‘The Hour’ Actress Romola Garai On Fashion, Sex, and Models

Romola Garai, in the course of commenting on some of the regularly-discussed indignities of being larger than a size six in Hollywood, makes two very important points about what our skewed perceptions of beauty do to us:

“Everyone’s aware of it. It’s partly because fashion, film and television have become so interdependent. Increasingly, it’s actresses doing the big fashion advertising campaigns and now there’s no distinction between actresses and models. “There’s no way I could ring up a company that was lending me a red carpet dress and say, ‘Do you have it in a 10?’ Because all the press samples are an eight – I would say a small eight. If you want the profile, you have to lose the weight.”…

The actress conceded that men in the industry also feel pressure to lose weight, referring to a report that Jason Segel, the Hollywood actor, was told to lose 30 lbs for his role in a romantic comedy. She said: “Executives said it just wasn’t credible that anyone would want to have sex with him the way he was. “I think that is such a profound misreading of what people want out of sex and relationships. And I want no part of that. I wouldn’t want to sit in a room and have someone say to my face, ‘No-one is going to want to have sex with you’. No job is worth that.”

That conflation of actresses’ and models’ role is important because it provides a homogenous beauty standard. When there was a clear distinction between how models wore clothes on the runway, and how actresses wore clothes in their version of the real world, that created a continuum between models, actresses, and those of us whose bodies and faces are not our living. Forcing models and actresses to meet the same standards, even though a diversity of body types would make both industries more interesting (a point that’s illustrated to a certain extent by this slideshow of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show), creates a polarized dynamic rather than a range, a right body type and a wrong one rather than the sense that there are a lot of kinds of women who need to wear clothes and can look incredible them.

But even more important is her point about sex. The idea that having good sex is a matter of how you look rather than how comfortable you are in your body, how well you know your needs and desires, is one of the worst, most persistent misconceptions in our mass culture. Good sex is about sensation, about communication, about all kinds of things that are totally disconnected from how well you’re posed while you’re having sex, or how you look in clothes you take off prior to having sex. Denying that means we have worse sex than we deserve in our popular culture, and perhaps as a result, fewer ways to articulate what we want and what would make us feel good. It’s no mistake that Garai is a wonderfully engaged actress in her sex scenes in The Hour, which is back in a couple of weeks, and is terrific, and in The Crimson Petal And The White. Our pop culture would be better off if we had more actresses who thought–not to mention looked–like her, and more people who wanted to write and direct with these ideas in mind.