All posts by Johanna Thea

Johanna Thea is a former BSc Psychology student from Birkbeck, and a recently published author of her first book, her autobiography, “If Only You Knew”, available through Amazon. She is also a professional actress and commercial model. If you wish to check out what she's doing, her website is

An Artist’s Address : My Model Mindset

My friends think modelling is a fantastic profession, and it certainly can be, as long as you don’t believe the images are really you. I recall seeing the lookbook of a friend who had dropped out of that world and moved into law. It was exceptional, and I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy leafing through the images with her, it’s just that I preferred her to the images, to all of them actually, and I could sense from how she was showing them to me that I was deep in the minority – if not entirely alone – in feeling this.

I am a model. Currently I am a commercial model, which is what it sounds like; think of the girls in L’Oréal adverts on billboards advertising the brand with their smiles and playful nature. We aren’t haute couture, nor are we expected to try to be, and I like that. Throughout the short time from being scouted at a bar aged 16, signed, represented by two different agents in Ireland, and finally coming to London and getting to do a few shoots, I always felt it reduced me – inside and out. I am not even blaming the profession, because let’s face it: there are models who can run every day, keep to strict diets and not feel demeaned, because they have healthy mindsets and can take an objective view of the requirements of the fashion industry.

Equally, many of the people I meet in the industry are naturally very slender, or adore things (some of them illegal) that contribute to their waif-like physiques. I am an advocate of whatever floats your boat, although my tastes currently differ to those of my former selves (of which there are many, each with their own needs and indulgences). It is not exactly the requirements of the fashion industry that caused this sense of unease within me. It is partly my own desire for perfection, my need to compete with myself; it is also those people you meet who enjoy watching you squirm. But let me make it clear: although these folk have no power without your agreement, that does not make them any less responsible for their behavioural choices, nor does it make the effects of those choices any less brutal and demoralising.

Let me give an example. About a year ago, amidst a sea of castings and auditions, (and intensively seeking these out), I was excited to receive a call inviting me to try out as a model for a national tv show. As it was not the usual modelling gig, I felt certain it would be fun, more like acting, and kind of expected the experience to be as joyful as going to an audition. When I arrived, filled with jubilation, I was immediately made to feel like a queen. The gent who ushered me in smiled, a twinkle in his eye, offering me water and waving towards a suave leather couch to wait for my call. By the time I went to the toilets to freshen up, my head was so large it hardly fit through the doorway, and I fancied myself silly for ever having left this kind of experience, to the extent that I seriously couldn’t come up with one reason why! I was grinning when I returned to the waiting room to be met by two ladies.

Once inside the room they asked me questions about myself. I was asked to stand up as my measurements were taken by one, while the other read from a clipboard and jotted down my answers, occasionally flashing her green eyes in my direction over the top of her glasses. “What dress size are you?” “Size ten”, I said confidently, my answer met by her eyes slicing their way up my body, from my feet to my flushing face, “Well… I guess it depends on where I’m shopping”. There was a lump in my throat now, a familiar feeling rising from within me. “What size shoe are you?” My response was met with a grimace, “Oh, must be quite hard finding that size!” I thought, what the heck are you talking about, we live in London! But I was already standing in front of them naked and bleeding all the wrong numbers for her ink, her tiny little mind and the bile my throat spat back at me every time I spoke.

When she asked if I had catwalk experience, I had no need to lie; I had plenty and used to love fashion shows at home in Ireland. Yet when she asked me to walk, I felt unhappier than ever; I have never felt so fat, so ugly, so absolutely without elegance and grace. By the time she asked me to do a 360 degree turn, my mind was numb, and I accidentally did a 180. She clicked her tongue, glancing at her sidekick, “No, no darling, three-hundred-and-sixty-degrees!”

When I left I was so grateful to be out of there. I called my friend away from her desk at work and spent quite a while complaining about it, declaring my love of acting over modelling, to the extent that she had to cut me off for fear of getting fired! I walked around Holborn looking at other models, taller, more obviously immaculate, and I understood how high the bar was set, and I also felt that I didn’t like bars created by the outside world. I have never been any good at conforming; I always do things I like, because I want to. Whether it is going to a job that isn’t going to facilitate my training or attending auditions, I always strive to be in good, healthy environments that support me in my crazy drive to create, be vulnerable, and grow.

