'Claws' star Jenn Lyon says Hollywood wants actresses to be 'as small as your bones will allow'

Extreme dieting and disordered eating was the original path Claws star Jenn Lyon first took to get the acting roles that weren't available to her as a plus-size woman. She took the stage at theCurvyCon on Saturday to tell the crowd that there's a much better way to find success.

"I thought, ‘I'm going to see how small I have to get to go on TV,’ and the answer was as small as your bones will allow," Lyon said in her sit-down with theCurvyCon cofounder CeCe Olisa, titled "Women’s Leadership Session: How to Break Glass Ceiling by Carving Out Your Own Niche."

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JUNE 05: Actress Jenn Lyon attends "Claws" Atlanta advanced screening at The Gathering Spot on June 05, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

Lyon said she starved herself and over-exercised, and saw the doors start to open for her. In this state, she landed the role of Lindsey Salazar on the FX series Justified. The lesson her success taught her at the time, she said, was: "The more you deny yourself, the less space you take up, the more opportunities you're going to be given."

Her eating disorder eventually caught up to her, however, and she had to enter a recovery center. When she was healthy again, she had gained 75 pounds.

"I thought I would never work again," she said. She told herself that she had a year to try to book another role while being healthy, and joked that if she didn't get one, she'd leave town to run a pit bull rescue in Maine.

"Then I booked a great play a week after I got out of treatment," Lyon said. "To be on stage and eat food every night, every day, all the meals the way one does when one is hungry, and to still get to act blew my gourd. And then I got Claws, like, two months afterwards, and it's the best role I’ve ever had."

Jenn Lyon, Niecy Nash, Suleka Mathew, Judy Reyes, Jason Antoon and Karrueche Tran attend the Warner Media Entertainment TCA Party on July 24, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO)

Lyon said the industry is changing, and she's proud of the inclusive nature of the Claws cast. At the same time, she's not taking anything for granted.

"If Claws ends and I find that I'm not doing well, I might go and run that pit bull rescue," she said. This brought the conversation back to Olisa, who originally took a shot at being an actress too, before she quit and became a fashion and body positivity influencer.

"I followed what felt good until I got here with you guys," Olisa said to the audience. "What got me to go into acting was that being on stage felt good. Here I am on stage feeling good."

In this way, both women advised others to reevaluate their career goals with their well-being in mind.

"What you do is not who you are," Lyon said. "And you know what's best for you."

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