My fat, squishy, sad, 5th grade body
Jan 08, 2020
This morning I was getting ready to do laundry. I piled the clothes in and then remember I had forgotten to grab the detergent. As I turned to head back to the hallway and grab it, I glanced at the kitchen counter, as the detergent gets left there often, so it's the first place to look. It wasn't there. Instead, there was just a canister of cleaning wipes.
I opened the linen closet but the detergent wasn't there either. Odd, I thought. It's a giant yellow container of Tide...kinda hard to misplace.
I walked back to the washing machine and there it was....on the kitchen counter I had just checked. Large and in charge, and in fact, partially blocking the canister of cleaning wipes. It was there all along. I had looked directly at it, saw nothing, and it was there all along.
I was sort of stunned for a moment and stared at it in confusion.
Then I laughed...out loud. Not because it was so weird, but because this happened five minutes before I was set to write this post...and God's sense of humor and timing was on point.
My brain was primed with an assumption, and my eyes followed suit....regardless of what was true.
I was about 25 years old the day my friend Abby told me that I had body dysmorphia. Although I had a vague understanding of what this meant, I resented it immediately. In truth, she was trying to be helpful, but anything attached to the word "body" was going to be hit with hard resistance in my head. I had been at war with that word since I was a little girl. Since watching my mom rage against her own body, insult thin women, and allow her weight to stand between her and any possible joy life had to offer. As moms, we make comments about our bodies often, sometimes flippantly, in front of our children. Hers, however, were not flippant, they were enraged. Always enraged.
Her words followed me around more than I realized. As a kid, I was obsessed with the concept of thin. Thin meant lovable. Thin meant trips to the beach without tension and anxiety fights. Thin meant living out loud. If someone was thin, my assumption was that their life could never be bad.
I had two friends in 5th grade who lived in my apartment complex. While I adored both, the dynamics among the three of us weren't great. There were always two playing against one...hanging out and gossiping and leaving the third out, though who the two were changed all the time.
One particular day, I was the odd man out. We were all going to go swimming and they were giggling to each other and staring at me. "We have something to tell you," they said, clearly enjoying the power-play, "we think it's weird that your thighs don't touch". Both girls were quite thin with that thigh gap that has somehow become a thing.
I constantly felt insecure about my weight. It followed me around everywhere. It was like an accessory I wore. I was always aware of it...maybe even comfortable with the insecurity.
Anyhow, years later Abby hit me with the "dysmorphia" thing as we were talking weight loss. I didn't think she was right. I could clearly see myself. It wasn't good.
Over the next ten years, my relationship with my body started healing...directly related to dance. Maybe I didn't love it, but I revered it. I could do things with it that brought me so much joy. Things I'd never thought I could do. I started recovering power over it. After so many years of abuse at home, it felt good to direct it, use it, learn it. I didn't lose all insecurity by any means, but that pre-occupation had a new contender.
The first time Abby's words started ringing true was in 2013. I was going through an old box of photos and came across one from 5th grade. In it, I am standing next to one of the girls from my toxic trio. One of the girls who commented on my thighs. Let me pause and say I loved her and still do.. She's a wonderful human who had a mean girl moment, as we all did.
In the photo, we're wearing matching outfits. Something we were really proud of.
And I remember this day. So well. I remember how much better she looked in hers. I remember hers was so lose on her, and mine wasn't, because I was fat and squishy and she was lean. I knew this would be the very first thing people would think when they saw me.
As I stared at this photo I was blown away by the delusion. I stared at ten year old me on my last day of school in fifth grade and there was nothing...nothing wrong with that little girl. She wasn't fat...not by a long shot. And yet she was sad and ashamed all of the time.
But....I had been so sure. SO sure.
This would happen over and over in my life.
Most recently, as in this year, I came across some photos from 2015
2015 was the last year I felt physically strong. That was the year before both knee injuries, surgeries, and having to relearn my body, tentatively trying things that once came easily, fearing every twinge of pain.
Since the surgeries, I've gained weight, and that's not dysmorphia, it just is. And I work through it, but these photos from 2015...these were seasons in my life where I would say that I was really overweight.
Here's one: In this photo, while I felt better on this day (red dresses do that), I would have still told you I was fat and meant it with all of my heart:
How many times am I going to do this?
Will I look at the me of today in five years and think the same thing, realizing I wasted even more time confusing my spirit-- urging myself to go to class and move and enjoy while simultaneously carrying the white nose of condemning the very thing I am trying to celebrate?
We as dancers conspire against ourselves every day. We want to revel in dance, excel and frolic while often saying crappy things about our very own bodies at the very same time we will them to action.
You're too big or thin, you have skin issues or your feet or flat. What's the point, as dancers, of bringing ourselves into the space and willing our bodies to rise to the occasion, engage, express, be strong, if inside we are bad-mouthing them?
We know our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves sit deep inside of us like choir conductors, directing us into decisions and perceptions that we didn't even have a chance to evaluate.
It's a new year, dancers. It's another year of your life. My friend Brandon bought this calendar. I don't remember what it's called but it predicts your life span and puts it right there in front of you-- your potential time of passing and how many days you have left. He found it interesting. It makes me want to vomit.
Another year has come, has already begun to pass, and I'd like to urge you, with every cell of my being, to align yourself. To align your inner chatter with your outer dreams. Dancers come in all shapes, sizes, and types. So at the very worst, if there is a physical struggle, a real one, it deserves no game time, because it doesn't have a place in class with you, and at best, it's not even true. It is a giant yellow container of Tide.
We are not powerless to our thoughts. Noticing them, capturing them, evaluating them for truth and usefulness is a skill to be practiced, but it's a skill at your disposal. It's a skill that allows you to take back the narrative you live with...you're the one who gets to police your mind and only do and believe that which moves you towards your goals.