Back then, I didn’t grasp that perhaps the problem wasn’t that modelling was wrong for me. Maybe I was with the wrong agency, going to castings that simply didn’t suit who I was. Honestly, although pressure to stay slim is an inherent aspect of the catwalk, at home in Ireland, I was never met with this level of hostility and plain meanness. At the same time, the world of commercial modelling, to which I am new, is actually much softer than both, and I am glad. I see no reason to feel anything less than wonderful while starting a new career path and feel with the fullness of my being that one ought to be excited and joyful about the challenge – no matter how arduous! Do you know what I mean?

I guess sometimes you can find yourself on the right path, heading in the right direction, with the wrong people, and that’s alright. You can learn more from the wrong behaviours than from when someone treats you with kindness and respect, and you can address more of the issues within yourself based on the reactions you have to them. I have learnt that it is better not to react at all, and rather to see another person’s way of being for exactly what it is – their own issue. If it doesn’t feel good being around a person, a group of people or a whole industry, if you are sick, uncomfortable, hurting, or angered, then it is because you are not facing the reality of what is happening within you – and you have let yourself go. It is an art, allowing yourself to hear your own truth, and be moved by it. Honestly, I am more committed to that as life advances, and I realise that, often, this is the most valuable thing we have. It doesn’t necessarily make anyone within the experience right or wrong – such determinations are entirely redundant in my opinion – but your truth and how you feel, what drives you or repels you, these are important to identify.

From there, you can understand what it may take to bring yourself back into a place of joy, happiness, excitement and peace, all that is required to fulfil your basic promise to yourself (as I understand it), which is that you live. It doesn’t necessarily mean you must leave where you are. Sometimes all that is required is addressing your own attitude and approach, but it also means being open to doing whatever is necessary in order to heal and to live well. We are not here for long enough to struggle and flail about, and if we have any power and control over how we feel, and where we are in our lives, then we best use it to our advantage.

Our unhappiness serves no one and benefits nothing, and only we can change it. Being in all the wrong places has had its benefits, because now I understand how great it is to be here, right where I belong, and I shall never stop feeling grateful for the awareness I’ve gained from previous experiences, because those experiences got me here! My current agency is wonderfully warm and supportive, and I am excited that tomorrow morning I am going to work having booked the job from the first casting they sent me for! Given that result, I have to advocate the benefits of finding your place, and filling it entirely, over and over again.

An Artist’s Address: The Fear

A fellow actor once told me that whether Hollywood would make or break you came down to two things: fear and love. He explained this to me as we sat in his car on a swelteringly hot day, bang in the middle of moving house (artists are renowned for all sorts of movements).

The fact that this person had lied about his relationship situation, his reasons for relocating from LA to the UK, and virtually all of his film experience to date – that came to light later. But, in the strange and amusing experiences we have with one another in this sharing we call life, all of us bring blessings and curses, and from him, this was one of many gifts.

You will hear artists talking about many different things: their art (of course), money, the business, the recession, friends, art, fun, festivals, beer, family, meeting kindred spirits at dawn and seeing the sunrise of a new day together – millions of things really, but rarely do they mention their fear. Hardly ever do we sit and openly discuss how hard it is to stick with a profession over which you have no control, besides making sure you always show up to castings prepared, are always grateful, and always, always choose the job over everything else.

The truth is that as an actress, when I try out for a job, I’ll only ever hear back IF I’m successful. After one particular casting for a very well-known brand, I was asked to wait for callbacks with another actress (now a friend) in a nearby café. Not wanting to appear demanding, we waited patiently to be called, until finally, at 5pm we broke and phoned the office, only to be told that the casting directors had left for the day!

