Over the years, I’ve found that many student actors at the high school and college levels have a very difficult time with their self-image, especially in terms of their physicality. Exactly what they are troubled by depends upon the individual. When I work with an actor who is training to reach a new level and to be a professional, I often notice that one of the things that many grapple with is confidence and often their lack of confidence is connected to how they look.
Sometimes, I am totally surprised by an actor’s assessment of how they look. I’ve heard trim and fit actors say, “I really think I’m fat,” and very good looking actors say, “I wish I was good looking in some way,” and actors who are overweight a bit say, “God, I’m an elephant.”
I’ve also worked with actors who are overweight or underweight or short or tall get so down on themselves that they take every chance of looking and acting confident off the table. In other words, all of those I’ve mentioned do not like themselves physically.
Helping Them See Themselves
First and foremost, it’s important that anyone, and especially actors who must take risks by putting themselves on display all the time, see themselves in a positive light. One way to help an actor to so is to highlight the positive things that they bring to a scene, character, and/or the theatrical process. Positives build confidence.
Also, it’s important to work with actors on a very physical level to help them feel comfortable in their own frame, no matter what that frame may be. You can use various exercises to do this that are designed to free the body and mind, and this can also be addressed when working with the actor on a scene or in a play.
Basics, such as anchoring and centering themselves physically, encouraging them to make strong physical choices, and getting them to focus on the task as hand, rather than drifting into thinking about how they look, can all help.
Finally, encourage all actors to take dance. Dance classes make you move and when you move a lot, you stop thinking about how you look. You, instead, learn to do and create action.
If They Can Change It and Want To
There are some physical aspects we simply cannot change. An actor can’t grow taller or be shorter. But they can lose or gain weight, tone their bodies, and eat better. I never think it’s a good idea to ask an actor or give them unsolicited advice on losing weight, toning, or changing their diet.
However, if an actor asks your opinion and you feel weight loss, toning and/or better eating habits might help them, then it’s okay to carefully address the issue. Offering suggestions when an actor directly asks for such, as long as it’s done in a positive manner, is always helpful to that actor.
In providing insights to an actor, always try to give them the long-term view. In other words, any advice regarding shaping up should be presented as something that takes time, effort, and commitment. That actor should do it for themselves, so that they can feel better physically and build their confidence regarding their body image. The change has to happen, and will only happen successfully, if the actor wants to make the change.
Staying the Same
Of course, if the actor has no desire to change the way that they look, and such a decision should come from them and not a teacher or director, then every effort should be made to help them gain greater confidence in themselves, to feel free and secure in their body, and to recognize the many positive attributes that they possess.
In shaping a student actor, our first duty as teachers and directors is to help them accept who they are, and our second is to guide them towards discovering that their uniqueness is what gives them value in the profession, as well as in all other aspects of their lives.