronounceable" and normal, human features are transformed into factory-produced faces.
Most often I've been asked to change my name (unpronounceable), my nose (not "American") and my weight (heavy best friend). I haven't followed any of that advice, which I'm hoping won't prevent me from having a career. Call it idealistic, but I still believe that artists are in this industry for the art.
And at this point, I'm actually pretty grateful for the relentless scrutiny of my looks. I'm not fazed anymore when I hear criticism of my features or my ethnicity. I'm far more confident in my abilities as a performer, and I know what I will and won't do for a job. When I book work, I know that I'm trading on my talent and my drive -- not on my dress size.
Is that enough? In the end, how much do we need to play the game to succeed? I'm not sure. Hopefully I'll figure it out before I reach my "expiration date."
But I'm not worried. I just turned 25.