A personal anecdote on body image, ballet, sport and anorexia that was original posted on the C&V instagram.
Something happened to me last week – I was at gymnastics, feeling particularly tired and nibbling at chocolate to keep my energy and focus up. My coach looked over and said half-jokingly, ‘stop eating! When I first came to the gym, you were so skinny! And now, because of chocolate…’ I was too taken aback to do anything but laugh and say that I needed it for energy.
Mostly though, as someone who has battled an eating disorder, who’d learnt from doing gymnastics and ballet how important it was to nourish myself, I felt like crying. But because I am a grown woman, I pulled him aside and explained to him very nicely that I was recovering from anorexia when he first started working here, that I had needed to gain weight for my health and that his comments did not make me feel good. ‘That’s why you were so skinny? I see. I understand.’ He said, and then – ‘sorry.
Then I went home, and cried. A lot. I think dancers can relate when I say there was a part of myself that said ‘you’re not skinny because you’re weak-minded and ill-disciplined!’ (and that’s what anorexia is about – not an aspiration to thinness, but a fear that yourself and your efforts aren’t good enough). I wondered what was wrong with me, that someone would say something like that to me. I felt ashamed for letting one comment affect me so much – it’s embarrassing talking about it now! I thought about how much worse it must be for all the dancers I knew and didn’t know to have their bodies critiqued by well-meaning coaches or severe artistic directors and struggle with body image issues. People who, unlike me, may not feel they can speak up.
But then, in spite of how crappy I felt, I realised that I simply don’t think it’s worth being weak, tired and hungry anymore. That not being a slave to the false god of perfectionism doesn’t mean I don’t work hard or look after myself. People will always have their opinions about what you should and shouldn’t be. But the fact is that life is a lot better when you have energy to do the things you like, the strength to propel yourself up in the air and flip upside down, and the wisdom to know that chocolate is magical and undeniable.
(And yes, that’s me, flipping upside down and basically trying not to die!)