(Ed. Note: Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. This guest post by singer, rapper, and songwriter NMERCER illustrates how body image is in the eye of the beholder. )
I moved to Los Angeles from Seattle ten years ago with a so-so body image. If I was exercising and eating right I felt better, and like my body looked the way it wanted, so I should rock it. I’d never had a six pack or anything like that but I still thought I looked okay. Then, when I arrived in La-La land and started pursuing acting work, the way I ‘felt’ wasn’t gonna cut it according to my agents and manager.
Whether I was in my agent’s office or at an audition, generally nobody needed to say anything to show me I was thick. The other waify white girls in the audition waiting room, in my agents office or in my acting class made me look huge in comparison. But then, if you don’t get any work, you start to hear all the things you can change about yourself. “you’ll need to drop weight if you want more work in this town.” I convinced myself that was a “business decision”. That I was perfectly fine with my body no matter what it looked like but I just needed to have it be a certain way to get the jobs I wanted.
I got a job teaching exercise classes at some local gyms and, within a year I’d lost 25 pounds. I taught spinning classes for an hour at least three times a week, body conditioning classes at least once a week, I’d often swim a mile after my spin classes and I wrote down every calorie I ate. I kept an exercise diary too. Logging all this data for myself was effective but also utterly insane. I pretended like my body was a credit card that I charged calories onto every time I ate. Each time I exercised I’d bring my balance down to zero and if I wanted a dessert I looked at it as too expensive. I started to feel an obsessive-compulsive behavior arise in me that made me hardly recognize myself.
Right around that time I was in another transition. I was subletting a gal’s (waitress I worked with) furnished apartment for a couple months while looking for my own place to move into. In this tiny apartment I briefly stayed in, she had pictures up all over the walls of underweight models from magazine ads. Then she’d cut out a picture of her head and tape it over the heads of these models. To me, this made it clear, that her obsession with being skinny made her go like completely cray-cray. It really scared me and made me question my own behavior and if I was headed down the same path.
Miserable inside but excited with my progress I scheduled a meeting with an agent that I was hoping to sign with. “Maybe just….10-15 more pounds” he said. I just couldn’t figure out where it was gonna come from except muscle mass and my booty (which was the one thing I was not going to let go of!).
The thing is, whenever I left that office, in the posh part of town, I would begin my journey back home to where I lived, which was usually a not-so-posh part of town. Sure, there were times when people heckled at me inappropriately for my curves. I know that is not to be taken as a compliment and that I should never seek approval from catcalling. I’m not talking about that though, I noticed something else shift as I’d travel across the city. It was the way all people talked to me, that I noticed would dramatically change from neighborhood to neighborhood. The way I was perceived, the way I occurred in the world, would change as quickly as the areas of Los Angeles do.
Sometimes it would just be people who I strike up conversation with in my neighborhood, woman or man, but I never felt disrespected. Finally I noticed a connection. Obviously I wasn’t changing as I traveled from Beverly Hills to South Central but the demographics of each area seemed to have differing views on what’s beautiful. Rodeo Dr. acted like my curves were grotesque while Martin Luther King Blvd practically treated me like I was petite. I’ve always wanted to write a funny song about this where, in the music video, as I’m walking from one neighborhood to the next I change in the way I’m perceived. By the time I’m in the snotty party of the city it’s like I have a fat suit on or something.
I think the most important thing is to have a solid understanding of who you are so you don’t get lost in any of these perceptions. To always strive to achieve and maintain ideal physical (and mental) health without comparing your results to anything else but YOUR past results. There is certainly something to be said for being too forgiving and using the “I’m beautiful no matter what” mentality as an excuse to let yourself make unhealthy decisions. So you have to find that balance for yourself where you’re not losing quality of life from being too overweight or too under weight. And when you’re in that window, know it, and love it and ROCK IT! Because if you don’t, chances are in a few years, you’ll see a picture of yourself now and say, “you know I didn’t look that bad, why was I so hard on myself?” I know I have.
Now I make my own music videos and film projects and there is no one to tell me what I need to change about myself to be “good enough”. After a long hard road, my body image has come full circle and I am back where I started. I wish I could say the same for all my peers, because life is just better when you’re not walking down the street thinking you look bad.
NMERCER has been favorably compared to Santigold, MIA, Jessie J, Missy Elliott, G-Love & Special Sauce, The Pharcyde, Ke$ha, and Gwen Stefani. Her wry sense of humor, empowering lyrics, and accessible musicality make for an infectious blend. Check out her music here.