Emma Thompson: ‘I don’t look in the mirror and if I do, I look away’

Emma Thompson’s film, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, starts today on Hulu. The film is getting a lot of press because it marks the first time Emma appears fully nude on-screen. That is how the conversation has been framed by Emma and the film team, btw. I understand she’s appeared partially nude or next to nude in other films. In this film, her character stands in front of a mirror and drops her robe to looking at her naked body. My hope is it’s an empowering moment in which her character sees herself and her body as vibrant and deserving of the passion she seeks. But my guess is her character looks critically at herself, especially after reading this interview with Emma in which she admitted she can’t look at herself in the mirror. She said that if she does happen upon herself in a mirror, she looks away.

Emma Thompson’s personal body image has been so warped over the years that she can’t look in the mirror anymore, per a recent conversation with Lorraine Kelly.

While talking to Kelly about her upcoming, steamy movie Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, Thompson revealed a personal battle she’s been going through. The actress talked about her body image issues, saying: “I don’t look in the mirror and if I do, I look away. We’re brainwashed from very early on to not see something that we can’t accept.”

Sadly, this isn’t a new topic for Thompson. Recently, she discussed the same thing with The Sunday Times: “When I’m looking in the mirror, I’m always trying to make myself look ‘better’ — turning this way or that, checking out my a**e, pulling something in. Simply revealing my utter incapacity to accept my body as it is.”

This is a heartbreaking thing to hear, especially from a woman many look up to. But these insights further prove there is an apparent problem with our portrayal of women in media, something else Thompson mentioned while conversing with Kelly.
“The human body is not honestly represented on screen, pretty much ever, and especially not in my industry,” she added.

[From Yahoo!]

Jamie Lee Curtis also avoids mirror. If she spends too much time at one, she’ll start looking for flaws. I’ve been sitting with Jamie and Emma’s comments because as I’ve confessed, I avoid looking at myself, especially when it comes to my body. I thought it was healthy to avoid looking so I didn’t depress myself. But I’m hearing Emma’s comment about “not wanting to see something we can’t accept,” and about twisting and turning in the mirror to find all her problem areas. What does it say about us that our reaction to seeing ourselves in full view is to look for our faults? I just did that. I put on a great outfit, went to the mirror, and was really pleased. So I turned to the side and found a terrible angle that made me feel horrible. Instead of trusting the nice view in front of me, I searched for the bad one. I thought I was clever avoiding mirrors for my sanity. But I’d be better off dealing with my unhealthy relationship with the mirror.

As for where Emma is laying the blame, I tend to agree with her. I don’t think it’s limited to what we see in the media, but that may be the parent to the other offenders. I could go on for paragraphs about all the ways I’m noticing body-critique seeping into conversations. I 100% agree that the body is not shown honestly on film – male or female. It would be interesting to see what it does to our collective perception to see bodies of varying ages, sizes and ableness presented on screen without the words “brave” and “strong” attached to the discussion. It’s also why I was a little taken aback to see Emma in a fat suit for her role in Matilda the Musical. It’s a hard nut to swallow after discussing honest body representation. I assume Miss Trunchbull will not be dropping trou, though.

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35 Responses to “Emma Thompson: ‘I don’t look in the mirror and if I do, I look away’”

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  1. Wilma says:

    One of the exercises I did to become more neutral on my body was to look at myself a lot in mirrors. Apparently you start to like what you see often, some neat little trick of the brain. Not sure if that was the thing that worked most for me as there were more exercises, but I am totally ok with seeing myself now.

    • Danbury says:

      I do that too! And I really have hated the way I looked for a long time, so especially when I go work out now, I look at myself in the mirror and say (to my body) “thank you for taking care of me for so long, now I am going to take care of you”. Sounds a bit stupid, I know, but it really helps me feel good about myself

      • Kitten says:

        Not stupid at all. I too find that it helps to focus on nurturing our bodies and appreciating them for what they can do, versus what they look like.

        Might have to try Wilma’s trick , too. TBH, these are wonderfully healthy ways to battle against a poor body image.