In an environment where only the best or most well-known are called upon, nearly every single day is like living inside a pressure cooker. Eventually, we all succumb to some sort of fear, and this escapes each of us differently. I have decided to refrain from describing how anyone else’s fear manifests. For me, it comes in my dreams, through endless nights when I send my closest friends messages, during long phone conversations, and once every few months, when I go out on the tear.

If you have Irish heritage, you’ll know going on the tear (or the lash) means getting inebriated; we do it when life overwhelms us, as a kind of catharsis. We feel everything very deeply, sometimes too much so, and when that happens, we go out for the craic!

The latest was a tequila-drenched evening with a too-sober friend in Los Angeles (yes, I’m back for take two). I misread her annoyance at my drunkenness as a sign that she didn’t want me to live with her anymore. It was the release of a deep-seated worry, which I’d had for some time; what if I lose my way and fall off the edge of opportunity and possibility and into the side streets of despair? What if nobody catches me? This was my fear, exacerbated by the loss of many things that had previously given me security.

You know what happened afterwards though? We got closer as friends, and I was able to recognise and understand my fears and weaknesses better, and love myself more as I came to accept them. All of this time I was trying to avoid this particular fear, but now I can use it to take charge and head full storm towards the horizon ahead. Come with me! Let’s all let go of “the fear”, realise we are only here for a short time, and just ride the waves, instead of ducking and hiding each time one breaks, totally missing the wonderful view from above.

If there’s one thing I am leaving behind me with each wonderful experience as an artist, it is the fear. I don’t even care about it anymore. Give me trust and love, truth and freedom! Bring me joy and happiness! Bring me movies with characters I am excited to portray; let me act on tv series; bring me roles in commercials that are fun, that introduce me to great people at the top of their game.

Let me experience nothing but the gratitude and wonder of being able to live my life, hanging out only with those I adore, love and enjoy, and let my dreams coming true mark the relinquishing of the troubles, frustrations, and fears from my past!

Out with the old, in with the new, or to give one of my all-time favorite quotes:

“For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning, and is refreshed.” (Khalil Gibran)


An Artist’s Address: The L.A. Experience

We get off our Air New Zealand flight still half asleep, our movement sustained by excitement and filled with anticipation at the thought of being in this Mecca for film stars. Finally, we are here, and it feels every bit as beautiful as I anticipated. Even the fact that I left my phone on the plane is given meaning by my lack of distraction whilst in that city. At the security gates, the elderly man checks and stamps my passport. He smiles gently and tells me, three times, “Be careful”. Already, I have a sense that the people of this city will mind me, want to preserve my spirit, and look after me.

I am smiling as we leave the airport and step onto a street buzzing with lights and lanes of traffic filled with cars going in the opposite direction to which I am used. People speak softly, yet are not afraid to ask me to move out of their way. The sometimes abrupt expressions of passersby contrast to English politeness in ways that make me smile. (I have always been partial to cultural difference, and the sense of absolute newness of each country I visit is exciting to me).

Credit: flickr - Gilad Rom
Credit: flickr – Gilad Rom

To say we were exhausted during our drive home might be an understatement, but it was a positive feeling, and it gave birth to many great experiences afterwards.

The first morning: We go to an Italian breakfast house where they serve pancakes, some laden with cream and sweet treats, others with savoury items such as bacon. I choose the oatmeal and am wondering whether it’s genetically modified. It tastes good, yet my thoughts highlight how effectively my Facebook news feed has brainwashed me to deem America the land of genetically modified foods. I giggle to myself. That perceptual bubble bursts throughout the trip, and I am introduced to one healthy eating trend after another. Even their frozen yoghurt stores are low fat and often homemade.

The next day, while shopping in “TJ MAXX”, I find myself eavesdropping on an actress who believes her three castings this week has made it a quiet one! For me, this is busy, and I am exhilarated at the thought of this happening to me. I sense the lack of awareness in my exhilaration, and this is again indicative of how much more may be happening in L.A. for actors than in London. I can only hope that should I get signed by an agent here, this same story will come true for me! The possibility of this happening makes me feel good, that there is that chance – no matter how great or small. Of course, the truth is that the standards here are probably quite different to London’s, especially given its orientation towards film, whereas London has a culture rich in theatre. Beyond that, one cannot truly know what possibilities may arise should one get an agent in L.A., unless and until that happens.

