Grace Dougherty Is Being Honest

The New York City based actress shares her experiences with an eating disorder, sexual assault, and trauma… and overcoming all of it
Grace Dougherty Is Being Honest

"I'm an actor — acting is what I always wanted to do. But there was a period of time that I was going to modeling agencies. I went to IMG, shot with them and they ended up saying no; I went to Ford and they were like, ‘you’re fat.’ What they actually said was, ‘You’re just bigger than the other girls.’ To me, that meant I was fat. I was sixteen — that was really hard to hear. I never thought about my body that way. I never really considered body image, honestly, until then. After a while I started going to agencies again — I went in to Wilhelmina and they never got back to me. The next summer I got connected with this mother agent. I went in and they said things like, ‘We’re obsessed with you, you’re the next big thing.’ Things I wanted to hear. So I started working with them. There is this thing called IMTA where modeling agents go at the end of July, and potential models attend and just… get scouted I guess? I was going to be doing that. In preparation, my mother agent told me I needed to get my hip measurement down at least two, two and a half inches. 'Great, let’s do it,’ I said. They said, ‘eat 1200 calories a day.’ I was like, ‘Sure!’ I had no idea how many calories I needed to be eating. They were like, ‘Run four miles a day.’ I was like, ‘Awesome. Will do.’ I would have done anything. I just wanted to be validated. I just wanted a modeling agency to say, ‘yes,’ so that I would feel like I was enough for them. To feel enough for me. That’s really why I was doing any of it.

So I was eating 1200 calories a day, running four miles a day and I felt like I was going to faint every second of every day. Three weeks before this IMTA thing, the mother agent — his name was Derek — called me in saying, ‘Hey we need to talk, your hip measurement isn’t down enough, come into the office.’ I went in and he said, ‘Listen, you need to start running six miles a day.’ I said, ‘I’ll try.’ He was like, ‘No — you have to.’ That day I went on a run up the West Side highway, and I made it to something like 4.65 miles. Derek had me send him proof that I was running, so I sent it to him. He said, ‘Great, try to get it up to six tomorrow.’ I responded, saying, ‘I’m not a trained runner, but I’m going to do my best to run this distance without hurting myself.’ Day of the IMTA thing, I get there and he pulls me aside. ‘Listen, I sensed a lot of attitude in your text to me the other day about the mileage, and we don’t accept that here. I just wanted to let you know,’ he said. I was really taken aback, because I knew I didn't say anything wrong. I left that day in tears and I never went back. 

That was a sad time. I would measure my hip every morning. It was horrible. I hated myself so much. I started eating normally, but that October I relapsed again. And it was at that point that I said to myself, ‘This isn’t who I am, this isn’t who I want to be.’ I didn’t want to end up in a hospital — I knew I couldn't do this to myself, there are so many things for me and I wasn’t going to ruin it all by not eating. So I stopped. Or, I tried — it was a process. I ended up going to a nutritionist, because I didn’t know how to start eating normally again. That helped. At a certain point I decided I could deal with it on my own. And I can, it just takes a lot of work. Since then, I still struggle. I really don’t want that to happen again. But it’s hard to juggle everything at once. I start to wonder, does recovery ever end? Is somebody ever completely out of their eating disorder? I can assume women my mom’s age had body image issues, but they never had the platforms to talk about it like we do now. So it’s interesting to think about women who are older that might still struggle with this — who struggled with it when they were my age — and how they feel now. 

Grace wears the Demi in Blush

I’m from Maryland, I grew up 30 minutes outside of Baltimore. I’m a film actress, but I started in musical theater, actually. My last year of high school, I auditioned for thirteen different performing arts colleges. I ended up going to Pace, here in New York — I loved Pace. Then, I went to RODA the summer after my junior year of college. I had a lot of anxiety growing up, but when I was on stage, it would all go away. I see a psychiatrist in New York now, but the last time I had a panic attack was in October, when I was on set for a film I was shooting. I was doing a scene where I was being abused — that was a lot of the premise of the movie and I was playing the lead — and in a way, it’s kind of my own story. So, I did this scene and I somehow got through it. But we kept doing it over and over, because you have to get all the different shots. Everybody on set knew about my own experiences. They were all really understanding and willing to help me in whatever way. But I just said, ‘I’m good, I can’t believe it but I’m fine!’ And then I got home that night... and I was not OK. I got really nauseous, my whole body started to shake, my teeth chattered. It’s a very physical ordeal. 