      • Wilma says:

        Yes, that was another exercise! To appreciate your body for its functions and the things it does for you. It all really worked for me. Due to chronic illness I had a messed up relationship with my body and my weight goes up when I have flare ups. It was too hard to be body positive, but body neutrality has really helped taking the aesthetics out of the equation.

      • Noodle says:

        I listened to an interview with her on the radio and it does sound like its an incredibly empowering moment in the film where shes able to look at her body for the first time without hating what she see’s. It also sounds like a lot of thought was put into how that scene was shot.

  2. Bre says:

    I don’t spend much time looking in the mirror as well but I’m not sure if that is a bad thing. I mean, hundreds of years ago we didn’t have the mirrors( x10) , cameras and videos we have now.

    • Jo says:

      I think about that all the time! Now we have cameras, video, smartphones, social media. It’s a lot of platforms to dissect image.
      I often think we are Guinea pigs of a new form of technological awareness. If we survive as a species, the future will not look back in awe.
      The younger generations are giving all this the finger though and that’s amazing. This is well portrayed in the series Hacks where and senior comedian partners with a young bisexual gen Z comedian who is much freer with her body and image.
      Highly recommend watching it because not only does it have the amazing Jean Smart but it’s also a nuanced portrayal of both generations.

      • JJS says:

        After highschool I decided to ditch any full length mirrors, and it helped so much with acceptance of my pear shaped body (which was unaccceptable when I was growing up). It’s just so freeing. Second thing: I agree re: younger generations. Seeing my teens be so open and accepting of their bodies, and seeing more cellulite around, has actually rubbed off on me too.

        Tangent: Watching that jlo documentary yesterday made me reflect on how crazy that butt stuff was. my kids couldn’t even see what they were talking about! But I remember it so vividly. It was insanity.

        (Also Hacks is great!)

      • Jo says:

        @jjs I know! I just watched the JLo doc and it boggles the mind. What were people on about?! She was quite slim by anyone’s standards when she was young with a curvy body. Nothing out of the ordinary. And she was gorgeous. I admire how she stood up for herself. I wasn’t much of an admirer but she came off well in the doc.

  3. Jo says:

    When I look in the mirror I often say to myself « you slay » following the suggestion by Ashley Graham. Also, I try to look at myself from someone else’s perspective (how I look at other people, with compassion and love – at least I try to – my rule and one I gave my kids too, is that everyone is beautiful and beautiful can mean a lot of things, not just plasticity). I try to see what my husband sees if I am being negative.
    I wonder if this is also about ageing. I am 46 and seeing the first inevitable changes on breasts, skin, eye bags etc. Emma Thompson is headed in that direction. And that might be a bit trickier bc of what it represents, impending old age. With compassion, it is easy to see why that might be the case. But also with compassion regarding ourselves we can accept and embranche change, and perhaps one day see it as another type of beauty. I find so many older people impossibly attractive such as Richard E Grant, Sharon Stone, my parents (;-)!

    • Chaine says:

      So true about mirrors and aging. I don’t look much at myself any more because there is always a moment of shock, “who is that tired looking middle aged woman with the jowls and where am I”—

      • elle says:

        Same! I want to make a t-shirt that says, “I’m not as a tired as I look!” then I think that the last few years should have tired us all out.

        Emma looks absolutely luminous here.

  4. kgeo says:

    I’ve been reading the tale of Gold Tree and Silver Tree to my daughter. It’s the Scottish Snow White/Sleeping Beauty. Anyway, I’m halfway convinced that part of the tail is warning off of too much time in the mirror or looking for too many flaws. Silver Tree is perfectly happy with her reflection until she goes and asks the fish if she’s the most beautiful. I mean, there’s other stuff in there too, obviously.

  5. Merricat says:

    Aging is difficult in society, at least for women. I can’t say I love what age is doing to my appearance, but the alternative, as they say, is worse.

