I started dancing much later than most at around the age of 13. By then, I was already beyond my dancing prime. I was reminded of this repeatedly.
I switched from a neighborhood dance studio to a more prestigious one in high school, thinking that it could help me to bridge the gap of the “lost” early years of not dancing. My demi pliés were always atrocious but they were mine. My legs would hardly bend before they stopped, abruptly, forcing my heels off the ground and moving me into a grand plié. After a lesson, the instructor pulled me aside and asked me to perform a few demi pliés as she analyzed my body, perplexed.
Instructor: “So you can’t go lower than that?”
I shook my head. She had me do a demi plié again and placed her hands on my shoulders with a slight force to feel when my body naturally stopped its movement.
Instructor: “Huh, you really can’t go lower. Do you run?”
I shooked my head again. I hated running.
Instructor: “Well, surely you do soccer, right? With those quad muscles you have to do soccer.”
I again shook my head. I made an uncomfortable joke that if I were sporty (which I wasn’t) that I would have played soccer (which I didn’t) because I enjoyed that sport more than others. I was short, enjoyed thin privilege, but had a bit more squatty of a frame. I had pronounced quad muscles and tricep muscles. They run in the family but, on shorter frames, they add bulk. I never had the ubiquitious thigh gap. I most certainly didn’t have the body of a ballerina.
She gave me exercises to do to lengthen and strengthen my legs and counteract my genes and natural body type. As a ballet instructor, I don’t fault her for providing exercises to support the art I was pursuing. It’s in adulthood that I see the barage of messages that young girls are asked to filter through daily. At the time, I hated my short frame that wouldn’t bend like other girls. I was embarassed of my demi pliés in ballet class, trying to will my body into lowering closer to the floor. I experienced relief when we would switch to grand pliés so that I could pick up my heels and lower myself like the others.
How many ways have we been told that our bodies aren’t quite right? How much of this do we internalize, not even recognizing it for what it is? Instead of celebrating the diversity of bodies in this world and praising their ability to support life, we try to contort, confirm, and pretzel into an amalgamation of the ideal. Boring, trite, not useful.
We then take all of this and form disordered relationships with the table — counting, weighing, agonizing. We think that if we can just “fix” ourselves through restriction and dieting, then…
…what? We’ll be content, whole, and happy? Models would then be reported as the most happy people in the world. (They’re not.) Repaired relationships with food begin when we address all the muck that has been thrown at us our entire lives, lack of thigh gap and horrid demi pliés and all.
I never became a proper ballerina but I learned to appreciate my squatty frame for what it is — mine.
I support women (and some men!) in reparing their relationships with food, the table, and themselves. Everything we bring to the table informs our relationship with it. I help to create space and trade guilt, shame, and anxiety for pleasure, grace, and appreciation. My first book, Food Passion Project: A Guide to Repairing Your Relationship with Food at the American Table is out May 2018. I talk about our identity as eaters and all that we bring to the table.