We head out in West Hollywood for dinner, then hit a club called The Abbey. The club has a cosmopolitan feel, kind of like a mix between Ibiza and Berlin with something extra, and most of the people whom I encounter are friendly and chatty. Clubs don’t usually stay open later that 2am or 3am, so we aren’t worried about overdoing it — again, adding to the charm of the place. I have the feeling that in summer, house parties, barbecues, and beach time frolics are all the rage. This night, though, it is all about having some chilled out fun, in a pretty club filled to the brim with happy people having a good time!

We are lucky enough to be staying quite close to the beach in Santa Monica, so walks along the pier and beach are welcome breaks to city life. There is only one day when the sun is hot enough to tan my skin, but, unlike a typical sun holiday, this beach does not make me want to sunbathe. Rather, it has me people-watching and chilling out to the sights and sounds of families walking, swimming, and playing and groups of friends chatting and rollerblading down the paths together. I find myself staring into the water as the waves broke, and feeling absolutely at home.

Credit: flickr - Marika Bortolami
Credit: flickr – Marika Bortolami

I am a great believer in the natural rhythm of life, especially that of an artist’s, and in following your feelings as they unravel and guide your soul towards its path. I remain grateful to Los Angeles for its treatment of me, how happy it made me, and the opportunities it presented. It remains to be seen whether this city will be more to me than a place to visit, and I am excited at the prospect and possibility of learning more in the interim. No matter what the outcome of my L.A. adventures, I remain grateful for our introduction, and shall be forever.

An artist’s address: let your soul shine

As I sit here on my bed, draped in my dressing gown, inadvertently going through my Facebook news feed (come on now, we’ve all been there!) trying to decide what to write about, I come across something sweet. It is a post with a female figure, illuminated from behind to make it seem like a shadow. She has a great bush of hair falling below her shoulders, cupping an invisible face, and with both hands punching the air. There, written across it, is the sentence “Let Your Soul Shine”.

Let us assume, just for argument’s sake, that we have a soul and that it is our vital essence, which, whether or not we believe in reincarnation, survives past our body’s death. Secondly, let’s also assume also that it can “shine”. What, then, can this mean? What does it mean when we make requests of each other to radiate from inside?

I have recently been realising how important friendship really is. No matter what happens to us in our lives, what lovers enter and leave, which kinds of people trawl through our personal journeys, sometimes sharing them with us as intimate friends, and at other times as acquaintances, these are our rocks. These are the sources of eternal strength, support, love, acceptance and kindness, which cause our souls to shine, surely. Or do they?

I am not sure. I have found that it is only love that awakens my soul and brings that light into my eyes upon which others remark. Sometimes friends fall from grace, and friendships are outgrown. There are also times when nobody can reach you, no matter how hard they try, and so we are alone with our struggles. What then?

This, to me, is the pinnacle of human existence: when we have to become our own friends. Those times when we are scraping the barrel because we have lost loved ones, or ideas, or our dreams, and we find ourselves truly and utterly alone. Why do I think this? It is only because, for me, the test of our true strength is in how well we love, and this is most sincerely tested when there is no one who can love, accept, support and encourage us but our own selves!

So when I saw this sign, the girl with both her hands punching the air and a sense of jubilation about her, this is what I felt: Here is a girl, a person, a soul, who knows that the only way to truly let your soul shine is to love yourself. Now, maybe you think I am just an artist with an ideological mind, which has no bearing on your or your life, and you would not be wrong. Yet, I am a human, an individual, a being within a world where the only truly reliable source of substance has to be one’s own heart. Otherwise, we are always only dependent on the light of others to feel like we can let our souls shine, and where is the joy in that? Where is the freedom and truth? Indeed, where is the courage and adventure!

Is it not preferable to find ways, myriad ways, of undressing the ideas of one’s mind? To step eagerly into the light of our own self-consciousness and begin to see where the light which emanates through our eyes truly comes from, so that we might actually begin to let our souls shine?