Zosia Mamet Tells Stories To Help Us Feel Less Alone

Actress Zosia Mamet reflects on the power of entertainment to make us feel connected, the trouble with Hollywood’s definition of ‘sexy,’ and the ways we can all host more honest conversations about body image & the female experience. 

Zosia Mamet Tells Stories To Help Us Feel Less Alone

“I think it’s our responsibility, as women in Hollywood today, to play roles with substance. Otherwise, they are going to keep writing roles without substance for us.” 


“When I am looking for a new [acting] project, I have what I call ‘furniture rules.’ If a chick’s character is a ‘couch’, it means that the room would look weird without her, but she doesn’t really serve a purpose beyond other people sitting on her. She’s just so-and-so’s girlfriend or so-and-so’s sister. Even after all that women have gone through these past few years, you can still walk out of a movie and ask, ‘What was her name again? Did we even hear it?’” 

If you watched the TV show Girls, you definitely heard Zosia Mamet’s character’s name. The famed series revived the female ensemble and catalyzed a new wave of stories about women in progress. The antithesis of couch roles. 

Off screen, Zosia is curious, goofy, and likes to slip immediately into her sweatpants when she gets home from filming her new TV show The Flight Attendant – but her work doesn’t stop when she gets comfortable. Zosia fills the rest of her hours writing, producing, and collaborating with friends. She approaches all these projects with a similar storytelling philosophy. 

“Whenever I’m picking a project, going after a job, or creating something myself, I ask, “Why is this so important? Why does this story need to be told? And, if it’s stupid and takes place on Mars, does it at least help people forget what they need to forget for two hours or ten episodes?” 

“I think the reason we have entertainment is to help people feel less alone, especially during times of extreme circumstance or tragedy. When you look at periods of war over the past hundred years, you see how important entertainment was during those times. People were putting plays on in their living rooms. Against all odds, [storytelling] persisted. The opportunity to escape – or, on the other hand, to see your own experience reflected back to you – is vital.” 

The issue with female representation on screen is just that: we don’t often see authentic female experiences reflected back, yet we can’t seem to escape the male gaze. Narrow definitions of beauty hold female characters to impossible standards – or limit these women to ‘couch’ roles. And a woman’s sexuality is the first thing to lose its nuance and messiness on screen. 


“Our industry has put sexuality and sensuality in this tiny box. Most real women feel sexy in ways that have nothing to do with sex, but, on the screen, we understand their sexuality through the male gaze. Often, women who are funny are not considered sexy. I don’t think my character on Girls would have been considered sexy. Her sexuality was dealt with in a very honest way, so it felt real and true to many women, which I loved, but that did not make her sexy by Hollywood’s standards.” 

“Hollywood has taken this idea of sensuality and morphed it. It considers me the most sexy when I’m on a red carpet, in a couture gown, with perfect makeup. Yet I am never more uncomfortable than when I am in that situation.” 

“You haven’t eaten since you woke up. Your hair and makeup took four hours. You’re so hungry. You’re wearing the most uncomfortable shoes. Your dress is probably attached to you in seven different ways, with tape in unseen places. Then, you have to sit and watch a four hour, really boring award ceremony before you can eat your cheeseburger. And Hollywood says, ‘That’s sexy!’” 

“I equate sexy to feeling the most comfortable in my own skin, which is honestly after I’ve gone horseback riding. After I ride, I’m disgusting. I’m covered in sweat, dirt, horse slobber. Fully the opposite of a dictionary definition of ‘sexy.’ Yet, I feel so happy and relaxed when I leave the barn. I feel 100% myself, and that’s the part of my day I feel the most sensual.” 

“Most women don’t see this kind of sensuality represented anywhere. We are constantly bombarded with these images of unrealistic perfection and a very narrow view of beauty. We are told that if we want to feel beautiful, that’s what we need to look like.” 

These impossible standards warp the self-image of so many women, but no one's talking about the ubiquity of dysmorphia. It’s not just our physical experiences that need greater representation; our inner worlds and shared struggles deserve a more accepting spotlight. 

“I’ve found that the most helpful thing I can do for other women [struggling with an eating disorder] is to share my own experience. If you bear it all and give others something to relate to, you can help them realize they are not alone; that their experience isn’t weird; that it’s actually very common.” 

Over the past few years, Zosia has been admirably public about personal body image issues she’s held since she was a child. She’s shared her ongoing struggles with an eating disorder and opened up about the transformative experience of living without mirrors for a month during an RV trip last year.

“It was interesting to come back from a month of no mirrors. I went to a fitting and was surrounded by floor to ceiling mirrors and immediately felt terrible. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s what that release was. They just weren’t around.’ But I know I can’t fully drop out of society and I don’t want to. There are reflective surfaces all over big cities. I don’t want to have to hide from mirrors, because that’s the flip side of the same demon. How do you find that same freedom when you look in the mirror?”  


This is Zosia’s real life, not a character on the screen, but her philosophy for sharing comes back to the same two things: a need for more real representation and the power of stories to make us all feel a little less alone.

“There are commercials about quitting smoking or dealing with alcoholism. People know where to go. They know they can talk about those things. There are visible statistics. It’s not that way with eating disorders, dysmorphic issues or matters of self worth. If we can help women understand that so many other women feel this way, we can start to normalize the conversation around getting help and feeling better. I find talking about these topics incredibly cathartic and helpful.” 

“I think that making each other not feel so lonely is what being on Earth is about. People always say, ‘it takes a village,’ but it actually used to take a village. In many other cultures, people still live that way. In our own society, we’ve gone against our primal roots. We live separately. We parent alone.” 

“Whenever I spend time with the people I love, my heart fills up. That connection is why I do what I do. It’s what storytelling is about. It’s what life is about: community, friendship, loving people, and being loved. If you can bring it back to all of that, you can start to distill these issues into something much more simple.” 

Interview and Article by Molly Virostek. Photographed by Stephanie Lavaggi. Styled by Emily Newnam

Tags: bodytalk , Self

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