Body Image Shit Starts Young: Acting and Disordered Eating

art by @meagharr

art by @meagharr

Allie Dunbar is a Toronto based actor, writer, creative, and kombucha addict.

‘As a child, I never heard one woman say to me, “I love my body”. Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. No one woman has ever said, “I am so proud of my body.” So I make sure to say it to Mia [her daughter], because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age.’
- Kate Winslet

Body image shit starts young.  Very young.  I can vividly remember sitting in a circle on the floor  in Kindergarten (fucking Kindergarten!) and noticing how much juicier my little thighs were compared to some of the other tiny tater tots around me.  I already knew what fat was, and that I had more of it on my body than I wanted.  I had only been on the planet for six years.

Fast forward many moons to a 29 year oldme, living in a loft above a storefront in Toronto.  My eating disorder had reached an epic low point.  I have my emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend to thank for helping me to reach my rock bottom.  Seriously – I am thankful.  You know who you are.  Rock bottom meant I had to acknowledge how sick I was, and reach out for help.  

One might assume that at this rock bottom I hit was due to “the pressure of the spotlight,” or a pushy agent, or a culty acting teacher who told me I needed to be thinner to book the part.  The opposite is true.  When I finally acknowledged how terribly ill I was with my disease, I wasn’t working as an actor at all.  I hadn't been for over a year.  There was no “industry pressure” whatsoever…there was just me and this evil shadow (let’s call her Eddie) lurking around me.  Sometimes I was able to control Eddie.  I’d tell her to piss off and I’d have a glorious morning, evening or sometimes a full DAY without her popping up.

My ex-partner did not support my artistic endeavours and slowly but surely (through genius tactics of manipulation) I felt that I no longer wanted to be an actor.  Some part of me deep down hoped that this decision would at least help me get Eddie under control.  Maybe it would even kill her off.  It didn’t.  It did the opposite.  Without my artistic outlet my soul was crushed, my heart was hurting and Eddie took over with far more ferocity than I had ever experienced.  I am grateful to be alive.

When this horrific relationship finally ended, I began my recovery.  Through the wonderful resources that Toronto has to offer I found myself at group therapy at Sheena’s Place and matched up with a one on one therapist for eating disorders.  I work with an incredible Nutritionist, Jenn Mansell who has helped me to live in my body. Three years + later I am happy to report Eddie rarely shows her face around here anymore.  She will never die and that’s ok. I've learned and will continue to learn how to live with her.  I see a therapist regularly and am constantly reading self help books of every variety to help me stay on track, strong, and self loving.  It’s been a full time job retraining my brain.

I am acting.  I am crying while I type this I am so happy and grateful that I am back at it.  I am doing the work that I love and although there is a ton of pressure in this industry to look a certain way (and lord do we all feel that pressure every day!) I am healthier acting than I am not.  Eddie is no longer my arch nemesis.  She no longer holds me back.   Since beginning recovery, I have booked more roles than I ever did when I was sick.  My healing has transcended my physical and emotional state and all aspects of my life have improved.

I hope that if you are reading this-- and know that you need help-- you will give yourself the greatest gift of all and reach out to me or anyone who can help you make that first step.  I hope that if you're scared to get help because you're worried you won't be able to be an artist anymore, that you can look at this story and realize that the opposite is true.  Getting help and beginning to heal from my eating disorder was the best thing I could have done for my artistic career.  I hope that if you're hanging on to unhealthy behaviors because you are scared to gain weight or not "look the part," that you will join with me in saying I will not sacrifice my mental and physical health for my art.  I will not perpetuate the idea that actors must use unhealthy behaviors to look a certain way.  How freeing is that?  

Guess what - you can love your body 100% the way it is RIGHT NOW.  Believe it.  Breathe it.  If I can do it...you can too.  Self love is contagious.  You don't need to hit rock bottom to receive help.  It's ok to talk about this stuff. Enough with the stigma. Too many women and men are fighting a battle with an eating disorder on their own. Let's talk about it.

Thanks for reading this,

Allie D

Emily Dickinson