  6. Southern Fried says:

    Emma looks lovely. As women we are so hard on ourselves. I’ve worked really hard at not making body image an issue from a very young age with my daughters. As a middle schooler my oldest went through a time she was very image conscious but during high school not so much. My youngest seems to be repeating her sister’s pattern.

  7. Miss Jupitero says:

    Man, one great thing about hanging out on nude beaches, is you get over this really fast.

    • BeanieBean says:

      Or any beach, really. Everyone goes to the beach! All shapes & sizes & ages & genders & etc.

  8. Ang says:

    Emma and Jamie are beauty and body icons, and I will love them and look at them always!

  9. Twin Falls says:

    Where did all of this self loathing come from? (Rhetorical)

    If a supremely successful, funny, smart, charismatic woman can’t like her own physical shell, how do any of us? If I had any one of those other characteristics Emma has I’d like to think I’d be strong enough to then say I love me for me including the body I live in but looks like I still might not. And that’s really depressing.

  10. Solidgold says:

    She should unload on her therapist because a smart highly successful actress complaining about her body image is very woe is me. She should look on the bright side of life and all accomplishments. But, she does come off as an extreme people pleaser.

  11. Delphine says:

    I have the opposite problem. I like looking in the mirror so much I have to hide it so people don’t think I’m vain. Which I guess maybe I am? But I was considered so homely growing up, even called ugly to my face on a regular basis, that I’m still shocked that I grew into my looks and I’m considered attractive. I check the mirror a lot to make sure it’s real, that I didn’t imagine it.

  12. Julia K says:

    She has appeared in so many quality productions and I’ve been a fan for a long time. I recommend “Dead Again” the film she made with Kenneth Branagh. He divorced her when he started an affair with Helena Bonham Carter. She was devastated and I refuse to see anything he has done since. She is so talented and versatile, she can live without mirrors.

  13. Eggbert says:

    After watching Keep Sweet Pray and Obey documentary about the FLDS polygamist Mormon cult where young women and underage girls are seen as a commodity and forced into marriage to become sex slaves and baby making machines, I thought how can these people let themselves be brainwashed like that. But then I thought we’ll is it really that different than our society and how we’ve been brainwashed? Women are still second class citizens where we are made to believe our most value is tied to youth and beauty and then powerful men are trying to force unwanted pregnancy on us. This is just to say fight back whenever those “brainwashed” ideas that you aren’t good enough creep into your head!

  14. jferber says:

    I like the curly blond hair. She looks great and is great.

  15. Louisa says:

    So I have just finished watching Leo Grande and can confirm it is an empowering moment at the end when she looks in the mirror. I have quite a lot of thoughts about the movie (If anyone else has watched it I’d love to know what you thought!) but that particular scene comes when she is finally at peace with herself and she seems happy and content with what she sees.

  16. Jaded says:

    Six years ago I had breast cancer. Lost half my breast, had to go off HRT, had radiation and tamoxifen, and in those 6 years I’ve had to deal with instant menopause, disfiguring surgery twice (second one was to reconstruct my half boob with skin and tissue from my abdomen, essentially a tummy tuck) which left me with some seriously bad scars. I exercise, watch my weight, but coming to terms with the aftermath took me a while. I’m approaching my 70th birthday and I know things sag and wrinkle and turn into cellulite, but I always had these big perfect boobs. Anyway, the point of this comment is IDGAF anymore. I’m doing the best I can, that’s what matters, and Mr. Jaded still chases me around the bedroom, I do my workouts 4-5 days a week, eat well and count my blessings cancer didn’t get me. It’s all about context.

  17. Morning says:

    Agree this is crazy sad to hear – esp from the intelligent, successful, seemingly confidence Emma Thompson – but then I’m not in the entertainment industry like she is and constantly being judged on that. However, growing up I was chubby and got frequent remarks from insensitive relatives about my baby fat. It made me determined to get a sense of myself / become confident based on something beyond my sex appeal. Now, I give love and express gratitude to my big thighs and the rest of my not very slender body every day.

