Posted by: bitsydungaree | June 11, 2008

Don’t Ask

Author Po Bronson begins What Should I Do With My Life? with a discussion about the dreaded cocktail party question: what do you do? There are many reasons for disliking “the question” but Bronson figures, if we don’t like the question, it’s probably because we don’t like our answer.

I hate admitting that I am an actress.

Do I hate being an actress? Of course not! I love it! But I hate that silence in the moment before I have to answer what do you do? with I’m an actress.

Los Angeles is a city that is obsessed with labels and I have real problems with the associations that come along with labeling myself an actress. I don’t like being perceived as a young girl hoping to escape ever having to “work” by riding my good looks all the way to fame and fortune. I don’t like the assumption that I am self-absorbed, fake, and not very smart. And I particularly dislike the popular notion that actresses love to create drama in our own lives.

I am not an actress because I want to see my face on the cover of a magazine or because I want to fill some sort of void in real-life drama.

I am an actress because I am absolutely fascinated by the human condition and God gave me a unique gift for exploring it.

I am an actress because I believe that we can only grow by truly examining ourselves and our world, and as an artist, I am given countless opportunities to ask people to do just that.

I am an actress because I think there is so much beauty in all of us and, while I wasn’t given the abilities to capture that beauty with a paintbrush or a camera, I was given the heart and the tools to fully inhabit these people and their experiences.

I am an actress because I believe that art has the power to remind us of how much we share, regardless of what separates us.

So why, if I am blessed to be living out this wonderful gift I have been given, am I humiliated by the look in the eyes of the stranger who takes me just a little less seriously now that he knows what I do? Why do I deflect “the question” by responding with I work in theatre or, my real favorite, ohh…I do a lot of things? Why can’t I embrace my work with a passion and determination that will make people rethink their stereotypes rather than giving them reason to discredit what I do by being ashamed of it myself?


  1. I enjoyed reading this post. Your understanding of how you were made is refreshing. One of my brothers has the same hesitation when asked what he does. He’s a pastor and talk about stereotypes or killing a conversation once he tells :0)

  2. Dear B.,

    It sounds like you hate being misunderstood more than you hate the actual question. Maybe next time somebody asks, you should take advantage of how unspecific it is, thusly;
    Stranger: So what do you do?
    Bitsydungaree: I explore the human condition which fascinates me so by using the gift God gave me. How about you?
    Stranger: I examine the extremes of human tragedy and misfortune and look inside myself to assign a commercial value to pain, suffering, irreparable loss.
    Bitsydungaree: I’m actually and actress.
    Stranger: I’m actually an insurance adjuster.

    Yours, -Eric Rodriguez

  3. I find it ironic that there is such an intense double standard in our society regarding actors and actresses. Those precious few that “make it big” are paid disproportionately well and are socially deified to Olympic proportions (Hollywood being this modern day Olympus housing its gods and demi gods in coutoure loving starlet form)… and the many left over are looked upon with scorn and derision as wasters and free loaders.

    I can sympathise. I feel a similar tug of hesitation when telling people “I am an aspiring author/illustrator of children’s books”. Even though I am deeply proud of what I am doing and I love every aspect of exploring stories played out in literary and or visual form, I hate being asked that question because inevitably, the immediate question following is “have you been published?” I feel as though my aspirations are suddenly rendered invalid the moment I say “no”. It’s like I’ve already failed. Most people just don’t seem to understand how one can work their wee hineys off and not have much money or stature to show for it.

    To most, career is black and white: you’re employed or you’re unemployed. You’re worthwhile or you’re worthless. And yet, you can’t get anywhere in the arts without putting in this time of aspiration and “pro bono” work. And there lies the paradox. So I guess until you and I “make it big”, we’ll just have to keep blushing as we face our shame and embrace the choices we make and the humble paths we’ve decided to pursue so that we can admit unabashedly that we are, in fact, artists.

  4. This is good stuff Betsy.
    And because I have so many friends who are actors, I often instead ask people, “What are you passionate about?” instead of “What do you do?”

  5. P.S. – I tagged you in my blog. Please read the second to last post on mine to find out why.
    Sorry I had to.

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