June 07, 2018 11:10 AM

When Julianna Margulies first kickstarted her career in show business, the pressure to live up to impossible standards and her struggle with self-acceptance was at an all-time high.

“When I first started out, I was told by numerous casting directors that I would never work in television — that my look was too different,” Margulies, 51, exclusively tells PEOPLE. “They didn’t know if I was part Black, part Hispanic, was I Greek, was I a Puerto Rican. That was the feedback after every audition.”

She adds, “It was sort of a miracle the ER happened to me because I think it was that same year that I was told I’d do better off in Europe because they’re more accepting. That was 1994, so it was a long time ago and I know things have changed dramatically but not drastically enough. I think we’re seeing that now. I think we’re seeing it with women being able to be the leads in film and in television. The landscape is changing but I definitely think that it’s not just in the business, I think it’s how we view ourselves as women in the world.”

After playing her morally centered characters in ER and The Good Wife, Margulies is now starring as a narcissistic fashion-magazine editor, Kitty Montgomery, in AMC’s Dietland and says the role has really helped her shift her personal views about herself.

Patrick Harbron/AMC

“I really hope people take away from this is that we’re all great as we are and we can be better people if we start accepting that now,” the actress says. “It’s hard. Listen, I’m not good at it. I’m always looking at my flaws and examining them. But the show has really helped me change my views about myself.”

“I’m so hard on myself,” she adds. “I’m a perfectionist. It’s just how I’m wired. The show talks about why are we all trying to be perfect people? There is no such thing. We need to stop being so hard on ourselves and maybe the real you will be more valuable than the superficial you. I think women across the board, and men too, are going to really identify with everything about this show.”

Dietland, an adaptation of Sarai Walker’s 2015 satirical novel, tells the story of Plum Kettle (played by Joy Nash), a ghostwriter for Kitty, who is struggling with body image while preparing for weight-loss surgery.

“What’s so great about the show and why I loved being a part of it is that Plum’s character actually says, ‘When I get to be a size 6, then I can start living my life.’ I urge everyone to ask any woman they pass in the street if they haven’t had that same thought. No matter what size you are. Women who are size 2 think the same thing by the way. I think that’s what the show touches on and will be most affecting: The fact that it has this backdrop of the #MeToo movement — it goes hand in hand.”

Dietland airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

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