Messalina Morley - Conversations with Artists
What is the art of what you do?
I help empower other women by imparting positivity and self-confidence by sharing my own personal experiences and vulnerabilities on Instagram. That way people can feel their own vulnerability and know that it’s ok. I’m grateful to women who've helped empower me, so it’s an underlying theme with all the projects that I do.
What is your message?
To love and care for yourself and your body at every stage of your life. That means appreciating yourself as you are as well as identifying and caring for your health - making sure that you exercise, you eat healthy, you lead a healthy life. On the flip side, you don't beat yourself up mentally — no one is perfect, I know I'm definitely not. I sometimes have negative thoughts, but the act of trying to change to a positive outlook is what matters.
You say nobody is perfect, is there such a thing as perfect?
I don't think so. Like Plato's Perfect Forms - there's nothing on earth that's perfect. I guess everyone has their own individual idea of perfection, and it can drive you to strive for the best that you can achieve - it gives you a good work ethic. But you also have to know that perfection’s not something that's achievable because everything is imperfect. In a way that's what makes life so wonderful.
How did you get to this point in your mindset?
A lot of up and downs on a long journey. I've always been the odd one out in terms of body shape. I was always the tallest in my class, then I became that cliché ‘dumpy tween.’ You can't really tell a tween it's going to be better. I had a lot of self doubt. I had a lot of social issues because I was awkward and nerdy — all those things that make you a great adult but are so difficult when you're a teen. At one point I lost a lot of weight and got back into modeling —I had modeled as a child. I wanted to be a "straight size" — a 2/4. My hips were just never going to do that — they were just too wide. I would cut meals, I exercised, I danced, I swam on a swim team, I went running. I was extremely active, and I loved it, but I was unhappy with how my body looked. In theory I should've been happy, but I wasn't because my mindset was wrong. When I went to a "curve casting" for an agency that's when things started to change.
What made you think of trying that?
A photographer gave me the best advice. He told me I was beautiful, that the camera liked me but that I was “in between” and needed to either lose 10 pounds or gain 10 pounds. At the time I thought, I'm going to lose the 10 pounds.
For medical reasons that didn’t happen - I have PCOS (Ploycystic Ovary Syndrome - a hormonal disorder.) When I finally realized I couldn't get to a straight size, I found a curve casting at an agency, went to check it out, and I got signed that day. That started me on this journey.
Do you think a negative self image is intrinsic to being female in our culture?
Just look at all the super thin women in magazines. Some are 14 year old models being used to market adult products. I also think parents, without knowing, can have a negative effect on their children because of their own negative self-image. For instance, a mom who thinks she doesn’t look good unless she’s wearing Spanx, or is always struggling to lose that 5 pounds so that her husband will love her sends a message that she’s not lovable as she is. There are also patterns of speech that are actually fat phobic. Saying “I am fat" is a misuse of language. I don't say ‘I am PCOS.’ I have PCOS. It's something that happens to my body, but that doesn't define who I am. It's the same thing with fat. I have fat. And the reality is, every person on the planet has fat. If you don't have fat, you're dead. Change the language. Obviously, if you have 600 pounds of fat then you're probably not doing your heart much good. There’s a balance with everything, and it’s important to find the balance that works for specifically for you.
How do you inspire other women?
In sharing my personal journey on Instagram, sometimes I share comments that I’ve heard directed at me - people make nasty comments without realizing what effect their words might have. So my message might be a two-fold thing. One; a reminder not to make comments about other people, and two, it helps people know that they're not alone in their experiences. The other thing I've done is to help encourage women to do simple things - like wear a bikini on the beach with their family. I've had women come up to me saying because of my messaging about swimsuits and body positivity they've gone and had great vacations with their kids, and actually had fun and played and swum in the ocean. That's the whole point of going on vacation! You shouldn't be sitting, feeling that you need to hide your body. Again, that kind of behavior perpetuates negative feedback to kids about their own bodies.
Describe the journey of bucking the odds in an industry that’s somewhat unforgiving.
A good word to describe me is tenacious. I'm always very committed. If I say I'm going to do something, I do it. I hate the flakiness of today's world; people bailing on you at the last minute. That mindset feeds everything I do. There's also the fact that I have a degree in acting. I want to be an actor and I want to be a model. That’s the career I've gone for and I'm not very employable in any other field. It comes down to the fact that I love what I do and it makes me happy. So I keep doing it.
Would you say you've heard ‘no’ more than you've heard ‘yes’?
I've definitely heard no more than yes — in all walks of life. I guess it's fuel to keep you going, but it's having realistic expectations and the knowledge that even if you do hear a ‘no’ it might have nothing to do with you, personally. It could be that you auditioned for a part and they decided the person that had 2000 more Instagram followers than you was a better choice because they wanted that extra outreach.
Do you find that your number of social media followers is a real factor?
Yes, Instagram has a huge effect on whether you get cast or not. Most of the time at castings now you have to write down how many Instagram followers you have and you always have to give your Instagram handle. I've lost jobs to Instagram stars. I've been on hold and someone with a few hundred thousand followers was booked instead of me. I’ve beaten myself up for not having enough Instagram followers. But you can't do that because that's just the way it is. They happen to have luck with an algorithm or a post that got the right attention.
Do you like Instagram and the whole social media thing?
It’s less fun for me now because it's a job. I'm making sure that I follow and like the right people, that I'm interacting and commenting on the correct posts, that I've posted the right thing and commented back on every comment to make sure that I'm interacting with followers. Otherwise you come across as not being personable. Again I love my followers and I'm very grateful to them for everything. If you're talking to an empty void there's no point in posting. At the same time it's frustrating that you can put in a lot of hours but because of things outside your control like algorithms, it might not go anywhere.
If you could go back to 13- year-old Messa - and give her some advice -- what would you say?
I would tell her that things get better. — not to give up. Maybe to let lose a bit more and have a bit more fun. I would say that everything works out, just not necessarily in the way that you expect.
And I'd tell her to pay more attention to James at school. James is my fiancé but we didn't start dating til three months before the end of our senior year. So we were friends for 5 years before we started dating. Which was ridiculous.