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A road to body positivity

May 6, 2009

In this piece, a Carleton student courageously shares her journey to appreciating her body, through dance and disordered eating, to the joy of a bowl of chocolate ice cream. We thank her for sharing her story.

My road to Body Positivity has been a long and rocky one. I’ve had issues with body image since I was old enough to remember, and the problems I had when I was four only continued to get worse as I got older.

I guess the real problem, though it really isn’t a problem, is that I’ve been a dancer all my life. I started my Serious Classical Ballet Training when I was four, and since then I’ve spent most of my life in rooms full of mirrors and other skinny girls in leotards. And I was the chubby kid. Looking back now, I wasn’t actually that chubby, but I sure thought I was. Within my family, I was the chubby one and maybe among the other girls in ballet I was one of the chubbier kids, but to look back now, I was a normal elementary-schooler. At the ballet school I attended, no one would ever tell a student she was fat. We could figure it out for ourselves.

When I was nine, my dad got a year-long teaching position in the Czech Republic. Living there was an amazing experience and I’m so grateful we could go. However, it wasn’t so great for body image. If I was borderline chubby by American standards, I was definitely chubby by Eastern European standards. And I had a great opportunity to study ballet at the Brno National Theater’s Ballet School while we were there. It really was a great experience, to study at a professional school in Europe when I was only nine. Unfortunately, it was, again, no good for body image. Ballet teachers in Europe aren’t afraid to tell you when you’re fat. Mine told me to go on a diet of “only fruit, vegetables, and water.” I was 9 years old!

When we returned to the US, I started started fifth grade, and was still taking dance. I recently talked to my best friend, and she said that she thought I changed immensely in that year that I was abroad. For one thing, I started talking about how fat I was.

By 7th grade, I was all angst-y. Like most people that age, the world was out to get me. I got my period and I started shaving and I started liking boys who didn’t like me back and life was confusing. I would be home alone after school, before I had to go to dance, and I would eat because I was so unhappy. I would eat and eat all kinds of junk food and I was unhappy because of my eating, but I was still eating my feelings.

I don’t really remember it 100%, but there was a time that I was having a really bad day. I most likely had some kind of fight with my sister and/or my friends and/or my mom and everything seemed like it was going wrong. I was sitting there, eating, and I realized that my eating made me unhappy. I went in the bathroom and made myself throw up. And, to be honest, it felt AMAZING. Everything in my life was out of my control, but here was something I had total control over. I could make myself throw up whenever I wanted. It gave me a sense of domination, even if it was only over one aspect of my life.

Then the next time I had a really bad day, I did it again. And it made me feel better again, if only for a little while.

And again.

And again.

As I progressed through 8th grade to high school, my bulimia had less to do with thinking I was fat. I actually didn’t lose very much weight being bulimic. It was just a way for me to punish myself, when I was unhappy with myself. It doesn’t feel good, throwing up, but it made me feel vindicated.

When I started high school, I switched to a different dance school, which was more casual and had lower expectations. I also joined marching band, which helped smooth my transition to high school, even if it didn’t make me the most popular girl in school. Life was starting to get better. I joined choir, where I discovered my love for singing. My body image may not have improved very much, but my bulimia certainly tapered off.

Things were better until a production of “The Music Man” in 10th grade – my first real theater experience. My high school had really intense musical theater. You had to be in choir to be in the shows, so everyone was a good musician, and the director was some guy who had acted in New York and the sets were commissioned by a local artist and so on. The choreography was also amazing, though most of the dance talent wasn’t. I was quickly singled out as the best dancer and stuck front and center for most of the numbers. I began obsessing over how I would look on stage. I never entirely stopped eating during the production, but I definitely started eating less. I kept a log, and every night before I went to bed I would weigh and measure myself and record it. I remember noting that I lost 5 pounds in the first week that I was recording. I also remember that when I got fitted for my costume, I noticed that the waistband was really tight. Of course, I now realize that it was to keep the dress on. At the time, I thought it was a signal to me to lose weight. So I did.

In the end, the show finished and everyone told me how good I was in it, and I started to believe their compliments. My parents, especially, were so proud of me, and I became proud of myself as well.

Summer of my junior year, I decided to join field hockey because my best friend played. It is violent and intense and SO MUCH FUN! I started running not to lose weight, but because I realized that I needed to increase my stamina. My relationship with food was better, because I would come home from practice starving and realize that I needed to eat because I was hungry. One of the best parts of my field hockey experience, I think, was that I was AWFUL at it. When we did drills, though, the other girls on the team would stand on the sideline and cheer you on. No one had really high expectations of me, and I didn’t have high expectations for myself, because field hockey was something I did for fun. For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to be bad at something. After a summer of running and playing, I started junior year with muscles and a tan, two things I had never had before. My actual number on the scale had increased (I was still weighing myself every day), but I was feeling better.

Life since that first summer of field hockey still has been a struggle. Some days are better than others. I still go through periods of obsession, of weighing myself every day or obsessing about my food or going for long runs on the treadmill just to see how many calories burned, but things are mostly better. I’m much healthier now. I eat because, you know what? Food is tasty. And as for my body, I think it’s hot. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my thighs touch (I didn’t know until recently that some people’s didn’t…) and that I will NEVER have cleavage like the Cosmo girls. I still dance because I love to dance. Even though my intensity when I was younger may have been a catalyst for some of my problems, I don’t regret it at all. It’s part of who I am. Just like my weakness for chocolate ice cream.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura permalink
    May 6, 2009 11:40 AM

    You are so strong, and I’m not the only one who is proud of you. Keep eating the ice cream.

  2. Nikoleta permalink
    May 6, 2009 4:20 PM

    Thank you for sharing your story and strength. Yum to chocolate ice cream.

  3. Anna permalink
    May 8, 2009 10:13 PM

    This is so brave and beautiful.
    It takes courage to love yourself.
    Always be such a courageous, wonderful, strong, lovely human being.

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