TRIGGER WARNING: Weight, size, disordered eating, body dysmorphia
My name is Emily, I’m 26 years old, and I am a dance teacher from Connecticut, USA. I want to take a moment to share how I am overcoming fear, self doubt, and body dysmorphia on my journey to becoming the Curvy Ballerina.
I have been dancing since I was two years old, and there is nothing I have ever wanted more than to share my love of dance with as many people as possible. However, by the time I was 7, I realized that my body was different from my peers. I was shorter and stockier, and by the time I was 10, curvier. I was always hyper aware of my body, so much so, that I had a hard time focusing on much else in the studio.
Things reached a tipping point in high school. I attended an art school where I was a dance major. It was here that the toxicity of ballet became apparent. I looked around at my classmates, and all of them “looked” like ballerinas. The flat planes of their chests and narrow hips were a stark comparison to my large breasts and wide hips. Girls who were 20 lbs (9kg) smaller than me would look in the mirror before class and complain about how fat they are. I had always hated my reflection, and I “learned” that everyone hated their reflection- it was so normal.
I was a size 2 when I was told that I should consider smoking cigarettes or trying cocaine to suppress my appetite. I had already lost weight trying to fit the mold of “ballerina” and “fix” my body- I was already alternating between starving myself and binging and purging– and these comments cemented in my mind that I wasn’t doing enough. I was having a hard time focusing- if I wasn’t thinking about food, I was thinking about how giant my stomach looked in my leotard and tights.
Just after my 16th birthday, I started to experience nerve pain in my back, and the worst foot pain in my arches. I ignored it and pushed through. Meanwhile, my ballet teachers told me how proud they were of my shrinking body- I felt that I couldn’t disappoint them by telling them I was injured and that I needed help.
Fast forward 4 months- the nerve damage in my back reached an all time low, and I felt a CONSTANT burning sensation, interrupted only by sharp shooting pains. I ruptured tendons in the arches of my feet. My disordered eating and lack of nutrients finally caught up with me, and my body couldn’t recover. I felt like ballet was ripped away from me; my body decided for me that I couldn’t dance ballet.
It’s been ten years today that I made the decision that dance wouldn’t be my future. I dropped out of the arts school and finished traditional high school, went to college for psychology, and graduate school for nutrition. I was still teaching dance on the side, but I couldn’t allow myself to dream any bigger. I lived with the fear that the more I focused on dancing, the more I would hate my body. Through counseling I have learned that my body obsession and hyper focus on my flaws was body dysmorphia- and it was impacting my day to day life as much as it was dictating my future.
I didn’t go from body dysmorphia to the Curvy Ballerina overnight- I think it’s essential to note that I received professional help. Once my anxiety and depression felt more in control and I started respecting my body through a balanced, nutritious diet, I was able to find more peace with the curves that I was given, and I FINALLY was able to remember the passion that I had for dance instead of the fear.
I found a body positive space on instagram, starting with model Ashley Graham, and I decided that I had wasted enough years of my life without truly expressing my love of ballet. Six months ago I started my own body positive instagram account, @bodyposiballerina and I have allowed myself to share all that I am just as I am, and it has been so well received. People are craving reality instead of filtered version of the truth. I get messages from my followers about how I have inspired them to continue pursuing their love of ballet, and the fact that me, in my body, has given people hope has been more fulfilling than I could have imagined.
My number one suggestion to dancers facing scrutiny, whether that is internal or external- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Help in anything and everything you might be struggling with: nutrition, counseling, or additional dance training. You DESERVE to be your very best. Your mind and body are your tools, and when fueled properly, they can take you farther than you know.
My second suggestion– find a supportive community. The community that I was a part of growing up was toxic, but now we are so connected on a global level that I have found a wonderfully supportive community on instagram. No matter what level you are, having a support system to look to for inspiration and motivation is indispensable.
My third suggestion, and possibly most important- fake it until you make it. This might sound odd, but hear me out; when you start doubting yourself, you invite others in to doubt you as well. Portraying confidence and speaking kindly to yourself, even when you don’t feel like you deserve it, can change your thought patterns completely. Your thoughts are more powerful than you can ever imagine.
Emily, a curvy ballerina