Be Nicer To Yourself

 yesssssss! this b rockin' it/ owning it at TIFF 2017. 

yesssssss! this b rockin' it/ owning it at TIFF 2017. 

Courtney Deelen

As I sit to write this open letter, I find that I’m struggling to put my feelings into words. Negative self-esteem is something that will affect every single human on this planet at some point or another. Negative body image doesn’t discriminate based on gender, race, religion, sexual, or socio- economic orientation. It buries self-doubt, deep within the depths of our souls and lingers until we allow ourselves a moment of vulnerability.

If you happen to be in that -1% of the human race that has never felt self-conscious, or hated some part of your body, then damn. I am an admirer of yours! Let’s go for a drink and chat about how truly amazing it is to give less fucks about what people think.

We are in a generation where we have been taught since a fairly young age, that beauty isn’t only skin deep. We have been encouraged time and time again to embrace our flaws and to love all of the little things that make us different. We have been taught to cherish what makes us stand out and to love ourselves for who we are. I love this. Self-love is a relatively new thing, and I think it will only continue to gain in popularity. That is, IF we cherish it, and pass it on to the next generation of strong, ambitious, fearless humans.

However for some reason or another, something deep within creeps in and tells me that I am the exception to the rule.

I pride myself on being a champion of others, especially women. I truly believe that we deserve better than to be measured solely by how we look. Despite the positive changes that surround us, we are forever clouded by that unattainable veil of standard, “societal beauty” that lingers over us.

About month ago I was sending off notes for a short film that I was considering to produce. The writer mentioned that she had originally written a part for herself, and if she were only 30lbs lighter she would like to be in the film. Without a seconds hesitation I said, “You don't have to lose ANY weight to play the part. You just play the part”.

It’s preposterous to think that she should have to change anything about her appearance in order to be in front of the camera. Her response was simple and it hit me square in the gut, “Thank you. Thank you, for actually saying that”.

Now before you start saying, “People lose weight for movies all the time”. I’ll counter with, yes you’re right. Depending on the role, you may be required to lose or gain weight in order to portray the character truthfully.

Let’s evaluate for a second though. These actors are never asked about the emotional toll that this process took on them. How did it affect their self-esteem? How did people perceive them? Was it for the positive or the negative? Were they treated differently? How much pressure did they feel to “get back” to how they looked before?

Did they ever stop and think, is this really worth it? But, I digress.

The point of this story however, is not about the fact that actors gain or lose weight for roles. It was the idea that we couldn't even consider ourselves worthy enough to be in front of camera without altering our appearance in some way first. 

The main issue though, wasn’t the fact that she felt the need to “fix” something. We all do that once and a while. It was easy for me to boost her up. To tell her that she was perfect, capable and deserving just the way she was. I genuinely mean it. She is smart, ambitious, and stunning, and shouldn’t feel the need to change a thing.

Then again, something deep within me said, “but if YOU were to the play the part, you should lose the weight. Oh and fix your teeth. And get a facial, your skin is terrible”. Wait. What? Why was I holding myself to a completely different standard? How could I believe that she would be crazy to think that she needed to change, but I convinced myself that those same rules couldn’t possibly apply to me?

This became very clear to me when I decided that I was going to uproot my life and attempt to establish myself as an actor in another market. Moving myself, my husband and our pup, from our home Toronto the other side of the country in Vancouver. A place that felt like Oz, somewhere over the rainbow, where the grass is always greener and the opportunities just feel more abundant.

Now in order to make my second point clear, I’ll need to give you a brief history. I have lived with my eating disorder for 17 years now. And although every day is a struggle, I can honestly say that I am happier, more fulfilled, and more secure in myself now than I have ever been before. My sickness and recovery is a whole other article, but long story short it started with feeding tubes and is now at a place where I can share fries with my husband and not want to jump out of a moving car.

When my husband and I decided to start this exciting new chapter of our lives I was over the moon. Typically in the past, big changes like this one would have sent my anxiety off the deep end and I would be drawn back to old, destructive patterns, in order to cope with the feelings I refused to let myself feel.

This time was different. Instead of the crippling anxiety that normally came with such a huge life change, I felt inspired, excited and confident like I never had before. I waned this to be my “do- over”. To start fresh as the strong, confident, ballzy woman I had worked so hard to become, not the people pleasing shell of my self-conscious self.

