Naomi Mercer, singer, rapper and performer shares her thoughts about her self image issues and how overcoming judgments regarding her body has helped her career.
By Naomi Mercer
I moved to Los Angeles from Seattle ten years ago with a so-so body image. If I was exercising and eating right, I felt better and like my body looked the way it wanted, so I should rock it. I’d never had a six pack or anything like that, but I still thought I looked okay. Then, when I arrived in La-La land and started pursuing acting work, the way I ‘felt’ wasn’t gonna cut it according to my agents and manager.
Whether I was in my agent’s office or at an audition, generally, nobody needed to say anything to show me I was thick. The other waify white girls in the audition waiting room, in my agents office, or in my acting class made me look huge in comparison. But then, if you don’t get any work, you start to hear all the things you can change about yourself. “You’ll need to drop weight if you want more work in this town.” I convinced myself that that was a “business decision”. That I was perfectly fine with my body no matter what it looked like, but I just needed to have it be a certain way to get the jobs I wanted.
I got a job teaching exercise classes at some local gyms and, within a year, I’d lost 25 pounds. I taught spinning classes for an hour at least three times a week, body conditioning classes at least once a week, I’d often swim a mile after my spin classes, and I wrote down every calorie I ate. I kept an exercise diary too. Logging all this data for myself was effective but also utterly insane. I pretended like my body was a credit card that I charged calories onto every time I ate. Each time I exercised I’d bring my balance down to zero, and if I wanted a dessert, I looked at it as too expensive. I started to feel an obsessive-compulsive behavior arise in me that made me hardly recognize myself.
Right around that time I was in another transition. I was subletting a gal’s (waitress I worked with) furnished apartment for a couple months while looking for my own place to move into. In this tiny apartment that I briefly stayed in, she had pictures up all over the walls of underweight models from magazine ads. Then, she’d cut out a picture of her head and tape it over the heads of these models. To me, this made it clear that her obsession with being skinny made her go, like, completely cray-cray. It really scared me, and it made me question my own behavior and if I was headed down the same path.
Miserable inside, but excited with my progress, I scheduled a meeting with an agent that I was hoping to sign with. “Maybe just… 10-15 more pounds” he said. I just couldn’t figure out where it was gonna come from except muscle mass and my booty (which was the one thing I was not going to let go of!).
The thing is, whenever I left that office in the posh part of town, I would begin my journey back home to where I lived, which was usually a not-so-posh part of town. Sure, there were times when people heckled me inappropriately for my curves. I know that that was not to be taken as a compliment and that I should never seek approval from catcalling. I’m not talking about that, though. I noticed something else shift as I’d travel across the city. It was the way that people talked to me that I noticed would dramatically change from neighborhood to neighborhood. The way I was perceived and the way I occurred in the world would change as quickly as the areas of Los Angeles do.
Sometimes, it would just be people who I struck up conversation with in my neighborhood, women or men, but I never felt disrespected. Finally, I noticed a connection. Obviously, I wasn’t changing as I traveled from Beverly Hills to South Central, but the demographics of each area seemed to have differing views on what was beautiful. Rodeo Drive acted like my curves were grotesque, while Martin Luther King Boulevard practically treated me like I was petite. I’ve always wanted to write a funny song about this where, in the music video, as I’m walking from one neighborhood to the next, I change in the way I’m perceived. By the time I’m in the snotty party of the city, it’s like I have a fat suit on or something.
I think the most important thing is to have a solid understanding of who you are so you don’t get lost in any of these perceptions, and to always strive to achieve and maintain ideal physical (and mental) health without comparing your results to anything else but YOUR past results. There is certainly something to be said for being too forgiving and using the “I’m beautiful no matter what” mentality as an excuse to let yourself make unhealthy decisions, so you have to find that balance for yourself, where you’re not losing quality of life from being too overweight or too underweight. And when you’re in that window, know it, and love it, and ROCK IT! Because if you don’t, chances are, in a few years, you’ll see a picture of yourself now and say, “You know, I didn’t look that bad. Why was I so hard on myself?” I know I have.
Now, I make my own music videos and film projects, and there is no one to tell me what I need to change about myself to be “good enough.” After a long, hard road, my body image has come full circle and I am back where I started. I wish I could say the same for all of my peers because life is just better when you’re not walking down the street thinking you look bad.
About the Author:
Singer, rapper, and songwriter Naomi Mercer (NMERCER) moved to the racial and economic powder keg of South Central, California for affordable housing and discovered the most precious gift of all—her creative voice—through embracing the community and culture of her new surroundings. NMERCER has been favorably compared to Santigold, MIA, Jessie J, Missy Elliott, G-Love & Special Sauce, The Pharcyde, Ke$ha, and Gwen Stefani. Her self-titled debut blends rugged hip-hop beats, mesmerizing electro-pop hooks, and lush EDM textures. You can find out more about NMERCER and her music on her website, or by following her on Twitter and Facebook.