As a college theatre major, I once took a television performance class. The class was asked to serve as casting director and label what “type” of look I had.
Several classmates made comments like, “exotic,” “a foreigner,” “a gypsy.” But one comment stood out:
“She looks like that woman from ‘Misery.’” (After waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the answer, my professor mercifully named actress Kathy Bates).
And then, everyone chimed in with “yeah, she’s a great crazy woman.”
I’ve had much experience with the type concept. As an actress, I was cast- or rather, typecast- in certain roles. Most of them were crazy women. I was the “character actor,” rather than the ingénue. That, however, still didn’t stop my yearning to be a different type.
By college, I was introduced to William Shakespeare’s classic, “Hamlet”- and, of course, the young, fragile-and crazy- Ophelia. I couldn’t get past the ingénue’s mystique. But let’s look a little closer at what this ingénue actually is.
“An unsophisticated girl or young woman: a girl or young woman who is naive and lacks experience or understanding of life”
“A naive character in drama: a character in a play or a movie who is a naive inexperienced young woman”
That’s what little girls want to be when we grow up? Hmmm…
I mention it because, for years, I associated that ingénue type with beauty. And, since I linked beauty with extreme thinness, well, things went awry. Hopelessness, despair and wrong views of God started the ball rolling. Physical and emotional complications, like eating disorders, an irregular heartbeat and suicidal thoughts were also some fun highlights.
And yes, as my college’s production of “Hamlet” got underway, I was also introduced to the Queen Gertrude character, Hamlet’s mother. I was the understudy. Still, I yearned to play the blasted ingénue. I still wanted to be the beautiful damsel fairy princess.
This wish continued to butt heads with my character actress reality. Once, in my directing class, a fellow student was berated on how he miscast his Lady Macbeth in an assigned scene. My instructor then stated I should play the character; I could “play mean.”
Another time, when I asked my instructor for advice on audition pieces, he again mentioned Lady Macbeth. “You know you’ve already set yourself up. You’re strong; you have a strong presence.”
Types and roles- they’re really the same thing, aren’t they? And the female gender is hit particularly hard with the issue. Do we box ourselves in, believing only certain characteristics are worthy? What types do we covet- and disdain?
While researching an article on image, I came across a beauty product ad, as featured in “Hope In a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture,” by Kathy Peiss. This 1929 Armand ad promoted different beauty types, touting its “Find Yourself” campaign, complete with each female type’s matching names. Here are those descriptions…
The Cleopatra Type: “Masculine hearts pound when she goes by.”
The Godiva Type: “Anglo-Saxon, blond, winsome and how!”
The Sonja Type: “Dark and mysterious, she has a way with her.”
The Cherie Type: “She brings the boulevards of Paris to America.”
The Sheba Type: “Dark-brown hair and a queenly air.”
The Lorelai Type: “Blond and aggressive, she ‘gets her man.’”
The Mona Lisa Type: “Light-brown hair and a devastating smile.”
The Colleen Type: “She has more pep than a jazz band.”
Yeah, I know.
Again, this beauty type thing was not foreign to me. After all, I participated in my own “cute, pretty, beautiful” rating system as a child.
My mother and I set up this system to judge other females, focusing on those exact words. We’d pick a friend, a classmate, a teacher or a celebrity and decide on her ranking. And, even though we didn’t know it, we were also determining their value as human beings.
And this rating system wasn’t just a judge-y sport; it also underscored my full-blown eating disorder behaviors: anorexia, bulimia, binge- eating and, of course, constant self-loathing.
It sprang from that obsession I had with a certain type of beauty. Again, here comes the frail ingénue worship.
“…They were now competition for me. If I could be thinner than these women, then I’d be better than they were as well… Competition grew between me and any thin girl or woman. Mirror, mirror: I had to be the thinnest one of them all. It was life or death importance, anything less than that was unacceptable. Gaining any weight, whatsoever, meant failure, simple as that…What I didn’t realize at the time was that my eyes and mind were incapable of seeing anything but a distorted image…”
(Excerpt from “Thin Enough: My Spiritual Journey Through the Living Death Of An Eating Disorder”)
However, no matter what I did, I could never perfectly attain that coveted standard. No matter what, I never felt “beautiful.” And so, what was I? Answer: an ugly failure.
Why aren’t we enough?
Spiritually, it’s because we don’t see what God sees. We limit ourselves. And we, as finite human beings, are more obsessed with the temporal, distorted and often, harmful depictions of beauty rather than God’s eternal, spiritual truths.
Awareness is key. First and foremost, what is God’s beauty assessment of us?
I direct you to the following passionate (yes, racy) – and far from ambivalent- scriptures; check out The Song of Solomon:
1:15: “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes.”
2:14: “O my dove…let me see your form…for your form is lovely.”
4:1: “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes…”
4:7: “Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.”
6:4: “Thou art beautiful, O my love…”
7:10: “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.”
Still, if we only look to outward appearance, we’re selling ourselves way too short. Yes, each of us has inherent beauty, but that is only part of who we are. There’s so much more to our intrinsic value than our faces and bodies, wonderful as they are.
Scripture, in fact, states just how clueless we can actually be about something as important as our literal worth.
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
And external image and inherent value issues? C’mon, we mess those things right up! We cannot wrap our minds around Psalm 139:14:
“…I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”
Forget about the deeper things like love, destiny, meaning and purpose!
“Since you were precious in my sight… I have loved you…” Isaiah 43:4
“I have chosen you and have not cast you away.” Isaiah 41:9
“The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, ‘Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.’” Jeremiah 31:3
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
(And, by the way, these are all declarations from God Himself here).
Notice there was no mention of “type.” There was no asterisk, ingénue standard, no Godiva, Sheba or Cherie categories in any of those scriptures. There was just unconditional love, affirmative acceptance and value, as is.
We’re beautiful and valuable now- no diet, manipulation, other person’s opinion are required.
Therefore, right now, we’d all do well to typecast ourselves as God-ordained incredible creations!