When I was 15 years old, I was a hard-core “Thespian.” Which basically meant I was a tool who wore black and crystals, enjoyed misery, took my big freaking tome of The Complete Works of Shakespeare with me everywhere and read interpretive poetry about my pain aloud in front of mirrors back-lit by candles and set to music like “Gloomy Renaissance Nose-Flute Quartet: The Greatest Hits” in my bedroom.
I was also a gifted singer, but while I was in two choirs, lessons, and did musicals, it was not my primary focus as a teenager. I wouldn’t realize that that was my true, god-given gift and how rare it was until a few years later.
(FYI people, those of you who hear me dork-sing at conferences or with a radio HAVE NOT REALLY HEARD ME SING. My kind of singing is in a gown in front of an orchestra or in a choir, not doing karaoke. My “for the masses singing” is OK, but nothing to write home about. But I’m good. Promise.)
Theater was my focus and my love.
And I did a shitload of it.
At my highest point of “busy,” I was involved in one aspect or the other of 11 different productions and projects. One of my gigs was with a Shakespearean troop, and I was excused from school once a week to go around to different schools around the valley and introduce kids to The Bard.
I loved it.
On the advice and referral of one of the directors I worked with, I went and saw a couple of agents. Before you do that, you have to get head shots. The photographer was good-humored, but said he was having a hard time getting a good shot. That I had to die down my expressions because when I laughed or smiled too hard, my nose scrunched and made me look like a gargoyle. So, at times he would say, "Gargoyle nose, Loralee!” and that would be my cue to cut back on the grin.
Even though he was funny, I was young and never forgot it.
Then I went and met with the agent.
I took my plus-sized-shape self into his office with my head shots and resume.
He looked at them, took off his glasses and started cleaning them with a handkerchief as he leaned back in his chair.
“I’ll be honest with you, Miss Mitchell. I respect the man who sent you here, and if he says you have talent, I believe him. But you need to know we work primarily in print and commercial casting, and I will never use you for any kind of print or film work. You have much too prominent, harsh features for it. You have a “far away face” that needs to stay on the stage and far-off to be pretty.”
All I could do was sit there, listen, and try to not to let the burning feeling in my chest and eyes spill over into humiliating tears.
It was not even close to the last time I would hear similar things and have similar reactions.
The audition process over years can be really shitty for your self-esteem. For every chance you have to shine and be a star (WHICH IS AWESOME), there are usually dozens and dozens of rejections. People can say horrifyingly blunt things to you. One of my college professors told me I was moving across the stage like a fat truck driver, AND I WAS PAYING THEM TO BE THERE.
It’s just the way it is.
I’ve never told anyone that story. Not my parents, not my best friends, no one.
Then came Houston.
When I went to Mom 2.0, I attended a panel on incorporating vlogging (video blogging) into your website. (I’m the one on the laptop sporting theFlashdance look.)
Not only was one of the most truly wonderful Internet people I know moderating, but I was very interested in the subject.
I have been told so many times that I should get into vlogging because my personality is awesome.
But ... I have a Far Away Face.
I couldn’t vlog.
So, I went to this particular panel that featured the staggeringly beautiful and talented Chookoloonks, Girls Gone Child, and Rob Morhaim of Deca TV. I wanted to know if me having this unfriendly-on-film-face would be too much for people to watch.
How important was being photogenic on film in vlogging?
I raised my hand and took the microphone.
To give a quick background, I told the story. I thought it would just be a quick reference, and I’d get to my main question.
No biggie, right?
There was a huge gasp behind me. I think Karen (Chookooloonks) physically recoiled. Many were like, “WTF IS A FAR AWAY FACE?”
People had SUCH an issue with it.
I told people that I didn’t think (and I don’t) that I need to wear a bag over my face, but I am horribly self-conscious of how I appear in photos and on camera. It’s tough for me to watch. I feel I am really hard to photograph, but good pictures of me are GOOD. I just have to work hard, the photographer has to be really talented and the camera has to be good.
I said as much to Karen when we talked after the panel.
“Oh, now I’m mad. Get over here. We’re going to go shoot by the pool.”
So, we did.
And I bit my tongue from saying things like, “BUT MY HAIR! MY MAKE-UP! I AM A SWEATY, TOUSLED MESS! SHOOT ME FROM THE LEFT SIDE!!!!!”
(If you had gotten a raised eyebrow “I AM WARNING YOU” look from Karen, you would have totally done the same thing. She is awesomely, kindly, fierce, people. It just made me like her more.)
I just tried my best to let it go and have fun.
And it was awesome.
I know I am utterly extroverted but that and inner peace about yourself do not go hand-in-hand. Karen told me that she just didn’t understand where all of this negative crap about myself was coming from. Once I told her thatI hit my highest weight of almost 300 pounds at 20 before undergoing gastric bypass surgery and that I had not had the most awesome experiences in my life, she understood a lot more. She is seriously one of the most beautiful people inside and out. I want to be her when I grow up, and I will treasure getting to know her.
As we talked by the pool when she was photographing me, I was taking everything in.
Why had I been so genuinely surprised that people thought the term “Far Away Face Girl” was horrible?
How did I not REALIZE THAT MYSELF?!
Before the age of 35??
Was I really that used to that kind of label being stuck all over myself?
It made me sad.
I do not think I have hideous self-esteem, but I am far harder on myself than I would EVER allow anyone to be on someone I love. I have times I think that I can truly be staggeringly pretty, but somewhere in my head it is due to the lights, costume, make-up, hair and photographer and camera. I feel that they (or I) have to work very hard to make it so.
I struggle to take a compliment without deflecting it with an insult to myself. Singing helped that. I realized that I was backhanding and disrespecting the opinion of the person giving it. Still ... you can shut off what comes out of your mouth, but what goes on in your head is much harder to reign in.
In a conversation with a dear friend that I think the world of, I said how I am really struggling with a few posts that I have committed to writing. How ashamed I am of things that have happened in my life and how embarrassed I can be at how damaged I am by things that I have gone through in my life. They said something that I won’t ever forget. “Loralee, I don’t see you as being damaged. I see you as being HUMAN.”
I have amazing friends, no?
After Karen finished photographing me by the pool, she showed blogger after blogger (many whom I admire more than I can tell you) her favorite photo she took of me.
I felt something shift inside me.
I am not a young, obese teenager anymore.
I have many flaws. I make SO many big, huge, (and at times truly, truly horrible) mistakes. But really ... I have GOT to stop seeing those things as the dominant feature in my make-up.
I am a damn accomplished woman. I have been through more in 35 years than many people would see in two lifetimes and yet? I am still here.
It’s not that I didn’t know these things before, but somehow ... it just meant so much more to me when I flew out of Texas than when I flew into it. Having a “Gargoyle nose” simply means that I have done an awful lot of smiling and laughing in my life.
And laughing is one of my favorite things on the planet.
Will I lose all my issues and self-doubt because of this?
I feel stronger. Happier. Wiser.
That I could tell a story I had never shared with anyone and realize how it simply isn’t and never was true is amazing to me.
Will I ever be a movie star?
But I can be a pretty beautiful soul in whatever medium I’m captured.
I love her for the gift she gave me that day. That everyone in that room gave me.
A deeper appreciation for the character that formed the wrinkles, bumps, and beauty that is me.
I am Far Away Face Girl.
And I am just a little bit proud of that.
Photos courtesy of Karen Walrond.
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