Advice

A Silent Struggle

3:09:00 PM

Widened hips.
Thick thighs.
Short legs.


This is all I see when I look in the mirror.


Is this me?


I look and see that my face is attached to a body I can’t bring myself to accept.






Six months ago, if you asked me whether I was happy with my body, I would have undoubtedly replied in the positive.


People had always complimented my ballet body: how slim I was, how lean… I had never really believed them, but at the same time, I appreciated what I saw in the mirror.


Now, quite honestly, it hurts to look at myself in the mirror sometimes.


I had been told, seen even, that girls with perfect ballet bodies have ended up losing it because they grow--not even because they’re overeating, but simply because they’re humans, and humans grow.


“Not me,” I thought, “Not me.”


I was wrong.  


Because no one can control whether their torso grows and their legs don’t. No one can control whether their hips naturally widen, their frame changes…


And yet, the ballet world lives as if ballerinas have complete control on how we look. A ballerina’s body should have the length of a fully grown woman but without the thickness that naturally comes with growing. Long necks, long, thin limbs, lean but insanely strong, small frame, ideal height between 5’4” and 5’8”, “pleasant” facial appearance… I could go on and on. (More on that in a later blog post :))


Yes, to a certain extent, we can control what we eat, how we exercise, and maybe that could change our body shape. Nonetheless, the majority of what your body looks like is what you’re born with.


What do you expect happens, when you sacrifice everything for an art you love unconditionally, when your entire career is based on how you look, and your own body is standing between you and a chance at doing what you love professionally?


You. Feel. Like. Crap.


My body shape didn’t even change drastically; in fact, some people insist that I really haven’t changed at all. I’m simply not stick-thin as I used to be, and while being stick-thin is not necessary for ballet (we need muscles, people), the fact that my body was changing struck a chord in me that resonated in horror. Deep down, I’m desperately trying to cling on to the fact that it’s okay that I’m growing--it’s natural, after all--but somehow, I am overwhelmed by the feeling that I shouldn’t grow. Over and over again, I hear myself thinking the false notion that ballerinas only grow longer legs, not thicker thighs.


And the worst part is, I don’t know what I really look like.


Is my body image distorted because the ballet environment is filled with people who are stick-thin and still constantly complaining about how fat they are? Or is my body actually changing?


Since I can’t trust what I see in the mirror nor what people tell me (after all, who is honestly going to tell me that I’m gaining weight?), the natural, horrible, solution is to turn to comparing myself with others. And I hate doing that. Being temporarily relieved to find that a certain part of my body is thinner than someone else’s--it feels so wrong, but sometimes I can’t resist… Which brings me to my advice that I’ve started to piece together from my struggles.


To my lovely readers: if you’re skimming this post, I’d suggest paying attention here.


Build yourself a healthy body image, based off of your own contentment with your body and not off of anyone else’s reassurement. It’s just like self-esteem; if you build it off of other people’s opinions, one day, that won’t be enough. I never took the time to build myself a healthy mindset, knowing that I should be content as long as my body is healthy. The rest is up to God, and that’s okay. Accepting that you’re not in control of everything, even factors as personal as your own body type, is a gigantic hurdle for me, but I’m slowly climbing over.


(Image created by me :))
Although the ballet world is practically a formula for an eating disorder, please, please, please remember that depriving your body of its nutritional needs is one of the worst choices you can make for your ballet body. Ballet’s extreme physical demands make it so that if anything, we should be eating MORE than the average person. Eat if off, burn it off; but if you don’t have anything to burn, your own body will be the one burning.


So instead of resorting to extreme, unhealthy tactics, learn to love your body, appreciate the growth, and thrive in the change. Don’t love your body only when it’s where you want it to be. Take the time to remember that your body is your instrument and how it plays, not how it looks, is ultimately what matters.



The best thing we can do, as ballerinas, is not necessarily to reassure each other of their skinniness, but be mindful of the standards we set. Although ballerinas certainly need to be thin to a certain extent in order to perform our jobs well, we do not need to be as thin as the modern standards impose. While everyone likes to blame directors and such for setting these standards, we are all at fault. Even the simple act of calling yourself fat can have damaging effects to those around you; and unfortunately, “I’m so fat today” is probably the most common phrase to be heard in a studio. It’s not necessary nor true, and it only adds to the extraneous emphasis on the need to be stick-thin.


Plus, the next time someone compliments you on your body (or anything for that matter), don’t let your first response be to deny the compliment. Don’t worry, people won’t think that you’re arrogant for accepting a compliment graciously. One of the first steps to having a healthy body image is giving yourself the recognition you need and absolutely deserve.


I apologize if the advice is a little stale; to be honest, I haven’t really figured it all out yet. (Yet another thing I'm learning to be okay with.) I hope to continue to share my progress and eventually come up with some better advice, but for now, I’m just a regular ballerina sharing out her struggle in the hopes of reaching someone to let them know that they are not alone.

8 comments

  1. I feel like your being a bit pessimistic, but I defiantly do not not know the "ballet world" as well as you do, but it sounds quite harsh.

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    Replies
    1. I can see pessimism in myself sometimes, but I think how people are viewed as pessimistic/realistic depends on their view of the situation. And yes, the ballet world is certainly brutal, but wonderful nonetheless. Thanks for the comment!

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  2. Weight gain is a problem for many dancers, but you're NOT one of them. You're doing a disservice to those who truly struggle with this problem by your comments. Imagine their reaction after reading your blog and finding out that you're actually quite thin even for a ballet dancer. Also, you will possibly make other young dancers who aren't as thin as you think that they have a weight problem. You have no right to comment, give advice or write about this problem since you have no perspective on what it is truly like to struggle with weight gain.

    Every dancer has their fair share of difficulties to deal with. You should focus on the specific ones that you can actually improve on and will actually help you, and surely you must know what those are. You really shouldn't worry your bunhead on a problem you don't even have like weight gain because you're just wasting your time and energy which you really need to make better use of.

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    Replies
    1. I'm really sorry if I made your or anyone else feel that way, that was certainly not my intention. In my humblest opinion, I am trying to tall about body image, not weight gain in this blog; I am definitely not saying that I or any other dancer have a problem in weight gain, but rather the negative way we often view our bodies as a result of subtle standards imposed in society, particularly the ballet world. Anyways, sorry again if I made you feel that way, but I'm really only sharing out my experience, whether people think it is valid or not. I am not aiming to tell what dancers should do, but rather sharing out my thoughts and what I have picked up. Thanks for your input though!

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  3. While I can understand where the anonymous commenter is coming from, especially if that is their first reaction (even more so understand if they personally experienced weight gain and have emotional ties to the topic,) I think what the writer is talking about here is body image. Body image is how you view YOURSELF, not how others view you... which means that we really can't discredit her views and experience, as they are hers and hers only. I know many people who I would not agree with their view on their self, however that doesn't mean that their view is invalid, as it is their experience.

    Having a growing and changing body is tough in our society, and often more so in the dance community. Girls get ideas about themselves they never even thought of just by hearing others say it about themselves. At the end of the day, I Lydia's intentions are good: she is trying to help people understand her more and possibly relate to her, all while encouraging self-love. She is promoting human connection and self-acceptance-- needs felt by all of us.

    Rock on, Lydia, you are a great little warrior and the world needs more of your thoughts.

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  4. Thank you so much! Your words are extremely encouraging and reassuring :) I really appreciate it!

    ReplyDelete

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