Mind

Downton Abbey star on the secret she hid for 13 years

Jessica Brown Findlay has decided to speak out about her struggle because she thinks it’s time people had mature conversations about body image and mental health.

For many years, including during her stint on one of the world’s most watched TV shows, actress Jessica Brown Findlay hid the fact that she was suffering from an eating disorder.

But the former Downton Abbey star has decided to speak out about her issues because she thinks it’s time people had mature conversations about body image and mental health.

Jessica, who played Lady Sybil Crawley in the hit series, has admitted she’s had an eating disorder (although she did not specify which one) since she was 13.

The former ballerina, who had to give up dancing because of ankle injuries, says keeping her eating issues secret for more than a decade has been an isolating experience.

“I felt so alone for so long and I just hid. Then I started talking and held my head up, and instead of saying sorry, decided to tell myself that I matter. It’s about learning to stand up and say, ‘This is me and that’s okay.’ I’m not going to be a better actor if I’m a dress size smaller.”

Making an impact as the ill-fated Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey.

Jessica (27) has been having therapy, which has helped her to feel safe and healthy.

The actress wants to talk about what she has been through because she feels society puts too much pressure on young people to conform to “certain ideas of beauty and success. There has to come a time where those aren’t the rules any more. Then we can have a mature conversation about what that is about and depression.”

It is her hope that by speaking out she will help others dealing with mental health issues, in particular eating disorders.

“If you are lucky enough to speak and be heard, it might be useful to others. The more we have brave discussions like that, the easier it is talk about things and the less alone we feel.”

With Colin Farrell in Winter’s Tale.

Jessica has her role as the rebellious younger daughter of the Earl of Grantham in Downton to thank for gaining a public profile.

She left after three series, shocking viewers when her character died in childbirth. Her work colleagues had tried to talk her out of leaving, but Jessica says she

felt the time was right to go.

“My contract was ending and I was unsure about signing away another year. Leaving terrified me and that’s what made me want to do it. Being afraid and going into the unknown excites me.

“What scared me more was to keep going and then one day discover playing Sybil was the only thing I could do. That was a much more terrifying prospect than unemployment, so I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers and leapt into the abyss. I’d prefer to fail and fall flat on my face.”

As the shy novice gardener Bella in the movie This Beautiful Fantastic.

Fortunately, she hasn’t failed or been unemployed for very long since leaving in 2012. Yes, there have been projects that have tanked, such as Winter’s Tale – her Hollywood movie debut, which co-starred Colin Farrell and Russell Crowe, was savaged by critics.

And the mini-series Jamaica Inn, based on the Daphne du Maurier novel, was not the hit the BBC was hoping for, largely because sound issues meant viewers had trouble hearing what the actors were saying.

But she has won praise for her role in the period drama Harlots, which is available in New Zealand on Lightbox. Jessica plays a sex worker in London in the 1700s.

That meant sex scenes and the actress came up with a novel way of keeping the atmosphere light on set when things were getting steamy.

“I found it was quite amusing if you put a whoopee cushion underneath someone,” she smiles.

“It breaks the ice. Sex scenes are massively awkward, but you can make them funny.”

Jessica was back in – and out of – a corset in Harlots.

On the big screen, Jessica has worked with Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy in Victor Frankenstein, and has a leading role in England is Mine, about the early life of The Smiths lead singer Morrissey.

She’s just finished filming the movie adaptation of the best-selling book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which reunited her with other Downton stars Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley), Lily James (Lady Rose MacClare) and Matthew Goode (Henry Talbot).

Attending a party for Hamlet in February this year.

And this year she got the rare chance to wear current fashions for a change when she starred in the film This Beautiful Fantastic, in which she plays a timid woman who forms an unexpected bond with her grumpy neighbour (Tom Wilkinson).

The actress, who has also played characters from bygone days on stage, including Ophelia in Hamlet this year, admits that although most of her roles have been in productions set long ago, she is not a fan of period costumes.

“I hate corsets, absolutely hate them! I’d be very happy if I never had to wear one again.”

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