“I Felt Like I Wasn’t Enough”: Actress Iza Calzado On The Fight For Realistic Beauty Standards In Entertainment
“There was always a feeling of not being enough,” says Iza Calzado.
The Filipino actress has long battled for her physique to be accepted in an industry that allows for very little in the way of diversity.
“I was always bigger than the skinny girls,” she says. “I lost roles because I didn’t have the right body for it, and that just continued to validate the story in my head that I wasn’t thin enough—and because of that, I wasn’t worthy.”
Her experience is far from an anomaly—more than half of girls worldwide don’t have high body esteem. The majority of girls with low body esteem stop themselves eating and actively try to avoid seeing friends and family because of their insecurities, according to the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report.
The Filipino custom of commenting on someone's weight, she says, further perpetuates people's obsession with physical appearance. “When you’re greeted and no one is saying [you’ve lost weight], you start thinking: ‘Does that mean I gained weight or does it mean I look good?'" says Calzado. “It’s like a dopamine hit—you want the words to come out to just feel better about yourself. I was starting to get sick and tired of it.”
For Calzado, the issue of weight has always been at the forefront of her mind. She describes transitioning from a young, carefree child to a chubby child and then, finally, to an obese teen. As she grew older and gained more weight, her insecurities intensified.
In high school the social pressure to lose weight to "get the boys' attention” led her down a dangerous path of starvation, diet pills and, eventually, surgery. And while the unhealthy concoction had resulted in a temporary weight drop, it only served to exacerbate mental health issues.
I always felt like I wasn’t telling the whole truth, because sure I’d lost the weight but the [photoshopped] photos still weren’t always 100 percent me
Her move into acting did nothing to abate those inner doubts. “I was constantly comparing myself to all the pretty, skinny girls in the room [at auditions], and I’d always attach the rejection to my weight, which is often not the case.”
Nevertheless, Calzado went on to land a number of high-profile roles in films and, because of her well-documented weight loss, became the poster woman for "fitspiration" in the Philippines. “Of course that felt great, because I had lost so much weight,” she says. “But at the same time, I always felt like I wasn’t telling the whole truth, because sure I’d lost the weight, but the [photoshopped] photos still weren’t always 100 percent me. They were photoshopped to look great, and I knew I didn’t look like that.”
But Calzado says that the satisfaction of seeing an airbrushed photo of herself only felt good for a moment, “in the long run it was affecting me negatively and I didn’t realise, but I felt so much pressure to look like that photoshopped person in real life.”
Then Calzado turned to Instagram. For most people, the photo-sharing app is the ultimate source of anxiety-inducing images, with its Facetuned selfies and "woke up like this" captions. For Calzado, it had the opposite effect—it allowed her to find beautiful women who were confident in their physiques. “It made me think that maybe if I had people like this to look up as a child, then maybe I would have had more confidence in myself and in my size,” she says.
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I felt like I wasn’t using my platform properly—it was all self–serving. I realised my success means nothing if I don’t use it to create a better community around myself, to create a better world
— Iza Calzado
"POSITIVE VIBES ONLY"
That’s when Calzado decided she was going to make a change for the sake of her own mental health as well as for her followers.
“I felt like I wasn’t using my platform properly—it was all self–serving. I realised my success means nothing if I don’t use it to create a better community around myself, to create a better world.”
And so, in 2017 Calzado posted an unedited photo of herself on Instagram, shared with her 1.4 million followers. The photo, a candid shot of Calzado laughing on a beach in Phuket, was captioned "Positive Vibes Only".
“People bashed that photo a lot,” she says. “People were commenting on it, saying things like ‘sagging skin’. Cosmopolitan Philippines picked it up actually because people were just bashing it so much. But I just didn’t care, I wasn’t going to edit it.”
See also: Connect To Change: Educating Youth In The Philippines
Photo editing apps like Facetune can do a lot more than airbrush a pimple—they can completely alter your physique, creating impossible body sizes and dimensions. Since 2013, the app has been downloaded 50 million times. Around 70 percent of its users are women.
This normalisation of doctored Instagram photos can negatively impact young people, according to psychologists. “The more people look at doctored images, the more likely they are to actually start seeking out cosmetic procedures at younger ages,” clinical psychologist Dr Ramani told GMA.
Calzado describes feeling both liberated and empowered by posting the unedited photo. “I think once I started posting these unedited photos of myself, the bashing actually lessened. It was almost like, 'Here I am, these are my flaws—take it or leave it!' So, bring it on!” she laughs.
“I mean, sure, I’m not inventing something to fix environmental issues, but in my own special way, I’d really like to think that I’m helping make others feel better and helping them deal with similar things.”
I think the number-one thing we should be teaching our children is to be themselves and to celebrate their bodies—not for what they look like, but rather for what they can do
— Iza Calzado
USING HER VOICE FOR CHANGE
Since posting that first unedited image almost three years ago and enduring the wrath of internet trolls, Calzado has come a long way.
Today, she works to educate others on body-love through She Talks Asia, an organisation she co-founded that empowers and educates people on issues that impact women globally.
Through She Talks Asia, Calzado created The Body Love Revolution, a movement that talks about body transformation and the right way to approach food and fitness. “For the longest time I was only focused on my body. But weight loss should be a manifestation of a change of lifestyle—it has to be the mind and spirit as well,” she says. “If you don’t change your mindset and just focus on getting thinner, you’re developing a whole new set of issues that come with it.”
Our generation needs to unlearn the social construct that women and little girls have to be “perfect”, especially the notion that girls should aspire to be complimented on their beauty before their intelligence, says Calzado. “I think the number-one thing we should be teaching our children is to be themselves and to celebrate their bodies—not for what they look like, but rather for what they can do.”
Calzado’s work at She Talks Asia has sparked a conversation around the pressure of unattainable beauty standards within society, and she wants to produce films and content that celebrate people of all sizes. “Not primarily for their looks, instead for their talents and the good they do for the world.”
“As a future parent, I hope I can pass on this mindset and learning to my child and to other children, so that we can make sure it never fades.”
See more honourees from the Entertainment category of the Gen.T List 2019.