As part of Variety’s Actors on Actors series, Sharon Stone sat down with Debra Messing to discuss, among other things, women’s treatment in Hollywood and the expectations put upon them. During the conversation, Messing shared a story about her very first job in Hollywood, when she was asked to wear “fake boobs”.
“On my first sitcom, they gave me the cutlets and I had just graduated from my masters from NYU in acting and I was like ‘I’m an actress!’ and they're like, ‘here’,” Messing explains. She describes how, after refusing to wear them, producers told her, “The president of the network called and said that he wants you to wear those.” Speaking of her shock, Messing says that, being new to the industry, she felt that she couldn’t say no.
While it’s a shock to nobody – particularly in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements – that this happened to a young, inexperienced female actor, it’s interesting to note that “cleavage enhancers” are still widely available to buy – and on the British high street, from M&S to ASOS. One retailer has even named them “Secret Weapons”. Of course, some people may want to wear these, but they do also provide a stark reminder that the ideals forced on women relating to their appearance have become so normalised, we don’t even notice them anymore. “Now, no one comes at me with those things,” Messing says resolutely. But one can’t help but consider the fact that Messing, as a hugely successful actor with a world-famous sitcom under her belt, has far more power now than she did all those years ago. Young actors at the beginning of their careers may still face such demands, and not feel confident enough to refuse.
Until women are truly valued for their talent, rather than just their appearance, inequality will always reign
Discussions like this one between Stone and Messing are extremely valuable – it’s important for us to hear women’s experiences and be able to learn from them. It’s also encouraging to know that things have improved, somewhat. But Hollywood still offers an extremely limited portrayal of women, in terms of both character and appearance. Thin, white and blonde tends to be the standard to which we’re all expected to aspire, and if there’s some diversity in terms of hair or skin tone, thinness is always the constant. Just last weekend, Amy Adams told The Sunday Telegraph that she was once asked to audition in a bikini, while other actors like Alison Brie and Thandie Newton have also spoken out about feeling objectified during the audition process.
Hearing women in Hollywood speak out against mistreatment, as we’ve seen from the hundreds of allegations against so many powerful men, is a step forward in the fight for equality. But until women are truly valued for their talent, rather than just their appearance, inequality will always reign.