PODCAST: Bishop Brady graduate returns home, objecting to objectification


Monitor staff

Published: 02-25-2019 4:45 PM

For years, filmmaker Kristen Vermilyea was sexually objectified because of her appearance, long before the Me Too Movement nudged the issue to the forefront of society.

On Monday, the Bishop Brady High School graduate, now 49, will share her thoughts and experiences in her film Beyond Boobs, a humorous look at a serious problem unique to women.

The movie will start at 7 p.m. in the Simon Center Great Room on the campus of New England College in Henniker. Admission is free.

Vermilyea, a writer, director and actress, lived in Pembroke before moving to Switzerland 10 years ago. Her film will use a light touch to explore how her breast size affected her life and sense of self, leading up to her reduction surgery in October of 2017.

“A hilarious and at times provocative film about a middle-aged American single-mother living in Switzerland and her quest to find out if she’ll be invisible when she’s no longer the woman with the biggest breasts in the room,” a promotion for the film reads.

Vermilyea, who was a winner of the Miss American Teenager of New Hampshire Pageant in 1984, said Friday that her breasts were the source of unwanted attention, beginning in her senior year at the University of New Hampshire, where she said she experienced a “growth spurt.”

“I had been known as the girl next door, especially in high school,” Vermilyea said during an interview downtown. “I was normal, just part of the crowd. Then my brother liked to say I had become a freak of nature. I was sexualized, and that made me start wearing baggy clothing and big sweaters.”

She experienced decades of back and neck pain, plus constant headaches. By her mid 30s, Vermilyea, suffering from herniated discs, began seeing a chiropractor and needed massage therapy and shock treatment.

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The surgery has alleviated her headaches, but her back and neck continue to hurt. “Her decision to get a reduction triggers questions about identity, aging and bodies,” one of the advertisements for the movie says.

Vermilyea’s appearance has left her ambivalent for years. She hated being seen as a sexual being only, preferring that people realized she’s a published writer and filmmaker, and earned a degree in English from UNH and a master’s degree in fine arts from Goddard College in Vermont.

Yet she also acknowledged that unlike during her younger days, her appearance boosted her self esteem once she accepted what she looked like. She believes it might have helped her land a recurring role in Third Watch, a crime drama that ran on NBC for six years.

She joked that her appearance has gotten her out of speeding tickets, led to free drinks at bars and helped her invent her creative platform, which includes writing, movies, documentaries and artwork.

“I realized at grad school and was told by other artists,” Vermilyea said, “that I should use it and make art out of it.”

In 2014, Vermilyea was filmed in her hometown in Switzerland as part of the Ted Talks series, a technical information superhighway used to inspire thought and conversation worldwide.

Her message then was similar to the one that will be featured in Monday’s film, the fine line consisting of the negative impact created by objectifying and prejudging women, and the inherent need to be considered attractive, woven together with a comedic touch.

“You can’t lose your sense of humor,” Vermilyea said. “I look at breasts, but staring at them is something completely different.”

Her new movie, funded by Swiss TV and Europe’s version of the Public Broadcasting Service, has been shown in Australia, Austria, Denmark and Israel, and is currently being shown in Japan.

Vermilyea’s marketers have shopped it to Netflix and are waiting for a response.