Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I used to weigh 89 pounds

I weighed this between the ages of 14 and 15 not 9 and 10, when it likely would have been healthy (although, I do remember weighing 75 pounds in fourth grade, which was a lot apparently because half of the class started giggling when the teacher shouted this number out to the school nurse in front of the entire group.  Maybe it all started then?).  I started losing weight one summer when I left home for the Boston Ballet’s intensive 8-week summer dance program.  Strangely enough, I was not chubby or even very big at the beginning of that summer.  But a perfect storm of events and circumstances came together that precipitated my eating disorder—the program was exceedingly competitive and I wanted ensure I stood out.  My roommate was skinny.  Tiny.  Unhealthy.  And probably most significantly, I was praised for my new figure.  In fact, at the end of the program I was asked to stay in Boston to train with the company (this was the same day that I fainted during Variations class because I hadn’t eaten more than an apple in the previous 24 hours).

I decided not to stay in Boston, which probably saved my life or at least my body from almost certain quick injuries, and returned home to continue my dance training at the Virginia School of the Arts (which has just recently closed down – more on that in another post).  I remained 89 pounds (give or take a few milli-pounds) the remainder of that 10th grade school year until the entire dance department told me I needed to gain weight.  I will never forget the astonishment I felt when they said those words.  I was in disbelief.  I needed to gain weight?  I thought the entire point of perfecting your dance career was to be as thin as possible.  But if my small frame was keeping me from dancing to my full potential, it was defeating that purpose and gain weight I did (with the help of a nutritionist and a counselor—sort of.  That part I hated).

Why am I writing all of this down some 20 years later?  The truth is I have never fully recovered from those days of dancing towards the “perfect” body.  There are still days (more than I would like to admit) when I look at myself in disappointment.  I am always striving to be thinner—I want skinnier arms; smaller legs; a tighter stomach.  I had all of those when I was dancing, but I paid a huge price for those ridiculous goals.  The minute I gained the necessary weight my teachers had asked of me, I straddled the border between a passable dance weight and too chubby.  And those two lines have stuck with me all of these years and remain ingrained in my brain.  I live my life between passable and chubby.

And what scares me the most is that I am now in charge of raising my own daughter to always love every ounce of her incredible body as much as I do.  And I really love it.  I love how round her stomach is.  I love those baby rolls she still has on her inner thighs that are just now starting to disappear.  I love her tiny arms and long legs.  And I love that she loves her body, too; and I don’t want that to change.  Ever.

Sometimes I am overwhelmed at the thought that I hold such an important role in Frances’s body image.  I am overwhelmed because I still don’t know all of the answers myself—how do you achieve the right balance between sufficient exercise and overtraining?  How do you treat yourself to favorite foods without feeling guilty for the next 24 hours?  How do you walk through life without constantly comparing yourself to an image (whether real or imagined) of what you think you should look like?  Of course, maybe I am in the minority of these thought patterns and my job will be easier than I anticipate.

In truth, I know that the best thing I can do is to lead by example, again something that is a constant battle for me.  I need to ensure that Frances understands good nutrition, that being active every day is important, but that everything in moderation is best.  I am very blessed with a husband who effortlessly lives his life under this philosophy (Will actually stops eating when he’s full and eats nearly all food groups with every meal.  Who does that?).  I suppose in many ways I hope that Frances follows his lead instead of mine.

Obviously all of these lessons I want to instill in George.  But for some reason (maybe silly; maybe evident) I am more concerned about my girl.  I know I still have some years to enjoy Frances’s youthful attitude towards food and activity (and boy, is she active!).  In fact, maybe in these passing days before she starts looking at herself with a more critical eye, I can learn a thing or two from her about how to love food, love life and just love you.  Just the way you are.

I have been given the greatest gift in raising this incredible girl.  I only hope I can rise to that challenge!


  1. What a wonderful post! I worry about stuff like this often. Self-image is such a difficult thing. I know that I am always comparing myself to my younger self (bodywise) and thinking that my current self doesn't measure up. No matter how often people tell me that my stomach would look fine in a bikini, I don't believe them because it doesn't look anything like the great stomach I had at 22. Ridiculous to expect that a 35 year-old mother of two would have that kind of stomach, but that is still what I compare myself too. It sounds like you are doing a great job with putting perspective on your thoughts and that you have a great plan for your daughter. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Bless you for sharing about something that I'm pretty sure nearly every woman out there can relate to. I know I sure can. I love how you wrote about learning from Frances to love food, life, and yourself. So true! Press on, my friend.

  3. I've thought about this on and off the last few days. First, it was brave of you to write about this. I think Frances (and George, too, even though I totally agree that these types of issues affect boys differently, somehow) will benefit from your thinking about all of this and how it will affect her.

    Second, body image and an unattainable standard of beauty set by impossibly thin, tan, and impeccably groomed celebrities...this is the one thing that scared me the most about having a girl. It still does. I want to protect Laura from all of this. I want her to respect her body and herself. I want so much for her but know that outside influences, unfortunately, will someday have their own place in her life. And that's kind of terrifying, frankly. It just makes me all the more aware of the significance of our time with them during their relatively sheltered earlier childhoods.

    And, finally, I try really, really hard to keep foremost in my mind everything that my body is capable of, especially when I'm feeling a little down on myself or comparing myself to someone else or my own former self. I know this isn't a particularly original thought, but I'm still amazed that my crazy stretch-marked-loose-skinned self grew two babies from mere cells, birthed those babies, and then nourished them.(Well, in Laura's case, I'm fairly sure I'll be nourishing her until, oh, say, second grade or so. Would that be strange?)

    Above all, though,I think that just by being cognizant of your own feelings and experiences and what you want Frances to feel about her own body is the most important thing you could do. Thanks for sharing with us...