The Day the Dancer Died: A Journey to Rejecting the Thin-Ideal and Embracing Self-Love

The Day the Dancer Died: A Journey to Rejecting the Thin-Ideal and Embracing Self-Love

*Trigger Warning: Themes mentioned below include self-harm, eating disorder language, and negative thoughts. Some statements may cause upsetting feelings for some readers.  

“I just can’t do it anymore.”  

The year is 2005, and with tear-stained eyes I slowly began unpacking my feelings of self-hate and ugliness to a loving friend. I refused to live one more day in the life pursuing a thin-ideal so I could succeed at something I loved. So the day my dance teacher told me I couldn’t perform because I didn’t “look right” in a tummy-revealing two-piece costume for a performance was the day I decided I was done with the dance world forever.

But let me back up and tell you how I got here in the first place.  

I was five years old the first time I remember thinking I was a fat kid. It was something that had been subtly and not-so-subtly implied through my toddler years by family members and preschool friends. With my curls smooshed to each side of my head in pigtails and my jelly shoes on, I mounted the bathroom scale. I peered down at the number that was foreign to me and asked my mom, “Why am I fat?”

Five years old was the first time I began restricting food to change my body.

Five years old was the first time I doubted myself and felt awkward, afraid, and ashamed.  

Five years old was the first time I heard words like “big boned,” “baby fat,” and “you’ll grow in to your weight.”  

Through my childhood and adolescence, the words and phrases of negative body image and self-hate permeated under my skin, into my heart and were interwoven in my thoughts until it was so tangled the mess took years to unravel. I was starving myself on and off for a decade and hiding behind perfect grades, over-achieving, over-exercising, alcohol addiction and self-harm behaviors. My eating disorder and body dysmorphia told me lies about my body for so long I couldn’t differentiate lies from truth any more.

If you had asked me the question “Who are you?” at the age of 16, I would have robotically repeated, “I am a dancer.” This was all I knew. The world of taking measurements, body-shaming each other, and a constant cycle of a life imbalanced. My days were consumed with practices until midnight and running miles at 5 a.m., food-shaming any friend who was near me, and harshly judging everyone in my life.

On the outside my life looked disciplined, tough, strong, and perfect.  On the inside I was exhausted, filled with self-hate, and lonely.

I slowly worked up the courage over years to let love into my heart to take very delicate roots. I began a loving relationship with my now husband, and with my heavenly Father. Jesus began surrounding me with authentic, loving relationships that spoke truth and refused to let me hate myself any longer. And as these roots slowly replaced the lies and hate so buried within me, I somehow managed to find peace.  

The day I walked in to my coach’s office to tell her I was done with dancing, I felt like I was surrendering control of a perfectionistic image I had lived my whole life to achieve.  I was really surrendering control of my eating disorder. I told it that I was DONE with the lies. I was ready to be brave enough to reject the idea that I had to fit a certain image to dance and perform. I was ready to have a meal with friends and not feel guilt, judgment, or sadness. I felt strong but also terrified. I had lost my very shaky and mostly unrealistic identity. This period of my life is what I like to call my “Oh crap, now what?” season.

I began a process of setting healthy boundaries. Letting go of pain and embracing healing. Fleeing darkness and running to the light. Bringing good in and pushing the bad out. Testing my emotional capacity to forgive and beginning a process of learning self-love.  

I am humble enough to admit I still struggle. My eating disorder and perfectionistic thinking does creep into my heart in new ways still. I’ve been nervously exploring the idea of entering the dance world again as a new creation. Embracing the art that I love and allowing my body to gently discover what movement and music will look like for me in a new body and with a new perspective. Reminding myself that perfectionistic performance is NOT the same as the beautiful and life-giving art of dance.

This is what real courage and healing looks like. To push the boundaries of our own expectations and redefine what we feel is beautiful. To offer the wooden floor my very ungracious steps. To balance imperfectly at the barre. To fall, and get dizzy, and breathe heavy, and to feel awkward. And to allow myself to be uncomfortably imperfect while simultaneously choosing peace, joy, laughter, and self-love. Because to continue to accept the idea that I can never dance again, is to believe a new lie that wasn’t meant for me.

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What Ifs and White Dresses

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