I’m sitting here in the desert thinking about where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going, and this entry is what’s on my mind. I promise this isn’t that sneaky “sponsored content” crap (although I wish it could be, I’d sell out in an instant if someone was buying what I’m selling, haha), but it will get pretty darn personal in regard to my body image and emotional states throughout my life, and I will be talking a bit about a fitness regimen called S Factor that has really helped me grow as a person and has changed my entire life, even though I have never actually done more than take the Intro class a ton of times with coupons – they actually don’t even have a fitness studio out here in Las Vegas, but I have an Intro Workout DVD at least. I’ve mentioned it a lot, and wanted to talk more about it before in hopes that it will bring some of you epiphanies as well, but I was worried about how it would be received. But I feel the need to purge this truth and shout it from rooftops, so I hope you enjoy and can learn from or maybe relate to “the struggle”:
In my early twenties I was working at Disneyland and went with some fellow Cast Members to audition for Universal Studios for the first time. I dressed for Fiona, but let my make-up suggest Marilyn (I still didn’t believe that I could truly hold a candle to being good enough to play her, but I had seen some of their Marilyns and felt it was worth letting the fantasy play out). To my surprise, they kept me as a Marilyn!
I made it all the way to the very end of the call-backs, where I was told I hadn’t made the final cut. When I asked if it was something I could work on, I was told, “You’re a beautiful girl, but Marilyn was very much a woman.”
Cryptic as that may be, it did make sense and was a pretty deep thing for a casting director to tell an auditioner. You may have a pretty good idea of who I am NOW, but at the time….
The more I thought about it (because we actors do tend to fixate on what we “should have” done or said for days after an important audition), the more I realized this – I had lived away from my parents for a few years, and had held down jobs and had fleeting relationships… but I was still a virgin, in more ways than the obvious definition. I hadn’t yet truly lost anyone, or truly felt that I needed to be the source of my own strength. I hadn’t yet had my heart broken. I hadn’t really lived.
Also, I was very thin and practically shapeless, as far as hourglasses are concerned. An ex from the time even called me “Stringbean,” a mean nickname for a girl in her twenties! I had been modeling and dancing for yeeeears, but hadn’t yet discovered S Factor, and was very unfamiliar with my body and honestly had no idea how to move like a woman. I was still incredibly nervous and uncomfortable when it came to my own body, and I was still allowing this bred-and-nurtured insecurity control everything from how I bent to pick up dropped items to how I spoke. I toughened myself up like a tomboy in an attempt to ward off potential bullies – baggage I had carried around since the fourth grade (I switched to a new school in seventh grade just to stop the torture I was getting from the girls at school). Kids in high school even thought I might be a lesbian because I acted so hard-shelled and was still afraid of boys! It was pretty clear that I was the latest of late bloomers. At twenty-one or twenty-two, I worried that maybe this was as filled-out as I was going to get.
(Funny Side Note, in case you’re a young and wondering girl: I even read somewhere that the little bumps around a nipple will go away when the breast is done developing. Yeah, umm, that’s not real. Those are pretty much there forever. Breasts stop growing when they feel like it, and they fluctuate endlessly forever. Sorry, you’ll never buy a bra and have it fit perfectly every time until you die.)
Conversely, Marilyn was VERY filled-out, and had lived more than perhaps anyone her age should have had to. She had lost people, almost from the very beginning of her life. She had serious relationships early on in her life, being married at 16, but she too had trouble connecting to others, particularly to women. She may have learned backwards lessons about her body too, though a very opposite kind of backwards than I had.
Not knowing the future of my own physical and emotional growth, my optimism of ever playing Marilyn waned. I’ve always lived by Steve Martin’s mantra (“Luckily, persistence is a great substitute for talent.”), so I continued to audition at Universal every other year or so, but the farthest I ever got was another final call-back where the new casting director had the final two of us wear Marilyn-esque dresses and full make-up, with the Park’s wig. We had to interact in character with invisible Park guests of all ages and pose for a few invisible photos, and sing “Happy Birthday,” of course.
