EXCLUSIVE: Iza Calzado Writes About Her Personal Struggles With Her Body And How She Is Overcoming Them
She’s one of the most sought-after actresses in the country today, and her lovely face has graced the cover of many magazines. Her recent wedding was a fairytale come true, and her life is picture-perfect. In this exclusive, Iza Calzado writes about her personal struggles with her body and how she is overcoming these challenges.
Photo from @missizacalzado
I am enough
I know this is what I should believe in every single day but the truth is, I still struggle to love and accept my body and myself wholeheartedly. Yes, you read that right. I may be at the forefront of a movement and encouraging everyone to love their bodies and themselves more, but the truth is that this body love revolution started because I needed healing and still need healing and support, just like most women (and men) out there. Version 2: It’s more for me than it is for you.
As a child, I never felt enough. I grew up in an unstable environment with a beautiful mother who was dealing with her own mental health challenges—which sometimes caused her to say unpleasant things to me about my appearance—and a father who was very loving but was not always present and had weaknesses of his own such as women and gambling. Suffice it to say that our lives felt like a top-rating soap opera series. That reality, paired with unhealthy eating habits my dad had, was a recipe for my obesity.
By the time I was in sixth grade, I was diagnosed with childhood depression which was the leading cause of my non-stop weight gain. Food was my friend, my comfort zone. Something that brought me joy also brought me shame. It was also around this time when I started hearing comments such as “Sayang, maganda ka sana pero mataba ka.” Comments like this reinforced the feeling of not being enough.
"I started hearing comments such as 'Sayang, maganda ka sana pero mataba ka'"
An ideal image of beauty
My weight kept adding on until I found myself being the biggest in our batch—maybe even our school at one point. I was over 220 pounds at my biggest, with my jeans size going up to a size 42. I hated my body. I was ashamed of it and heard a lot of hurtful comments that people said about me and my size—friends and family included.
Out of sheer vanity and will power, I started to cut down on food leading to senior year. I wanted to have a boyfriend and to be beautiful in our graduation photos, and because the motivation was shallow, I ended up doing stupid things just to get results. I starved myself: From three sandwiches a day to a pack of crackers per day with just water. But weekends became binge time after starvation during weekdays. Bingeing made me feel guilty about the food I ate, which would lead me to forcibly vomit food out.
Apart from this bulimic behavior, I occasionally turned to fat burners and slimming teas—anything that would make me thinner. Ironically, my first fat burners were prescribed by a doctor when I was young, and with it I took phentermine, an appetite suppressant, which my mom introduced me to. I was weighing myself every day at the school clinic, and every pound lost kept me going, even to the point of fainting. By the end of the school year, I had lost about 70 to 80 pounds and was in a relationship with my dream guy. Life was good. Or so I thought.
"Out of sheer vanity and will power, I started to cut down on food leading to senior year. I wanted to have a boyfriend and to be beautiful in our graduation photos, and because the motivation was shallow, I ended up doing stupid things just to get results"
Iza in 3rd year high school | Photo courtesy of Iza Calzado
Creating an image of perfection
With the weight loss came a whole new set of insecurities. Loose skin, more visible stretchmarks, and looking thinner but not exactly having a thin person’s body. All throughout college, my love affair with diet pills continued as Bangkok pills were introduced to the market. It made me so crazy I couldn’t even finish the month-long dosage.
Life was generally good and when it came to my looks, there was hardly any real pressure to be skinny save for the few times I went to VTRs and auditions. The two times I went made me feel so bad about myself that every rejection for a casting call made me feel it was because I wasn’t skinny enough, so I hardly went. Ironically, life led me to one of the most demanding industries anyone could think of—one that placed me right in the public eye and exposed to criticism and scrutiny.
A few days after my mother died, I was called in to audition for a shampoo ad. I got the part but was told to lose a bit more weight. This started an addiction to exercise. After the television commercial was aired, I found myself cast in a soap opera, and soon enough, I was the lead for a show called Te Amo, Maging Sino Ka Man. During this time I had already lost more or less 100 pounds. I celebrated this and should have been proud, but it did not mean that I was no longer insecure. In fact, I was even more insecure because I didn’t know how I would make it in an industry that projected and celebrated perfection.
