A while back, reader Wemblee posted this comment:
I hope this doesn’t seem too weird, and it’s kind of off-topic, but: okay, this is my first time at this blog, and this post really struck a chord with me, as did your bio. I’m a writer and a recent film grad that’s new to LA, and the whole “nerdy-girl-feminist-fish-out-of-water in a land full of beautiful people” thing is kind of freaking me out. Do you have any survival tips? (I literally, until reading this, didn’t even think that there was a “surplus of beautiful women” in LA… I was just spending all this time wondering why I felt so lousy about my appearance all of a sudden. I am clueless.)
She asked for an email, and I sent her one. Then I got two more comments along those lines – young women considering moving to L.A. for school and/or film careers, who are feminists and nerds and are wondering how you cope with the weirdness that is L.A. I decided to write a post about it – not because I have the answers. No one does. But I can maybe tell you what to expect and give you some starting points for figuring out what will work for you. (And I’ve thought this out more than I had when I first emailed Wemblee, so I hope she’s still reading.)
Starting with the superficial…
I’ve lived in 9 cities/towns and 5 US states during my lifetime, and nowhere has there been such a concentration of traditionally beautiful people. For me, this was the first odd thing about L.A. that leaped out at me. There are some really gorgeous men, but there are a ridiculous number of women who look fantastic. As a result, men here are generally much pickier than in many other regions, and almost without noticing, you will find you’ve downgraded your perception of your looks. Even if you think looks don’t matter, this can hurt your self-esteem until you realize what’s happening.
My recommendation: forget about the men at first, and get to know some of the stupendously gorgeous women! Especially if you’re going into film; most of them will be actresses, and knowing them is networking. But they can also be some great friends: they understand the sexism women face behind or before the camera, and appreciate that if you’re pursuing a career behind the camera, you might be able to help each other out someday.
And they’ll tell you about some of the cosmetic crap they go through to look the way they do so you can realize just how unreal a lot of the beauty here is. They grasp that beauty is a commodity in this town – like software engineering skills are a commodity in Silicon Valley – and I’ve yet to meet a gorgeous film actress or model who takes herself very seriously. This helps you realize just how much you are through the looking glass in this town – normal rules don’t apply.
You will also discover that some of them don’t do plastic surgery – they’re just that gorgeous. Beautiful people have been flocking to this town and making babies with other beautiful people for generations now. But even they get that beauty is a crock – at least, Hollywood’s idea of it. I felt a lot of solidarity with actresses, beautiful and otherwise, back when I was hanging out with them. Film is a sexist industry and that tends to make feminists and feminist-friendlies out of women who never expected to find themselves griping about sexism.
You will probably not get hit on by men as often as you did wherever you used to live. But despite not meeting the Hollywood beauty standard at all, I’ve managed to attract several nice and very good-looking guys over the years, and am still attracting nice, cute guys in their 20s now that I’m 35. And I really don’t even try to meet men. This says to me there are a number of guys here who are capable of lusting after women who don’t look like HW tells them we should look, or who appreciate my biting sense of humor enough to overlook the fact that I’m not the best looking woman available to them.
A feminist in film
The good news is, you’re not alone. Think I was the only one arguing that audiences want more varied roles in their movies now? Never. The industry ranks are filled with people who want change – better representation for women, for other races, etc. The reason you don’t see results from their desires is that they’re overruled by those who are absolutely certain you can’t make money without pandering to prejudice. In fact, some of them believe it, too.
I recommend seeking these people out and allying with them. You have a lot more internet resources than I had in the mid-90s for finding people who think like you do. You’ll need that support, both inside and outside the industry. One of the first things you learn in film is to be nice to everyone – even the carpenter outside – because you never know who will be the head of a studio 10 years from now. Reach out to every like-minded person you meet in the industry and keep in contact with them. You never know when you’ll find yourself part of a group that’s collectively got enough power to make a dent.
L.A. – not to be taken seriously
One of the best tips I have about living in L.A. is: don’t take it seriously. It doesn’t take itself seriously. Well, you have whiny people with the mentality of two-year-olds in positions of frightening authority, but other than that it’s a town that knows it’s a (very profitable) joke. You’ll never get yelled at for venting about what a stupid place it is. 😉