My whole life I had felt like an outsider never able to feel comfortable in my own skin, even in one of my favorite places. I have loved the theatre ever since I can remember. It always felt magical to stand up on that stage, and perform for an audience. I always found myself coming back to it, it felt like a part of me. There’s a sort of rush, and adrenaline high, that I feel when I step into those unforgettable lights, it is both fear and courage. I don’t know how to describe it, but when I’m on stage, it’s not about the steps, it may be for others but never for me. When I see that audience, and I run out into the spotlight, the world slips away, I’m completely in the moment, and the steps come naturally without a second thought. I may never have really loved the actual dancing, I’m not sure how I feel about it now, but I loved the showman ship of it all. It was acting without talking, being able to free myself,without having to use my voice. I never truly felt worthy of the stage, it was a foreign concept, I felt like it was too luxuriously for someone like me. The costumes and the makeup hid my true identity and made me feel like the person I was portraying could be worthy of the stage. The rehearsals, makeup, hair, backstage conversations, and the before the show hot chocolates, always felt like home. I danced for eleven years, and the real reason I continued was because of the performance. Being someone else entirely, you can make up who you are, it’s easy to act like you’re more confident than you actually are, like you actually like the person underneath the pound of makeup. When the lights go down and the curtain closes on the last show of the season, that’s it. My shy intimidated, self conscious self comes back, the imaginary alter ego leaves until next year.
This was supposed to be my last year in the spotlight, but I didn’t make it. I thought that a lack of tardies, and an almost perfect attendance, along with seven years of professional production would count for something, but apparently I was too tall. I think it was because I was never any good at dancing, and even though I could do the steps, and plaster a huge smile on my face, it wasn’t enough, they knew it was a lie.
I knew it was the end. My final curtain call, my last bow, I got the roses, and it was over. The realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I asked myself if I was too fat, or if I didn’t do the steps right, or if I no longer had the “look”. In truth, I’m not sure I ever had the ballerina look. For one thing, I’m not skinny, I wasn’t born that way.
Last year I thought that I could be one of those girls that I had always envied and felt less than. I believed I could get to a point where I wouldn’t look in the mirror and hate what I saw. I convinced myself that what I was doing was exactly what I should have been. I told myself everyone can be skinny, as long as they work on it. I believed it was my duty to do what I could to lose weight. It became an obsession, that turned into an illness. My appearance became my main focus, all attention went into what I put into my body, nothing unhealthy, everything natural, no sugars, no carbs, no fats, all low calorie. This went on from September through June. I had been dieting in seventh too, but it got worse in eighth grade. I’m not sure I was ever actually skinny, I can’t accept it if I was, but at that time, for the first time, I almost felt like I had self worth. This was only another driving force in my spiraling weight loss. I spent every night staring at weight loss sites I had seen a million times, searching for some miraculous cure, something that would help me lose weight faster. After a couple of months, the weight plateaued, and I was only losing around two pounds a week, sometimes none. My metabolism had adapted to the lack of calories, and every possible opportunity I got I spent staring at that scale, longing for different results that never came. My insides ached for something I wasn’t going to give them, because I felt that I didn’t deserve it. I was at war with my body, and I was not going to let it win. My insides felt like they were becoming the priority, the weight wasn’t as much of an issue, as the mental game I played with myself.
I punished myself if I ate something I wasn’t allowed to, and when I ate the amount of calories I allowed myself, I felt like I was just doing what I had to. Eating something my parents tried to shove down my throat meant trying to throw up in the bathroom to no avail. Having a friend tell me to “eat a donut because I can see your bones” meant I’d done my job. Waking up in the middle of the night with severe stomach pains unable to sleep meant laying in bed for hours with my growling stomach as my lullaby.