Now, talking about my experiences is really helpful. Back when I was a junior in college, basically, I don’t even know how I met this person. It was probably through Instagram. The first day we met, I thought he was charming, and cute. He was like, ‘let’s go back to your house.’ I said, ‘I don’t really do this, but alright fine — I’m not going to sleep with you.’ And he said, ‘OK.’ I don’t drink, so we were completely sober. We got home and were going to sleep, whatever. And I’m half asleep, and I just remember hearing him tell me to ‘Shhhh.’ And then I just remember his body over me. I just lay there. I didn’t know… I thought rape was this violent act, like a Brock Turner type of thing. I would have thought if I was sober, which I was, I would have been able to stop it. From the point this started I don’t remember anything at all. I don’t remember how it ended, I don’t remember being awake, I don’t remember anything.

The next morning, I was fine — I didn’t think anything wrong had happened at all. The next day I was telling all my friends how amazing he was, how much I liked him. And then, it happened again. And I was only with this person for a month and a half maybe, total. The day before I went home for Thanksgiving, he hit me. We were play fighting, things escalated quickly. After about five beats he was like, ‘Oh my god I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to.’ I was just lying there crying, in shock. He was so apologetic: ‘That wasn’t me, I don’t know who that was.’ I obviously knew it was bad, but even after that, I was still infatuated with him. I really just wanted to be liked by somebody. I literally had bruises on my arms, on my legs, because of how rough he would be during sex. I was always in pain; I felt so weak. That Christmas when I went home, we had broken up, I ended up getting a stomach ulcer, and I was nauseous 24/7, but I had no idea what was going on with my body. I later learned it was the trauma. I was telling my therapist about this abusive relationship, because I knew being hit had affected me. I ended up telling her about the night we met and how he had sex with me, and she was like ‘....what? He what? That’s rape, that’s what rape is.’ Now, we have shows like Big Little Lies and Handmaids Tale that show this, and of course, all the conversations after the Harvey Weinstein thing came out two years ago. But at the point in time that this happened, there was no conversation at all. 

Grace wears the Demi in Blush

Growing up, my parents had an amazing relationship — they are so in love. I never saw abuse, I had never heard in-depth stories of domestic violence, I didn’t know what an abusive relationship and manipulation looked like. Recently, I was in a relationship for almost two years with an amazing and special person, but my trauma from this experience carried over into our intimacy, too. During sex I would start crying, and I wouldn’t know why. He’d be like, ‘what did I do, what did I do, what’s wrong?’ And I would not even be able to speak. That was last summer. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I still don’t really know how to process it. I can’t for the life of me remember. And I carry so much shame because I don’t understand why... I didn’t say anything. Because of that, it is hard to share. But the truth is, I feel so empowered sharing with other women. It helps so much. 

I still deal with all of this — it’s still a process. Some days it’s hard to change how you feel. You really just want to lie in your bed. But I have some great, supportive friends. I think that’s really important. You don’t need a million friends. You only need a couple of good ones. Even sharing on Instagram, it’s hard to scroll and see these perfect lives. I found myself getting really frustrated with that last week. I felt horrible — I’m going through a breakup, and I’ve been feeling really down, but I kept posting pretending I’m living my best life. I just wanted to be honest. It helps to say, ‘Hey guys, I’m not good, this is what’s going on.’ And then you can have conversations with other people who are feeling the same way. It’s really freeing — to say, OK, I’m not lying anymore."

Photographed by Stephanie Lavaggi. Interview by Anna Jube. Styled by Emily Newnam

Tags: bodytalk , social perfectionism

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