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  • Sam Darling

Do you miss LA?

My partner occasionally asks me if I miss working in Hollywood. It’s something I ponder when I see my industry friends achieve ever greater levels of success. I am exceedingly proud of my friends because I know exactly how hard they worked to get “overnight” success.

I do miss the creative atmosphere and the group of talented people that surrounded me and inspired me to create my own work. There was plenty of glitz and we did enjoy attending premier parties. Even if the movies premiering were sometimes a ridiculous mess. Walking this red carpet took ten minutes. Absolutely bonkers.

I’d roll up to a party at a mansion in a thrift-store dress and have just as much fun as it is possible for someone with social anxiety to have at a party full of movie stars. I did learn how to manage fear!

I miss the creative atmosphere.

But I couldn’t stay in Hollywood.

There are exceedingly few photos of my time in Los Angeles. I hated being photographed and I hated photographing other people. I spent every day surrounded by the most photographed people in the world and it seemed exhausting to me.

Here, a rare picture of me at home after a gala. So very awkward in front of a camera.

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[Sam Chardin, 110 India Street, Brooklyn, 2001.]

I felt much safer as a writer hiding in the back rooms with my fellow weirdos.

Although it thrilled me to be mistaken for a starlet, the pressure to look a certain way when you’re a woman in that industry was so intense it filtered even on to me and I was behind the scenes! Can you guess who I was most often mistaken for by the paparazzi?*

Much is written about the pressure for women to stay young and thin when their livelihood involves working in front of the camera. I was lucky enough to go into the business with a cynic’s sense of the industry because my family had taught me. And yet when I found myself at the gym sweating it out with cast members from my favorite TV shows, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I still marveled at their tiny dimensions and felt myself to be an absolute bumbling cow by comparison.

We live on a planet where most of the people subsist on less than one American dollar per day and yet, living in Los Angeles, it seems perfectly reasonable to spend thousands on a tummy tuck after you’ve had a baby, even if you’re not a professional actor. Before Botox you were expected to get your first facelift by the age of thirty.  My personal self esteem was stable but it was not strong enough to handle the daily barrage of negative feedback that comes from working in an industry full of beautiful, neurotic, insecure people.

Another very rare photo at home before attending a Polygram holiday party when I worked for Egg Pictures. Jodie Foster taught me a lot about photography when I watched her critique her own image. She also taught me about separating the work from your own ego. She could look at herself with a critical eye without becoming obsessed with herself. Those lessons helped me to develop from a crippled navel gazer to the confident winky-sass you see in the sidebar.

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[Sam Chardin, Burbank, California, 1998.]

I still laugh when I see magazine articles about various stars and their healthy lifestyle. There’s one individual who gets plenty of ink for appearing young and beautiful at an advancing age and the magazines set her up as a paragon of healthy living. Never do they mention her meal replacement plan of three packs of cigarettes per day.

It was not a healthy place for me to live. There are already a whole slew of characters in my head that tell me terrible things and make me afraid. I didn’t need the added joy of Sumner Redstone screaming at me because his call was disconnected. Or the sense that no matter how thin I became I was still taking up too much space.

It’s probably not a coincidence that my most successful friends in Los Angeles are all menfolk.

The trouble is that we cannot get away from these messages. Los Angeles is the bullhorn for our dominant culture. People outside of the entertainment industry are just as likely to internalize these thoughts about their personal worth and appearance. Not to mention the elevation of greed as virtue.

One of my former coworkers mentioned a documentary by Tom Shadyac called I Am that covers some of the ways Hollywood makes people bananas. There is an animation towards the end that sums it up nicely. As much as I adore my fellow creatives, working in Hollywood made me start to value the wrong things.

*Kate Winslet

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