This post is a bit of a TBT. It was an experience I knew I definitely wanted to share, because there was a very important lesson that was learnt, but I also didn’t want to make people feel bad, or blame anyone, so I put some time and distance. I kind of also didn’t want certain people to know how I let myself get treated, but you live and you learn, right?
The same day I finished rereading Year Of Yes, I was on set doing something that definitely put me out of my comfort zone, but it was something I felt I needed to do. I was playing a murder victim, and from my understanding, I was basically going to be a corpse, like the ones you see on an autopsy table. I had been trying to be more comfortable in my skin, which includes showing some of that skin. As in being comfortable in a bikini in public. Or in this case, a strapless bra and underwear, since it is basically the same thing. The show was on a network that wouldn’t show nudity anyway, so I thought it would be a nice learning experience, to get me to expand my comfort zone. At McGill, we often do ultrasounds, where most of the girls wear sports bras, but I always wear a bikini, because for some reason, I feel less exposed. Someone once told me it’s different because you wear a bikini expecting to be seen, but bras and underwear are intimate, for people you choose to show, so the same amount of material brings a different level of vulnerability.
The point is, I went there pretty nervous that I would be in a bra and underwear on set, but this was something I wanted to be okay with, because of all of the romantic comedies in my future. I spent a lot of time waiting on set, reading my book, until the makeup artist was ready for me. Instead of the usual facial makeup, I needed the corpse treatment, so I was sent to get into costume. When I showed my options to the woman in charge of costumes, she first joked that I was actually going to be naked, before handing me 2 tiny flower nipple pasties, and telling me to choose whichever beige underwear I preferred. Shock was my first emotion, before I decided she was probably joking again. I told her I was supposed to be in a strapless bra at the minimum, and showed her my options. She insisted I wear the pasties and gave me a robe.
I went to the little changing booth and tried it out, feeling really uncomfortable. So I wore a second pair of underwear with more coverage, but didn’t know what to do for the top. The makeup artist was someone I had worked with before, and she seemed to understand that I was really uncomfortable, so she let me keep the robe on most of the time that she was spray painting my body. I figured this was something that had to be done with the least amount of clothes, so I would make my stand once the spraying was done. Until then, I clutched the robe and kept an arm over my chest.
The makeup process was pretty long, during which I was able to go over it in my head repeatedly. I kept going back and forth, trying to figure out if the lesson here was to speak up to someone and stand up for myself, or if it was to do this thing that scares me. I kept asking myself, “Why am I afraid of this?” I know that lots of actors do nudity. I have been offered auditions for parts where I would be topless or naked, and have refused every time, even when an ACTRA credit was on the table. Was this just me being afraid of leaving my comfort zone? I considered trying to be comfortable with this, so I could start saying yes to those auditions, but as I lay on a table, holding the robe over myself while the makeup artists drew lifeless veins and random crew members stopped by to change the garbage or have a conversation, I decided that this was not about me being comfortable with being taken advantage of. This is my body, and it is my choice how much of it people get to see.
I felt guilty, like I shouldn’t have agreed to this if I wasn’t okay with it, and also like I couldn’t back out, because they had cast me, and I made a commitment. I kept having to remind myself that this was not actually what I had agreed to, and I had every right to ask for what I had been assured.
When the makeup artist took a break, the set photographer came with pictures of another actress who was currently off playing a corpse in the scene they were filming. This actress was hanging out without a robe, but she also looked more like she was wearing a bikini than naked, because she had full, thick cups covering her breasts, not just her nipples.
I asked the woman in charge of costume if I could have something like that, so she called an associate, and I found out that I was supposed to get the exact same thing, but they had 3 corpses today and had only planned for 2 in the costume department. So she had improvised. Relief flooded me as I realized I wasn’t just being difficult and reneging on a deal, I was legitimately not supposed to be in this situation (looking back, I do know that I had every right to speak up, even if I had just misunderstood, but at the time I was equally terrified of causing a fuss and having them not want to work with me again. I had a lot of trouble saying no to things back then)
When the makeup was done, a bra was cut up and the cups used to give me more coverage. It was a makeshift solution, but at that point I was so relieved to have anything.
I ate supper with the cast and crew. I hate that I was apprehensive of everyone at first, because I had felt so vulnerable and exposed for the past few hours. Everyone was incredibly nice and slowly, I started breathing easier.
Once I actually got to set, everything went a lot better. Being a corpse meant that I got to wear contacts that made me nearly blind, but I am told I looked really cool. The scene was filmed at night, outside, so it was pretty cold out, but two of the cast members took care to cover me with a wool blanket between takes, going so far as to wrap it around my toes to keep them warm.
At one point, one of the leads flubbed their line after countless flawless takes. When someone asked her what happened, she explained that a creature had been crawling up my arm and she couldn’t make me sit still through that. Needless to say I loved her for it.
Some parts of it were awkward, and I did end up being comfortable with more than I was when I woke up that morning, but the entire debacle up to that point had been completely unnecessary. For the actual scene, I had a sheet covering most of my body, so I could have been wearing a tube top and shorts without anyone knowing the difference. I could have been so much more comfortable and less exposed, but I learnt a valuable lesson.
In response to my earlier debate about what I was supposed to learn, the lesson was to stand up for myself and not be afraid to ask for what I need. Even if that upsets people, or if they wouldn’t have wanted to work with me again. Because I am worth more than the hours I spent being terrified and feeling exposed and kind of violated. Especially for no reason. I want to do things that scare me, or make me nervous, so I can expand my comfort zone, but I should never let myself do things that make me feel that way. I have hard limits for a reason, and nudity is one of mine. Some day, maybe I will decide that it’s the kind of uncomfortable I want to get used to, for an incredible part or a project that I really believe in and want to do. For whatever reason, if that day comes, it will be because I decided that I wanted to, not because I was too afraid to speak up and say no.
As a P.S. for anyone who recognizes the project or the part they played in this story, I don’t really blame anyone. At any point, I could have said no or insisted on more wardrobe or…there wasn’t a single person on the set that I think would have made me go through with it if I had actually told them how uncomfortable I felt rather than trying to be easy to work with.
“You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.”