health

I stood next to a supermodel and it's immortalised forever on film. And I still love my body.

Image: Supplied. Carla GS in The Black Balloon, 2008 (to the left of Gemma Ward. Blink, and you’ll miss her!

I was a 25-year-old actress, wearing an unflattering one-piece, and I was standing next to Australia’s most famous supermodel at the time. I was playing a 15-year-old schoolgirl, in what would become the biggest Australian film of the following year. I was the fittest and “healthiest” I had ever been in my life, and I still felt fat.

Welcome to my life in 2007, when I was a small-time actress in an Australian film called The Black Balloon. It was the year I forced myself to become super-fit and “healthy”, only to realise that it wasn’t really worth it at all.

Related: Is #Fitspo 2015’s most dangerous body image movement? 

The film was Gemma Ward’s feature film debut, and at the time, she was one of the most in-demand models in the world. I remember flicking through RUSSH magazine with her while we were on set, and she would see herself on several of the pages and talk about what it was like to walk for Hermes, or pose for Calvin Klein. She was even more beautiful in real life.

Image: Vogue Australia. Gemma Ward guest edits Vogue Australia, December 2005. I still own this issue. #stalker #hoarder

Even though I had auditioned three times to secure my role, I still had to attend a swimming test, as several of my scenes were set at the local pool. I failed the test. The truth was out that I was unfit and not at all athletic.

The director took me aside and said, in a friendly manner, “Carla, basically, you’re fucked. You need to practice your swimming, or you’re out of the film.” She honestly meant this in a nice way, and I appreciated her frankness.

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I got home to find that my agent had forwarded me an email from one of the producers, which also expressed concern about my lack of athletic abilities. I really was fucked.

Related: Psychology corner: Being a Debbie Downer is good for you. 

I set about transforming myself into the fittest person I had ever been.

I started visiting the local pool several times a week, and I swam laps. I joined a gym for the first time, and worked out constantly. I am ashamed to say that I missed several important family events, just so that I could go to the gym.

I certainly didn’t starve myself, but I did make subtle changes to my diet which always left me ever-so-slightly hungry. I remember eating carrot sticks for a snack, instead of my usual muffin. I felt hungry and desperate afterwards, and began to realise how horrible it was to be body and weight-focussed.

Image: Instagram (@carla_gs1). Now, THIS is a snack!

Related: Being skinny didn’t make me happy, but being “fat” does. 

I exercised like crazy because I was scared to lose the opportunity of a lifetime. After a failed career in graphic design, and a dead-end job working at David Jones, I really needed this big break.

But, deep down, I was also trying to look fit and skinny because I had to stand next to a supermodel, and I knew the moment would be immortalised on film. I worried that I would be relegated to chubby gnome status for the rest of my life.

After months of training and rehearsals, I was finally standing in my rightful spot next to Gemma, laughing and preening for the camera while sucking in my gut. I was also trying SO hard to become Gemma’s best friend forever.

For the record, Gemma was awesome, interesting and smart, and she gave me the nickname “Google”, because I kept telling everyone weird facts. This was both mortifying and the best thing ever.

Related: Why consulting Dr Google is the worst thing you can do for your health. 

Image: The Black Balloon. The official movie poster.
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Almost a year later, I was invited to a special cast and crew screening at Fox Studios. As I saw myself on the big screen, I had a realisation about my body. To my surprise, in the film, I looked exactly as I always had. I didn’t look fatter or skinnier. I didn’t look particularly fit. I looked the same as I had before undertaking my over-the-top exercise regime and carrot stick thing.

Related: My wedding day decision shocked everyone. But I did it anyway. And I don't regret it.

I had worked out like a maniac, to keep my own insecurities at bay. The effects on my body were negligible. All I felt was hungry and tired, and I had the distinct feeling that it wasn’t worth it.

These days, I look back at the film, and I see a girl who was skinny and beautiful and didn’t realise it. My body has changed dramatically since then, as I’ve been pregnant, given birth and I breastfed my daughter. I know now that I didn’t need to suck my tummy in, back in 2007.

Since then, I’ve had a more moderate approach to exercise and diet. And, obviously, I am so proud to have had a small role in an Australian film which was significant for its portrayal of autism.

Related: Fact: Makeovers in real life are not fun. 

Image: Instagram (@carla_gs1). This is what a moderate diet looks like. KIDDING!

In the years since The Black Balloon, Gemma’s struggles with her weight were chronicled in the tabloids, often with cruel headlines. I realise now that I had objectified her, and used her as an excuse for my insecurities. It’s pointless to compare ourselves to others, because as my story proves, our bodies are constantly changing, and they have multiple uses, whether you are a supermodel or a normal person.

And, after all these years, I’m pretty sure that Gemma and I still have a chance of being best friends.

Let's take a trip through Gemma Ward's iconic magazine covers...

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