In 2002, I was cast in a film but ended up being taken off the project. I am sure there was a logical reason behind it, but in my irrational mind, I believed it was most probably because I wasn’t thin or sexy enough. I was told by television management sometime in 2004 that I was being handpicked to play a female superhero who fights injustice in the most unforgiving outfit: A bikini. We immediately met with doctors trying to figure out a way to “improve” my body. I still remember having to show my loose skin to our producers (who were all female, praise God!) with mixed feelings: Pride from weight loss and shame from the imperfections.
I had previously gone through breast enhancement injections, so a tummy tuck and thigh lift were called for this time to address the loose skin. I had surgery for a role, only to be told afterwards that it wasn’t enough; I lost the part. To be honest, it was never even my dream role, but I felt it would give me a chance to make it in the industry—enough to secure a seat in the kingdom of show business. I should have known better.
"With the weight loss came a whole new set of insecurities. Loose skin, more visible stretchmarks, and looking thinner but not exactly having a thin person’s body"
On a trip in San Francisco, to visit her mom | Photo from Iza Calzado
Feeling the pressure
As I continued working in showbiz, my issues never really went away. In more ways than one, they were heightened. I was surrounded by people who celebrated every inch or pound lost, who almost always made comments on my physical appearance first, then work achievements only after. I was blessed with people along the way who would try to enlighten me and give me tips on how to be more confident, but they would get drowned out by the loudest voice in my head—my own.
This push and pull with the mind and body continued, and I even found myself undergoing full body liposuction in 2006, only to gain back the weight lost in 2008. I knew I no longer wanted to go under the knife, and it was then that I found running. I loved it! For the first time in my life, I felt I was truly in control of my body. I was also introduced to healthier eating habits by the family of the guy I was dating at that time, and became an endorser for a non-surgical slimming clinic. I lost a lot of weight and was celebrated for doing so. Here we go again—that thought inside my head being reinforced that being thin meant being beautiful and worthy.
Little did people know I was very unhappy and felt very pressured to maintain a certain weight by my environment, work, boyfriend, and the hardest one to please, myself. It was around this time that I was asked to work on a show called Beauty Queen, wherein I had to wear my much dreaded two-piece bikini for some scenes. I welcomed it as a challenge to myself to be the thinnest I could get, again resulting to calorie
deficit and fat burners. I succeeded and was in my “best shape” to strut around in a bikini, but I hated every minute of it. Every time I had to do it I would have to put a ton of body make up, with the fear of someone taking my picture and uploading it on the internet. I felt very vulnerable in front of the people seeing me in a bikini, like I was handing over my power to them even though I kept telling myself that I should be proud of who I was and what my body has achieved.
From the outside looking in, I was hot. I landed major endorsements and magazine covers, and was celebrated for my body. Deep inside, I felt like a fake. I graced the covers of these magazines almost naked but all the images that were shown were heavily photoshopped. Yes, I did work hard for my shape and that was truly something to be proud of, but the fact that I could not even have a photo of myself unretouched was both a safety net and a trap. I kept trying to measure up to the girl in the magazine with smooth, flawless skin, who ironically, was me. But she was enough; I was not.
"I lost a lot of weight and was celebrated for doing so. Here we go again—that thought inside my head being reinforced that being thin meant being beautiful and worthy"
Iza at her heaviest at 220 lbs. and Iza at 12 years old in Disneyland | Photos from Iza Calzado
This love-hate relationship with my body continued. I was working out hard: Running, pole dancing, CrossFit, yoga. I even went on a program under Ido Portal and I felt amazing because I was getting stronger. However, the strength training made me bulk up a bit. It was honestly not that big in real life, but big enough for the producers of my show to tell my makeup artist and stylist friends to talk to me about my size. It was frustrating because at the gym I felt and thought I looked amazing but on TV I was viewed as big and fat. The pressure to look skinny was so real.
Around this time, I hosted a show called Biggest Loser Doubles. It was great! I felt like I was doing what I was made to do: Inspire those who wanted to be fit and healthier. I thought it would be a good time for me to come out on TV without body makeup on my arms and to finally show my true self to the audience. However, I was told to keep the makeup on. It made me think that my stretchmarks must be so offensive I can’t even show them in a program like this. “Will I ever be enough?” I thought to myself.
