I Don’t Like My Butt! My Eating Disorder Recovery
Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
I didn’t think about body image as a child. Nobody—especially a child—should. I just enjoyed performing in our yearly dance recitals. I sang “Harrigan” at the top of my lungs in my green tutu, tap shoes and top hat, or floated around as an ethereal butterfly, leaping across the stage with joy in my heart. The best parts were the smell of hairspray and buzz of excitement backstage, and being presented with a post-curtain bouquet of pink roses. After the show, we all went to IHOP for a mouth-watering reward; a banana split!
At fifteen, I was invited to dance at a professional company school in Washington, DC. It took me three buses to get there. I would trudge up those endless steps with my heavy dance bag, catching whiffs of hard-working underarms and feet. Aaah, but I loved the sweat and toil. After all, I got to see beautiful professionals rehearse. I had a dream of becoming one of them.
In classes, I began looking more closely at myself in those ubiquitous mirrors. Holy crap. I decided that I HATED my butt! (We call it a derriere in the dance world. Everything sounds better in French, n’cest-ce pas?) It just seemed to stick out annoyingly. A friend at that school listened to me bemoaning my back side, and replied, “Then get rid of it.” Oh my! Get rid of it?! What a concept! And so began my strict dieting. No dessert. No French fries (quell dommage!).
My day’s three meals were simple: cereal, sandwich, salad. Fin!
This calorically inadequate routine did not bode well in high school, where, sadly, it’s all about the boobs. I swear I stunted my…development. No dates for flat-chested, tomboyish figure me.
One of my favorite teachers got concerned about me in the lunch line. “You’re only getting popcorn? No sandwich?” Ever after, he gave me a new nickname. In the hallways, this English Dept. Head called out to me, “Hey Sandwich!” I got some street cred with this extra attention, because everyone had a crush on this caring, cute teacher. His efforts, though, did not result in my purchasing more appropriate and sustainable lunches.
When I became a lifeguard that summer, a comely and popular staff member commented to me, “Did you lose weight? It looks good.” If cool her, thought I was cool, then I could be in the “in” crowd. My severe dieting and jogging were producing far-reaching fruit.
Fast forward to college, where I was pursuing a BFA. We danced six days a week. I was still in the cereal and salad mode, only allowing myself to add fruit and nonfat yogurt as an occasional extra indulgence. “Coffee has virtually no calories,” a fellow dancer remarked, so I allowed myself plenty of that. The only reason my exhausted, half-starved, over-caffeinated body wanted to go to the movies on the weekends, was for the no-butter popcorn. It was so fiber-y, I knew I’d poop it out anyway.
Unfortunately, our dance department had weekly weigh-ins. I was on their radar. Those professors watched me in the cafeteria—very creepy. Being such a people-pleaser, I would make a spectacle of tucking into a gigantic meal, and eat myself too full and nauseous, just to get them off my back.
I thought fleetingly of those dancers who purged. I could get rid of that overabundant “dinner performance” so easily. But no, I am terrified of throwing up. I discovered there’s a word for that—emetophobia. So, I lumbered back to my dorm room, with my arms clutching my bloated stomach, and begged my body to digest it all asap.
One day I remember I only had a lollipop and coffee in the morning. As I trudged up the relentless dorm staircase, I experienced tunnel vision. “Are you okay? You need to stop this.” My wise and kind roommate told me to give myself a good look in the mirror, to hopefully reveal to me what I already probably knew: that I wasn’t healthy.
One day, the Director called me into her office. I was so excited, expecting compliments for a successful recent solo I had in the show. Instead, she sat me down, her eyes wide, her mouth a thin line. “If you do not gain at least five pounds this weekend, I am kicking you out of the company.” I left there so dejected. I had a boyfriend then—no one cared about boobs after high school, thank God—and he took me out for good meals all weekend long. With a shrunken stomach, these dates were not nearly as fun as they could’ve been. Well, somehow I met the goal, and was allowed to remain in the performing troupe.
8 Tips for Telling Your Own Story
Do you have a story to tell? Chances are, you do. This free guide will walk you through our Editor in Chief's top suggestions.
One weekend, I visited my cousin at a nearby college. The colorful fall leaves looked so beautiful on the campus. We went to Burger King for ham and cheese croissants. Well, bread was a no-no in my austere program, so I just nibbled two bites of the ham and cheese, then wrapped up the rest and threw it out. She was gobsmacked at my emaciated frame, and told her mother, who told my mother. Aaah, the power of the grapevine. I was now on their radar, too.
After dinner in the college cafeteria every night, following hours of ballet classes, I made myself do 60 laps in the pool, and then a half hour in the weight room. The pool lifeguard gave me many concerned looks, as she watched my bones protrude more and more. She mentioned this to the College Dean.
The whole thing was so embarrassing. Couldn’t I just quietly starve myself? Why did all these other people have to get involved?
It’s astonishing, the negative power of a few words. Karen Carpenter, singer/songwriter, who with her brother, Richard, formed half of the sibling duo the Carpenters, once read a sensationally thoughtless review of their tour. It opened with, “Richard and his chubby sister…” This power-of-the-pen catapulted her into major anorexia, which killed her in the end. To this day, I remember hearing that horrific news on the radio in my dorm room, as my roomie and I sobbed. What if that critic had just stuck to Karen’s unique singing prowess? I also wonder how my own experience would’ve been, had my friend back in Washington, DC, said to me instead, “You have a great figure. What are you talking about—a big tush?”
Words can smack us upside the head in a good way, too. A student who always stood next to me at the ballet barre, after witnessing me shrink, whispered to me, “You know, being thinner doesn’t make you a better dancer.” Hmmm.
My whole life I have been inordinately susceptible to others’ words. I am under their spell, subjugating myself as if their utterances were gospel. The kind compliments I don’t believe, and the unkind ones I wrap up with a gigantic red bow and file them in my brain, to be taken out periodically and reviewed with self-flagellation.
I got a nasty bout of tendonitis and was admonished that I would need rest and really good nutrition to expedite healing. Well, sitting around and watching ballet with an elevated foot is way less fun than the joy of doing it. I became tired of being injured, hungry and light-headed. I knew on some level that my Creator wanted me to be healthier…
I began to realize that the ballet world is very insular. One has to be self-absorbed in order to be dedicated to the athleticism and technique required to succeed in this very competitive art form. I became tired of my stringent rules about what food I deserved and didn’t deserve. The masochism got old. I decided to broaden my life, fill my mind with something else completely different.
I transferred colleges and enrolled in Nursing School. No one there cared one iota about weight or superficial looks. My new training was all about helping others. I dared to eat some Doritos and an ice cream sundae. The sky did not fall. Outings with friends were much more fulfilling, since I could enjoy all types of foods again, and concentrate more on the conversation around the table, rather than what food I was, or was not eating. I felt freedom from the cage I had locked myself in, never knowing I had the key to get out!
I continued dancing at my new University, as an elective, and lo’ and behold, I had fun taking class and performing occasionally, totally ignoring my “junk in the trunk”. It no longer was about my body itself, but about what my body was doing to entertain the audience. After all, they paid their hard-earned money for tickets to come see me; shouldn’t they be allowed to behold my undistracted, explosive celebration out there?
I was very, very grateful for the awareness that helped me heal from anorexia. I accept my formerly unsettling gluteus Maximus, and my now-thriving body that goes with it. God conveyed those necessary messages to me when I needed them most.
For everyone out there who struggles with body-loathing, I feel you. I hope someday you can come to comfortable terms with your physique, as the spectacular design it is.