'Claws' star Jenn Lyon thought her career was over after eating disorder rehab: 'Unless I'm this ideal, I'll never get work'

Kerry Justich
Jenn Lyon addresses her southern upbringing when talking about developing disordered eating. (Photo: Getty Images)
Jenn Lyon addresses her southern upbringing when talking about developing disordered eating. (Photo: Getty Images)

Jenn Lyon is known for being outspoken about reproductive rights, toxic diet culture and movements like Time’s Up and #MeToo. But the Claws actress tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she didn’t always intend to have a platform to speak about hot button issues or know that she could.

“I didn’t have very big dreams,” Lyon explains backstage at TheCurvyCon on Saturday. “I grew up a preacher’s daughter and you kind of live in a fishbowl. You have to uphold the values of your family and your church and everything, and I just felt that I want to say and do things, but I don’t want to bring shame on my family.”

Growing up in North Carolina, Lyon said that the South was a harsh place to be a young woman trying to figure out where to fit in society. Ultimately, her upbringing played a role in disordered eating, which she developed through her belief that she needed to be thin and stay quiet.

“So much of eating disorders is because you don’t speak up. You’re not saying what you need, you’re not living what you need and you’re turning everything inward,” Lyon explains. “I could attach [my bulimia] to like 10 times throughout the day that I abandoned myself and the calls of somebody else’s needs and then I would eat everything I could and then I would throw it up and it was like a release valve.”

The aspiring actress made her way to Los Angeles where she booked roles while at her lowest weight, which she figured was her only option.

“I thought being a working actress was the be all end all,” she says. “I was like unless I’m this ideal, I’ll never get work.”

But it was going through eating disorder recovery and gaining 75 pounds that put Lyon on the best path forward in her professional life. The people who helped her through the process thought that going back to acting was like “an alcoholic working at a bar,” but after booking Claws, Lyon found power in using her platform to raise awareness around eating disorders, as well as other important issues near and dear to her.

“I learned how to use my own voice,” she says of going through rehab. “I learned how to have needs and desire and be OK with that and speak up, then I felt comfortable I had ground underneath my feet and I could use my voice to speak for others.”

Now, the actress is an outspoken force in multiple women’s empowerment movements, including 5050 by 2020, where she aims to encourage all women to have difficult conversations around representation in TV and film.

“That’s the dopest part of all,” she says.

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