Tuesday, August 28, 2012
ED Talks #16: typical skinny ballerina girl--Anonymous
I have struggled with anorexia since I was around 12 years old.
I think that is the first time I’ve ever really used that word for myself.
Around the time I started growing was around the time I started to get more serious about my ballet training. I was about to perform my very first Nutcracker. If only I had known then that this production was monumental in setting me on an upward spiral to pursue a career in dance, and monumental in setting me into a downward spiral of unhealthy mentality and physicality.
I remember trying to eat very healthfully around this time, choosing chicken strips over my usual double cheeseburger at McDonald’s (probably equivalent in calories, but it made sense in my naïve little brain). I felt better about myself and noticed it helped me focus better on my dancing. I did a small soloist role this year and thought that surely it was because I was starting to look and act like a ballerina.
The next year, I was becoming pro at my eating, and I got an even better part in Nutcracker where I danced a pas de deux as the Snow Queen. I remember my mom calling me at school and me crying in the hallway I was so happy. All my work at dance and all my work eating “healthfully” was paying off. To me this entailed taking not two hours of dance every other night as I was supposed to, but around four hours every night, and eating foods with no fat. No chips, crackers, cake, cookies, rolls, etc. I had Froot Loops for breakfast (because I knew there was only one gram of fat in them) usually a salad or plain baked potato at school, and I tried as often as I could to skip dinner and dessert. The performances went well and I had lost about five pounds during this season. I didn’t notice it. But my doctor did at my check-up. I had lost about five pounds. I had broken 100 lbs that year and had dropped to around 96 lbs at 5’5”. My mom took the blow for me and explained that I was working hard. Made sense to me, so I was off the hook. I stayed pretty thin throughout that year.
The next summer, I went away for the first time to the Pacific Northwest Ballet summer program. I had gotten more lead roles that year and had actually gained some weight. I was about 108 lbs at 5’5”, and I actually felt happy and fine. I had a great summer and learned a lot. I also ate a LOT. The cafeteria was set up buffet style. I always ate pretty healthfully, but I ate a good amount, and always snacked on dried fruit in my room, and discovered vanilla bean frappucinos at Starbucks. I can’t even look at those things now. I think my body was trying to make up for the two years I essentially starved my body that summer.
Directly after my summer program, my family went on vacation for ten days to the East coast. We drove a lot, saw many sites, and, you guessed it, ate a lot. Even on vacation, it would dawn on me that I would have to go home and face the scale. I guessed I had gained about five pounds, which scared me. I got home, stepped on the scale and 117 glared back at me in red numbers. It’s still burned into my head to this day. I haven’t been able to even get up to 115 since, but I have weighed myself every day since then.
I immediately began to see cellulite I had never noticed. I didn’t even know what that was. My arms looked huge, my legs looked huge. I started to cry. I felt trapped inside this huge body that wasn’t mine.
And so began the worst five years.
I knew I had the ability to lose weight. In fact, I was good at it. I started right away.
It went slowly, but it happened. I stopped eating set meals. I only ate things under 100 calories. Lots of fat free yogurt. Lots of apples. I still eat this for lunch almost every day I’m dancing. Brings me peace of mind, even though it doesn’t bring much energy. Work in progress…
By the time Nutcracker rolled around again, I had gotten my dream role, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the star of the show. I worked harder than I ever had before. I had gotten down to 106 lbs and was that weight every day of the performances. Except one night, we went to Chilli’s. I tried so hard not to eat too much. I shared all of my food with friends. I woke up to 109 and had a terrible show. All in my head…
By the end of that year, I had continued to lose weight. Eating only a banana for breakfast or a yogurt. I had gotten another lead role in a performance in May and one in June. I was taking every class, and doing double rehearsals. My mom told me I needed to drop a show, but I was determined to show her I could do it. I did. By the days of my last shows, I was 92 lbs. I was so proud of myself. I didn’t look at what I was doing as something bad at all. My dad barely spoke to me he was so worried about me.