The thing about eating disorders is that the disorder takes over, and the person becomes a shell of their former self. For me, every day I felt like some lifeless machine, being controlled by a judgmental alter ego, who told me everything I was doing wrong . I was always either irritable and moody, or sad and crying over some silly dilema no one else understood. I felt isolated and alone, I could only worry about my diet, and nothing else. My whole day consisted of wondering when my next meal was, where it was going to come from, and how many calories it was. My notebooks were filled with calories calculations, depicting the food I wasn’t giving myself. I became a hoarder of food I couldn’t eat, pencil bags full of candy bars I would never touch, and pockets full of food I said I’d ate. The worst part was watching my days go by, without getting a chance to actually experience them. While everyone else laughed at jokes, and hung out with friends, I was trying my best not to pass out.
The end of year performance brought with it the costumes, and the endless rehearsals every night. For the first time I wasn’t enjoying the rehearsals that I had loved in the past. Being downtown didn’t feel as special, the wind was my constant enemy, always seeming to sneak around the tall skyscrapers, chilling me to the bone, and threatening to******* away. My legs didn’t want to walk on the bones I had riddled them down to. Walking was a chore, and dancing long nights left me bruised, tired, and aching. The only thing that kept me going were the leotards falling off me, and the new costume the wardrobe lady had to loan me.
I took pride in the costume sizes I had gone down, and the idea that as a teenager, I was wearing a girls size 10 t-shirt , and that the women’s section never had my size. Even though I was tired from just standing up, shopping almost became something I enjoyed, instead of something I despised. I was finally feeling like a normal girl shopping for clothes, and almost feeling ok with what I saw in the mirror.
I had always been the girl who had to wear clothes with numbers on them that were older than my age, so the fact that I was shopping in the kid section at fourteen years old gave me a lot of self-satisfaction. I had never felt like I fit in, but with my new weight, even though I got tired from sitting, I almost felt like I was worthy.
The first show began on a Saturday night, and for the first time in my life I felt like I almost deserved to be on stage with the rest of my class, I was no longer putting on a persona, it was just me. I danced with no emotion, and felt so dizzy I didn’t think I would make it through the routine, but it was ok because I was almost skinny, and that’s all that mattered. The stage had lost it’s magic appeal, it no longer made me feel insignificant, but I realized I didn’t enjoy the performance. Of course none of this mattered because I could barely think straight, how was I supposed to when all I could think about was dinner. My friends and I joked around on the side of the stage, and I forced smiles pretending everything was ok, when my whole world was crumbling at the seams. I didn’t know what they were saying, and I couldn’t care, all I could think of is all I had left out there on that stage. I had realized I hadn’t shown the stage my real self, it was only a persona I had made up, just like all the other times, except I couldn’t take this make off, or put this hair down. I had changed, and it wasn’t a costume I could just take off.
Looking in the mirror afterwards, my collar bones shone through my skin, the bruises I had from sitting down were visibly on display, I was freezing even with the hot perspiration of the ballerinas swimming around me. Every calorie I had counted came flooding to me, all the tears I had cried at night when I couldn’t sleep came roaring to the surface threatening to spill over. Even with all this I told myself, but you’re almost skinny, and that’s all that matters. The stage didn’t matter, my friends didn’t matter, my life didn’t matter, all that mattered was something that I hope is laughable in today’s society, something that I can look back on and shake my head and ask why. Why did something so arbitrary, something that I molded myself to be, something that took over my life and wouldn’t let me control my own thoughts, have more significance than anything else. Why does it still resonate in my heart no matter how hard I try to leave it behind.
I can never admit to being skinny, because even though I knew my bones were visible, in my opinion, my stomach was never flat enough, and my thighs were never small enough. Now don’t get my wrong, I was underweight, but physically I didn’t see it. I was hyper focused on how skinny two parts of my body were, and if those parts of my body were to ever be the size I want them to be, I would be in the ground right now. I would be just another girl who took skinny to a whole new level. I want to be more than the disorder I had.
My performance is over, I’ve left the stage behind me,my anorexia is gone, but I’m glad I’m not.