I had a month before I was heading to Vancouver to meet with potential agents and I was hell bent and determined to make the most of this time. I’d restrict my diet, take my workouts to a new level and show up like the actress they expect in Vancouver.

Everything about this plan however, screamed “eating disorder behaviour”. If anyone of my friends told me that this was how they planned to land an agent I’d tell them to get their heads out of their ass and to see the masterpiece that stood before them. I wouldn’t hesitate for one second to tell them how self-destructive these feelings and thoughts were. I’d tell them to take a moment to stop and see themselves the way I see them.

Why couldn’t I be my own champion? Why am I not enough? What makes me any less deserving of self-love and happiness? The answer is... NOTHING.

I used to think that this kind of self-deconstructive thinking was something that only existed in the entertainment industry. The professional industry that I chose to be a part of, and that this was just something I had to learn accept and to deal with. With all of the stories of sexual assault coming forward, it’s obvious that this kind of thinking has been routed in our industry for sometime. That looks matter and that people will use their power to abuse our vulnerability in order to get what they want.  

The amount of times I’ve been told, “Well let’s face it Courtney, you're definitely NOT a model, so I can’t get you into the room”, is countless. I will never forget being told that I might be able to get more auditions if I simply “streamlined” myself. Even to this day, I will get the odd comment like “You look so much better now without the baby fat in your face”. I smile and take the compliment, but I want to scream, “I’m actually 15 pounds heavier than I was, I’m just not throwing up 10 times a day anymore”.

It’s disheartening to accept, but I’m not the only one being pelted with the comments that I am “above average looking” for a “regular person” but couldn’t possibly be “pretty enough” to be an actress.

Just reading it on the page makes me roll my fucking eyes. What does that even mean? Who decides what “pretty enough” is? How do I allow myself to base my entire self-worth on the opinions of others? What do my looks have to do with my ability to act, and why can I come to the defense of others, but refuse to come to my own?

The more I spoke with others, the more I realized that I’m not alone in this brutally, warped way of thinking. Men and women. Children and adults. Gay, straight, non-binary. It’s not only an “entertainment industry” problem. This idea of unattainable beauty is something that is thrown in our faces. Every. Single. Day. And we buy it. Some of us unfortunately more than others.

Which leads me to my third and final point. The solution. How do you change your patterns of thinking from negative ones to positive? How do you shut that evil, little voice within you up? I don’t know. I still find myself getting caught up in the beat down every day. But there is one thing that helps me quiet that voice a little more each time I do it.

Summer, 2011. A girlfriend of mine who radiated joy, and shone with the kind of genuine positivity and self-confidence I could only have dreamed of, gave me the first of many wake up calls. I was in a very bad place with my eating disorder and despite the ever growing success and excitement that seemed to surround me, I was moments away from falling apart.

She pulled me aside, gave me a hug and told me to be nicer to myself. Simple, and at the time I must admit, it didn’t quite strike the same cord then as it does now.

She said, “You would never, ever treat someone else the way that you treat yourself. If you ever said some of the things that you said to yourself out loud and towards someone else, you’d considered yourself a monster. So why on earth is it ok for you to be speaking to yourself this way?” She then said something that has stuck with me everyday since then, “Please be nicer to my friend Court”.

It didn’t completely change my way of thinking right away, but each day got a little easier, and now I’m at a place in my mental “awesomeness” that I can recognize when I’m heading down destructive paths. This little sentence has gotten me to a point where I can say, I don’t need to change a goddamn thing.

In less than a month, I will be taking meetings with new agents as my best self. Unapologetic, healthy, strong and ready to be an actor. Not a model. So the next time you find that you’re getting a bit too hard on yourself, remember what my inspiring, effervescent, beautiful friend Michelle said and, “Be nicer to my friend _____________”.

I dedicate this to all of the lady bosses out there, who choose to champion the success of others. Who understand that the only way to move ourselves forward is to lift each other up and who continue to inspire me. Every. Single. Day.

And if you don’t know who Megan Jayne Crabbe (@bodyposipanda on Instagram) is.... you need to check her out. Her positivity has saved me from my eating disorder voice, more than I can say. For that I am truly grateful.

Courtney Deelen is a Toronto based Actor, Producer, and Director who strives to create thought provoking stories with heart. 

A Co-Director of DEELEN with TROUBLE, Inc. and a proud member of the CMPA, Courtney and partner Michael T. Burgess, have been creating their own work and helping other indie filmmakers bring their work to life since 2015. @CourtneyDeelen. 

Emily Dickinson