  18. Anna says:

    I know exactly how much I rate on the contemporary beauty scale. I wonder often how children of two spectacularly good looking people end up plain Janes.
    Because this was my case. My sister still looks like a supermodel and I am still short legged, big nosed, block shaped and tiny lipped. In a way, this separation- she’s beautiful and I’m smart répèted ad nauseam by everybody including my own parents made me less interested in how I look. I knew I wasn’t beautiful so why waste time about it. But I was funny and witty and when a jealous friend confronted me that “you’re not better looking or smarter than me, you just have a way with words” I understand I hit the jackpot. Life is about making people feel good long term and not give you a whistle and nothing more. When attention comeswith a single
    Look frompeople why improve yourself? I ended up with a much better looking partner than me, more successful than me, etc. We spend our time laughing and enjoying life. My sister, the blessed one with beauty, it’s at her third divorce, living a humdrum life with the most mediocre guy I ever met. What I am trying to say, your body is just a part of you and with age, the only one that doesn’t get better. Respect it, take care of it, but don’t take it as a measure of your value as a woman. Love to all ❤️

    • Jaded says:

      I couldn’t love your comment more Anna. YOU were the one who inherited the greatest qualities — intelligence, humour, a great attitude and a wonderful partner.

  19. SIde Eye says:

    Emma is lovely. She is superb in the film and Daryl McCormack is a revelation. I’d say it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen by a male actor in a long time. He was sublime. That scene where Emma stands in front of the mirror is so powerful. It’s about self acceptance, seeing the beauty in who you are and the body that’s been loaned to you. I don’t know why we are so hard on ourselves. Why we beat ourselves up like this as women. I think the greatest gift my father ever gave us girls was to not praise us for our looks. He always praised the choices we made and how smart we were. We were always stared at (because we were a mixed race family) and I admit I am used to the staring. I was a person who grew into my looks. I was a chunky teen and I played sports, got outside, laughed with friends, played in the snow. I was overlooked by boys all through high school. All of a sudden I hit 20 years old and something crazy happened – suddenly guys noticed me. But even back then (I look at the pics and think oh my goodness I was beautiful why did I not see that?) someone would call me beautiful and I would make some self depreciating comment to make myself smaller. I’m older now, and finally finally veering into invisibility territory. I can’t tell you what a relief that has been after some of the things I have experienced and yes I believe the way I looked was part of it (the other part was choosing friends or boyfriends poorly and not understanding my worth). Today I am pretty much invisible. Every now and again I will get a nice compliment from a stranger and I am done making myself smaller. I am done with reducing myself. Strangers used to say you’re beautiful and I would reply “it’s all smoke and mirrors” or I’d quote Far From Heaven and say “you should see me without my face on” and make a weird face. Usually people would laugh. I cringe now thinking this was my reaction to a compliment. The sad thing is it’s what I honestly thought of myself. It’s ridiculous how hard we are on ourselves. I don’t look half as good as I did back then. Take your pic droopy boobs, cellulite, the belly pooch, wrinkles, etc. But damnit I am done making myself small. When someone pays me a compliment, I say thank you and let a person know their kind words made my day, I return a compliment or I give them out before they are given if the person is sweet or kind. I am so done looking in mirrors and finding flaws. Those days are over. Oh the wasted years of comparing myself with supermodels which is a standard even the supermodels themselves can’t meet. Men don’t do this! They could be balding, look eight months pregnant, have moobs, and be five feet tall. They take up ALL the space. They demand to be paid more than they are worth. When it comes to this issue we need to take a page out of their book.

  20. Rhonda says:

    It’s no mystery why women in the public eye are so hyper critical of themselves when you look at the way their appearances are dissected and scrutinized on social media.

  21. jferber says:

    Louisa, I saw the Good Luck to You, Leo Grande and I really liked it. It was a great role for Emma and I think a risky one, which paid off, because she was terrific in it. The actor who played Leo Grande is on Peaky Blinders, but I’ve never seen him before. Just wow. To quote a line from the movie, he “is the most delicious thing I’ve ever seen.”