“Skinny is the epitome of beauty.”

The idea of ‘being skinny’ — having thin arms, a thigh gap where you can sit cross-legged on a stool without falling over, a tiny waist — these were all ideals planted within me.

I yearned to have longer legs, longer calves, to have willowy arms that could be graceful or strong. But I wasn’t born with them. My parents don’t have that sort of body type and nor would I.

As a former dancer, you can only imagine what I put myself through to stay at the top. But someone forgot to tell me one thing: it’s ok to have a different body and not be skinny.

Starving to be Thin

I felt the pressure to live up to the title of the top dancer in my school. When I was 14, I was given the honour of performing a extraordinary dance which required a particular body. And because my dance teacher told me it was special, I went along with what she demanded in order to fit the ideal.

However, my body didn’t listen.

I don’t have the most flexible body and there are certain parts of the dance that required me to bend backwards, touching the top of my head to the sole of my foot. My dance teacher pushed me and pushed me, urging me to lose weight to help with my flexibility (apparently I was packing on the pounds by the time I was 15).

My mom helped too. She reduced my diet to the bare essentials (a 1000 calorie diet) to make sure I could fit into the costume from the year before. In the end, I could barely do up the buttons and my belly fat spilled over the edge of the skirt.

All the Warning Signs

At 15, I experienced my first splitting headache during English class one day. Everything seemed fine that day. I hadn’t eaten anything before heading to class, knowing I would have to put on my costume after school. Near the end of class, I felt something sharp cut across my brain. I ignored it. But when it happened again, I almost fell to the floor crying. The pain was immense. I had no idea it was tied to my lack of a diet so I maintained it. Yet the fat wouldn’t budge.

Then, after I injured my back at 18, my muscles became atrophied from the lack of exercise. I was finally at a weight my dance teacher would approve of. She encouraged me to maintain the weight loss, stating that ‘I looked better this way’. And so I listened. I kept my diet at a minimum, doing my best to morph my body into the ‘ideal’ that was set in front of me.

I became anorexic.
Sleep became non-existent.
My skin turned pale with super dark circles under my eyes.
My hair started falling out but GREW in places I didn’t want. (Like a mustache, for REALZ.)

And yet, every time I looked in the mirror, I saw a grotesque fat person, unable to live up to the expectations of a dancer’s body.

Turning the Corner

I can’t quite remember what turned me around. Perhaps it was the excess body hair, not having the energy to dance, or the fact that I was muthafucking hungry all the time. Thankfully, it finally came to a screeching halt once I quit dance for good.

Today, I’ve learned to accept my body. Yes, there are days when I look in the mirror and pinch the rolls, but I learned to love my body for what it can do. I turned to yoga, learning to accept my limitations and stretch beyond them. I took tap, hip hop, and burlesque — the types of dances where your body shape doesn’t matter. It was freeing and I learned how my dance teacher and mom (including my own culture and the guys I used to date) played into the stereotype that a person had to be skinny to look beautiful.

Now, I can look at other women’s bodies and appreciate them for their own type of beauty. I don’t try to measure my body against theirs to feel better or worse about my own. Most importantly, I’m just grateful I still have the mobility to dance if I wanted.

Do you still compare your body to others, wishing it looks a certain way? Leave a comment below.