Trigger Warning: This piece includes graphic descriptions of eating disorder behavior.
As the only ballerina at my high school in a graduating class of almost 800 students, my peers and staff often asked me how similar the movie Black Swan (featuring the beautiful Natalie Portman) was to my own life. How competitive is the dance world? Do dancers really only eat one egg and half a grapefruit for breakfast? These were the questions I’d always dodge.
At the age of thirteen, I began to audition for summer intensive programs — pre-professional ballet summer camps that run anywhere between three to four weeks long — just as any aspiring ballerina wanting to pursue a career in dance would. I would audition every weekend the months of January and February in the hopes of receiving acceptance letters from different schools.
But it wasn’t until I was waitlisted and then later rejected from my top choice school that I began to deteriorate.
I was 5’2″ and 86 pounds. I thought I had met the requirement of being “skinny,” but there was much more to it than that. The whole package of a “perfect ballerina” consisted of high arches, a flexible torso, small head, small bust, slim hips, small ankles, and long arms and legs.
In my mind I knew I couldn’t change the way I was born — you can’t change anatomy. All I had control of was my weight. And even that couldn’t meet their standards.
That is when I began to fall apart. And that is when I began to hate something I was so desperately passionate about for years. On top of the rejection came a series of unfortunate events. I wasn’t getting the help I needed because I was too afraid to seek it. I was fooling myself into thinking that everything was okay when in fact it truly wasn’t. Nothing was okay about what I was going through.
It’s hearing the people you admire tell you to cut down a few pounds around your legs and waist. And as a result, you plastic wrap your thighs and belly overnight with the hopes of losing weight.
It’s waking up every morning and looking into the mirror as you turn sideways, lift your shirt, and feel every part of your waist.
It’s knowing you have a costume fitting later in the afternoon so you purposely skip lunch.
Or if you don’t have a costume fitting, you go for the bare minimum of nuts and some leafy greens rather than something sustainable.
It’s walking into a room surrounded by mirrors knowing you are competing against other skinny girls with short torsos and long legs in nothing but tights and a leotard.
It’s shoving fingers down your throat after you regret eating that piece of cake you craved after a long day of rehearsals.
I have become the best (but really worst) critic of my own body. If you were to ask me what I would change about myself, I can go on about a whole list of things.
After studying abroad my first semester of college in Australia, I had gained almost fifteen pounds. I knew as soon as I got back to the campus in January for my second semester that I had to get back in shape. I tried going to the gym, but I didn’t feel motivated enough. I attended classes at the Boston Ballet, but the travel time wasn’t worth it and it interfered with my school work and extracurricular activities.
I missed having dance in my life. Not the destruction it caused me in the high school, but just the joy of being able to let loose. Dance was my getaway from everything else going on in my life.
I’ve come a long way since high school. Growing up sixteen years wearing pretty pink ballet slippers and satin pointe shoes, I never thought I could love any other type of dance aside from ballet. But here I am, currently a collegiate dancer on the Northeastern University Dance Team, and I have loved every single moment of it.
I’m surrounded by the most supportive girls who share the same burning passion for dance as I do. I’ve been blessed with opportunities that have made me feel more integrated into the Northeastern community. And best of all, I’ve been slowly learning to accept me and my body for what it truly is.