I was constantly comparing myself to women whose bodies were “perfect”—smooth, tight, flawless skin—the one thing I could never have. During a beach holiday in Phuket, I kept expressing comments about other women’s bodies positively, and then belittle and talk about my body negatively. On the fifth day, my then boyfriend, now husband Ben, said “It’s getting tiring, Iza. Nobody cares.” I was so consumed about my body and other people’s bodies that it was affecting the energy of people around me. What was supposed to be fun was slowly turning into a pity party for my body. I think this was the slow and conscious start to pursuing a healthier mindset in the way I viewed my body, myself.
"I was constantly comparing myself to women whose bodies were 'perfect'—smooth, tight, flawless skin—the one thing I could never have"
Photo from @missizacalzado
Finally, a wake-up call
This shift came at the most opportune time. I was nearing mid-30s and my metabolism was slowing down. Back pain and spasms were real and I was getting sick often because of the abuse I would do to my body. Things I used to get away with in my teens and in my 20s would now haunt my body. Late nights at work, too many workouts, and too much dieting would cause my immune system to break down and my body to hurt. It is so humbling, this thing called aging. It was a wake-up call to start accepting my body instead of pushing it to reach unrealistic goals at the expense of my health.
In the midst of all these, I realized: If I feel this way then I must not be alone. Other women out there must know how it feels to keep chasing this so-called “perfection.” Serendipitously, this whole body positivity movement was picking up in the West, and there were groups of women here like Danah and Stacy Gutierrez of Plump PH and Rona Tai celebrating their curves as well. Ashley Graham was the new ‘It’ Girl in Hollywood. Yay for inclusivity! I also found women on Instagram who have gone through body transformations in the same way I have, a lot of them even losing more weight. It gave me peace of mind knowing that I was not alone, yet I still wondered if someone like me, an actress, would be accepted in the same way they were. So I did a little experiment. I posted a photo of myself that I knew was not the most flattering but felt it was the most joyful of the photos taken of me. True enough I got some negative comments, but the best thing about it was that there were more people who appreciated it and were even defending me for it. I knew then that the Philippines was ready for a revolution. This was when we started #thebodyloverevolution, a movement that I spearheaded together with the group She Talks Asia which I eventually became part of. We wanted to spark a dialogue around our love and acceptance of our bodies, ourselves.
In the process of doing this, I was also at my biggest in years. My hormones were not balanced, and I felt like I was being tested whether I would walk the talk. Sometimes I won, sometimes I failed. Remember when I said I still struggle with loving myself, particularly my body? The truth is, it’s not always a walk in the park. I don’t wake up every day feeling amazing and being happy with my appearance and my body. I look at myself in the mirror and I see my scars and all the imperfections and it sucks. It’s not like I say, “I love my body” one time and all of my issues magically disappear. They stare right back at me, day in and day out. I don’t even need a basher to remind me of it. I still struggle to keep food in my stomach when I feel like I have eaten too much. I still struggle with overtraining and pushing my body hard to look better and weigh less. All these years, and I still catch myself not feeling good enough.
Maybe because the problem is not my body: It’s my mind and the way I feel about my body. I wonder, when will I ever truly feel enough? It may have stemmed from my youth, but I know that my mother was just as much a victim as I was. She didn’t mean to make me feel unpretty, and now I know that she said those things because, apart from her mental condition, she was also programmed to live by rigid standards of beauty that have been passed on from generation to generation.
But now that I am aware of this, I know this must end with me. I have the duty and the obligation to myself and my future children to raise them knowing that they are more than their bodies. There are so many things to celebrate about our bodies.
Nowadays, I am working hard to reprogram a lot of things in my head with the help of meditation and gratitude journaling, through workshops, and by surrounding myself with amazing energy, online and offline. Perhaps the journey is far from over, and I have so many things I still need to address within myself to help me become a better version of myself. So I keep my head up and continue marching on, arming myself with selflove, compassion, and acceptance. But today, as I share my story, I can truly tell myself, “I am enough.” That’s fine for now. Tomorrow, I face another day in this body love revolution.
"All these years, and I still catch myself not feeling good enough. Maybe because the problem is not my body: It’s my mind and the way I feel about my body... Perhaps the journey is far from over... But today, as I share my story, I can truly tell myself, 'I am enough'"
Photos from @missizacalzado
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