Saturday, October 8, 2011

High School Drama & The Leading Lady

Hello, Knights!

Partially inspired by this from The New Yorker and this from Facebook, I've created what I'm calling the Scarlet Test. (And I need your help!) But first, some inaccurate assumptions and a back story.

In high school, I was up for lead roles in two of the four annual musicals. I made third round call backs both times but didn't get either role. Instead, I was cast consistently in elderly, matronly roles. I remember my high school drama teacher giving all the auditionees a big talk about "looking the part" before awarding the lead roles to a dancer and a cheerleader, respectively, even though I was arguably the strongest singer. I really really loved musicals and wanted to be a performer, so one day I asked her what I could do to improve. She said something about looking the part, stage presence, and how I didn't have it. Again, I asked her what I could do about that and she said: "Some people have it and some people don't."

It was so final. Now I understand that the real answer was that she probably didn't know how to teach a student to improve his/her stage presence (I certainly don't) and was probably more interested in drawing the cheerleader/jock crowd to performances than my already-converted band friends. Or maybe I reminded her of some family member she didn't like, or maybe she had once been overweight and hated herself for it, so she wasn't interested in teaching me. Whatever. But I was 15/16 and I took the statements about my appearance on stage to mean a lot more than they should have.

I thought it meant: "My body looks matronly, possibly elderly. I am not eligible for lead roles because of my size/body type. Nobody wants to see that on stage. To realize my dreams, it doesn't matter how talented I am or how strong my singing is if I don't, first of all, lose a lot of weight." And, the thing is, I wasn't really even aware that I had absorbed these assumptions; I just made them tacitly and behaved accordingly. I didn't audition for the musical my senior year (Charlie Brown stars six kids! What's an elderly 17-year-old to do?), I didn't pursue musical theater in college (I had plum forgotten the dream by then), and that even crazier dream I had of getting up on stage and singing my own songs? Well, that was perhaps the most absurd of all!

So I buried that all down deep deep deep. I remained paralyzed by these misconceptions until, pretty much, last year. Except, well, the body type thing isn't so much a misconception when it comes to show biz. Them's the breaks, right?

Per Dr. Pamela Peeke via WebMD:
"The average starlet is wearing a size 2 or 4 which is the sample size designers are making presently."
For me, that possibility is right out, though I've tried so very very hard for a long time. I'm not built that way, for starters, but I also have hypothyroidism, which is unforgiving of my love of baking/cooking/going out with friends. (If you want to understand the body-madness involved with thyroid conditions, read this.)

But the point is, I am not going to let this keep me off stage anymore. I can't keep waiting until my body complies -- I've got songs to sing! And, after all (again, per WebMD):
"Today, the average American woman is 5′4″, has a waist size of 34-35 inches and weighs between 140-150 lbs, with a dress size of 12-14."
So, I need some performing role models! They've got to be out there, right? I'm running my own twist on the Bechdel Test. Let's call it the Scarlet Test. I am looking to compile a list of:

1. Leading ladies in a film, TV show, or band (that will be me!)
2. Below the age of 40 at the time of popularity
3. Of average size (let's say anywhere from 8-16, to be generous)
4. Where she is of romantic/sexual interest or, at the very least, the size of her body is not the punchline

Where are those average-bodied leading ladies? On your marks, get set, GO.


  1. Wow, she said that to YOU, too? And here I thought I was the only matronly, doesn't-have-"it" teenager in our high school.

    Here's my list:
    Christina Hendricks
    Cameryn Manheim (around 40 during the role that made her famous)
    Queen Latifa

    All smart, all beautiful, all amazing

    Everyone else I can think of is inclined toward Jenny Craig ads and punch linery. They. Don't. Count.

  2. Mon, she also told you this? Were we both too shamed to even talk about it with our friends? Looking back, I guess I never did. Thank you SO much for "weighing in."

  3. It is so sad to hear stories like this. It is as if these grownups were never teenagers with dreams, insecurities, fears, doubts...

    The first example that came to my mind (in the sexual interest category—forgive my Frenchness) is Sophie Guillemin in a 1998 movie by C├ędric Khan. It is the complex story of a philosophy teacher (oh, French movies about philosophy teachers...) who is attracted to a seemingly indifferent late teenager who ends up driving him crazy. She is far from a size 2, but has the sex appeal of an entire L train full of Scarlett Johansons (at least to me)...

  4. I should add that the movie is called "L'ennui" and is based on an Alberto Moravia novel ( It's on Netflix, Qwikster, or Nesquick... I never know.

  5. Can't say that I'm a fan of her music, but I heard about rapper Breezee One because of her affinity for cycling. She's full figured and proud of it.

  6. I'm sort of a huge fan of Melissa McCarthy's. She just doesn't barely pass your test, though - she was born in 1970.

  7. I am not at all sure about dress sizes, but perhaps these ladies apply:

    Ann Wilson from Heart

    Carnie Wilson from Wilson Phillips

    Etta James

    Aretha Franklin

    I think that, at worst, people may have commented on their weight, but their weight was not part of their art (or a punchline).

  8. I know it's already been said but I cannot think of a better example right now than Christina Hendricks. I think it's interesting that often when women "of average size" land in the spotlight, they end up slimming down from whatever size they were when they first came into popularity... I'm thinking the teenage Lindsay Lohan, Jordin Sparks, Jennifer Hudson, Lily Allen... but CH has maintained her curvy substantial size 12-ish figure and continues to amaze. imho :)