The other girl came out of the audition room with a sullen look and said to me, “At least it was a good experience.” I felt nervous, but mostly confident as I went in for my turn. I felt like I was doing well and did my best to listen and follow direction. The new CD just happened to be a former Disneyland Cast Member who played villains, so I thought I had an “in.” The audition went well and I made them laugh and smile, and as I reached for the door knob I thought, “I’ve got this!”
Then the CD called out to me, “Ashley, it says here you worked at Disneyland? What did you do there?” I was a little shocked she didn’t remember me, especially since there had been days I had hosted in Town Square and DCA where she WAS. My mouth has never been on my side – I heard myself joke, “I hosted YOU?”
The two other casting directors erupted into laughter, and the main CD looked mortified. I cringed inside. After a beat, she said, “Oh! Of course! I hardly recognize you with the wig and the make-up on…” I gave her the “out” and said, “That’s a good thing! That means I’m doing something right, haha….” and she excused me from the room.
They never called to tell me I didn’t get it.
A friend at the Park told me about the other girl starting her training, and how shocked they were that I didn’t get it.
I’m guessing the “not a woman yet” thing was no longer the issue this time?
I discovered S factor around 2007 thanks to Groupon, and a beautiful description about how it was less about “pole dancing” and more about body image and learning to be comfortable in your own skin and embracing what you look like, while moving toward fitness and improving yourself inside and out. It echoed a sense of feminine community I had missed out on, having just an older brother growing up and being so bullied by other females that I had all but written off being friends with any girls (unless they were tomboys like me).
S Factor taught me that I hadn’t lost that little girl deep down, and really illustrated just HOW far behind she had become in her development!! My inner feminine power had been stunted, and after a bad relationship she had even been hurt and taught terrible, backwards lessons.
S Factor has no mirrors, to keep us from judging ourselves and the way we look or move. It trains an innate belief in yourself that you don’t need to question yourself at every turn, or wonder what others are seeing when they look at you – it’s only what you FEEL that matters. The instructors are there to make sure you’re doing the moves the safe, correct way, and the other girls are there right beside you learning along with you, and cheering jubilantly for you when you try something for the first time or do something well.
It’s a safe place, where you can find acceptance, endless encouragement and love from fellow females of all shapes and ages, from all different backgrounds. It’s amazing. S Factor is the first place I’ve ever felt that bond, and I have since noticed that it’s wherever good people are – at a new job, in travel, in a class! I have been able to cultivate deep, lasting friendships with girls who I hope will be in my life forever! I have opened myself up to the possibility of friendship with people I never would have trusted for a moment without even realizing it, and I am so grateful that I did.
Still not feeling like an exhibitionist in this personal transformation, I followed the DVD privately at home when I was alone. It cleared my head, and my cat loved that I was rolling around on “her” floor. She’d come lay under me while I did the push-up type “cat-cow roll,” which was appropriate, and to this day (even though Kiki is no longer here) I send out kisses on every dip toward the mat, and remember rubbing my nose against her belly fur as I circled down.
As you already know, I did finally start portraying Marilyn professionally. I had to do it myself, but I now had the confidence and strength to JUST DO IT without worrying what anyone thought of me. I had become confident enough to chase after a good man (yes, he made me chase him), and just before we were married he gave me his full support and encouragement to go for it and play Marilyn. He took photos of me in costume in our backyard, and here I am six years later, having played Marilyn everywhere form here to Europe, and even on television in China a few times. I discovered that the Marilyn community is as loving and supportive as the S Factor femme! I have made so many friends through her (RIP Bronni Bakke, you gorgeous joker). Marilyn has also connected me with people who have hired me as myself for many other projects. My entire world has opened up, and I have gotten to do SO MANY fun and exciting things!! Other characters followed, like Lucy and Jeannie… I even started performing as a princess independently of the Parks – three years ago TODAY, as it so happens!
(It deems being mentioned that the “princessing” community is yet another strongly-bonded group!)
There is no way to say with a straight face that I owe all of everything to an Intro workout. But that class came to me at a turning point in my life, where a realization flipped the way I looked at the world. That flip might be the best thing that ever happened to me, and I hope that by reading this you can accept yourself the way you are and start working toward being even more wonderful and radiant than you already are – and you never know what someone else’s struggle is <3