I went back to PNB that summer fully confident I’d get moved up a class and they would love me because I wasn’t as big as last year. I got called into the school director’s office certain that I was indeed getting moved up. Boy was I wrong. I was told I was WAY too thin and that I MUST gain weight. I thought she was insane. But that day I had to meet with the psychologist and the nutritionist. It was bogus to me. The nutritionist checked my weight as 98 lbs and I knew it was because I decided to have eggs and fruit for breakfast that day. And too much water. I thought I was stupid for doing that and barely paid attention the whole meeting because I was so preoccupied with the fact that they knew my weight was much more that it should be. 98 was a lot, and they didn’t think so. The other girls were probably my same weight, right? I completely missed the fact that she gave me a meal plan saying I couldn’t eat anything low fat or fat free (I though, yeah right.) And that she had calculated my body fat as 4.9%. I was actually emaciated. I gained only about four lbs in those five weeks, and still had to meet with the nutritionist every day.
The next few years my weight stayed about the same, and I stayed happy. I hovered in the 96-98 lb range. It was starting to catch up though. I didn’t realize that friends started to disappear. I didn’t realize that my heart started to beat really hard in my chest. I still hadn’t had my period. I had no boobs at all. I got out of breath easily, and getting through class was a struggle. What had used to grant me so many great things was starting to become a problem, and I was noticing it, yet I denied it.
My junior, senior, and the next year, I moved on my own to New York City to train with one of the top ballet schools. I knew the girls there were notorious for being very thin, so I made sure I was skinny enough to get in. I did and, and with a full scholarship for the summer. My method was finally starting to work again. When I was officially asked to stay for the year, I proudly put a lower weight on my info and handed it in. I had put 110 on my original documents and I felt confident that because they liked me and skinny girls I could put 105 on my new info for next year. I showed up and bam right away, I was back to the nutritionist and now a nurse who would take my vital signs and weight. I have met with this nurse for the past three years. I spent my entire last year with her thinking I was 120 lbs. I most usually have been 98. I’m 5’8”. Ankle weights and lots of water before weigh ins. It is not something I am happy about. I was so afraid I would get kicked out if the school knew my real weight. I almost wasn’t invited back last year. I gained enough to get back in, and lost it all during the year. I ate egg whites, fruit and yogurt, and veggie salad with no dressing every single day. With this I also lost my opportunity to dance with my dream company. I lost my opportunity to dance ballets I prayed I would get to dance. I have finally learned that taking care of my body and dancing well go hand in hand. And more importantly, eating and living go hand in hand. I’ve blacked out, starved myself through a week, and been completely frail, pale and lifeless for far too long.
Right now you probably are thinking, “Oh, a typical skinny ballerina girl.” See, that’s what I’ve always thought too. To be honest, the ballet world has taken a complete 180 degree turn for the better. If a dancer becomes too thin, it poses an immediate red flag that she will not be able to withstand hours of rigorous rehearsal. Not only does she stand the chance of losing the job she has worked years for, but also her health, and almost most definitely her menstrual cycle. I still have not had mine. I am 19. It scares me and stares me in the face every single day. I am trying hard to make it happen. I have finally reached this professional level. My directors have expressed that I must not get too thin because they know I have the potential to do so.
There has never been an underlying reason for why I have put myself through what I have put myself through. I have thought it over for hours, days, and a few years now, but I’ve never been able to come up with a single experience or single reason why I am the way I am. I guess it’s a combination of personality type, genetics, and recurring reasons that make sense in my brain to keep not feeding the flame.
This summer I have gained 12 pounds. It is so scary to say that out loud when I don’t even tell anyone else. For the first time, I like it. For the first time, I’m embracing being over 100 lbs. Heck, I am embracing being 110 pounds. It’s weird to see little curves coming where there used to be bones. I still have a way to go, and I have to keep gaining until I start my period. It’s time. There are still things I hate to eat. There are still days where I only eat about 500 calories. There are days where I binge. I’m still trying to find the balance of being able to fuel my body enough to give me great energy to get through all my rehearsals. And the trick will be to do this without eating too much to make me gain weight, and not starving myself so I lose weight and then want to keep going so I can see how thin I can get. I’m worrying about finding the balance of still looking okay in a leotard and tights and being healthy. I guess it’s my next adventure. I just hope it doesn’t take me seven years to figure out.