Kristen Vermilyea’s film "Beyond Boobs"

This Portsmouth native lived large, but her new film is about choosing a reduction in two of her biggest assets

In 1999, Kristen Vermilyea left her home in Portsmouth to follow her Hollywood dream. The first stop on her way to stardom was traditional: New York City. She had talent going for her, but success was certainly not a cinch. Still, she was hired as an extra for “The Sopranos” and “Law and Order,” and within six months scored a speaking role on “Third Watch.”

In an industry that values appearances, Vermilyea knew she had some advantages — natural beauty and a shapely body topped by a pair of very large breasts. But the same features that attracted attention from men and casting directors came with downsides. She was often typecast for “sexy” roles and endured back and neck pain and chronic headaches — the result of simply supporting the weight of her bosom.

Her career blossomed and veered into writing and directing, but wherever she went, one thing was constant — the awareness that she was the largest-breasted woman in the room.

Vermilyea turned this awareness into performance art, inviting an audience to “interact” with her breasts while her face and body were concealed. She staged a TEDx Zurich Talk on the global fixation on breasts titled “It’s Okay to Look.” Eventually, enough was enough, and she began to plan for breast reduction surgery, but the chance to turn even this pragmatic decision into art was too compelling to pass up.

In the months leading up to her surgery, Vermilyea directed a documentary on her journey, interviewing people on the streets of New York, California, Colorado, New England and her adopted home town of Zurich. With courage and wit she captured a host of unforgettable characters on tape and mined the quirky zeitgeist of the beauty-obsessed West in a one-hour film that is equal parts hilarious and serious.

Now, “Beyond Boobs” is working its way into the festival circuit and her dream is to take it, and an update of her TED Talk, on a tour of colleges.

Post-surgery, her headaches have gone. Her new double-D bosom, while still eye-catching, can be modulated. “I’m in control of how I present myself,” she says. “I feel like I’m who I’m supposed to be.”

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