Wednesday, June 18, 2008

ballerina girl.

       Tonight I met a teenage girl outside the stage door.  She wanted to have her picture taken with me.  Without having to ask, I could tell that she was a dancer--a ballerina, to be specific.  She had long, opaque-blonde hair surrounding a pale face, willowy limbs, and was overall very thin and anemic-looking.  Yep, sounds about right--a ballerina.  And when I looked at her, I saw a younger version of me.  I saw the drive and hunger in her eyes to be something brilliant, something technical; something with feet that point for days and legs that lift to a height that isn't normal.  I remember that feeling of standing at the ballet barre and as I turned sideways, almost disappearing. Because that is what a tiny, skinny ballerina does.  I spent so many long moments looking at my reflection in those ever-present mirrors and just willing my butt to be absolutely flat. Because again, that is what a ballerina looks like.  I loved that halfway emaciated look, I think, because it meant dancing beautifully.  It meant being lifted effortlessly in a pas de deux, and floating over a stage that will never be the same because now, you have danced on it.  

      There is a saying among dancers, Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.  It's kind of sad, kind of sick, I know--but I totally understand where it comes from.  I think with my background, there will always be that skinny ballerina somewhere inside. Her hair is all slicked back into a tight bun, she's got ugly feet from years of pointe work, and she doesn't let me forget about the fact that pretty soon I will be wearing a leotard on a stage and do I really need that milkdud?  Most of the time I am pretty good at shutting her up (like this afternoon, when I had the whole box of milkduds, leotard or not), but sometimes I listen, cause sometimes she has a point.   I wouldn't let her hear me say that, though, since she is already pretty judgmental and pretty stuck-up...But, there was a time when she reigned supreme in my  life, about ten years ago.  

    I guess I had an eating disorder, but that makes it sound so psychological, not to mention so cliche for a white, middle-upper-class girl.  See, it was never about control for me.  It was never about fitting into a certain size or getting to a certain number on the scale.  No, it was purely about ballet.  I wanted to be a perfect ballerina; I wanted to be all bone and sinew and tendon while dancing to some long-ago written score.  It started out just because I wanted my partner to be able to lift me easily.  So, I started losing some weight and began getting compliments on my dancing.  And then it became so easy; I would skip dinner because I was at ballet class anyway and then go to bed on an empty stomach every night.  I can remember laying on my stomach, pushing and positioning my pillow underneath me to try to quell the hunger pangs. I still sleep on my stomach because of that time.  In the morning, the number on the scale would be just a little bit lower.   Looking at pictures of me back then, I can see what everyone was talking about when they said I looked too skinny.  It was gross.  Not pretty, not healthy, just real skinny.  But, boy did it feel good.

   I eventually started eating again, though.  To say it quickly, I went through this whole phase of having problems with my hips and then hating ballet and then deciding to go to the University of the Arts as a modern dancer and to show that I was really serious about this, cutting my hair off.  And somewhere during that time, I started eating dinner again and liking the feeling of having food in my stomach when I was trying to sleep.  I stopped weighing myself so religiously, thank God, and so I crept back up to a healthy weight.  It was kind of that simple.  
   And how am I now?  How much say does that old ballerina have in my life? Well, she certainly reminds me to get my exercise.  People think I am a little crazy for going to the gym between shows on double show days.  Like doing A Chorus Line twice in one day is going to give me stronger biceps (you never know when I will have to enter into another arm-wrestling competition; now that I won once, I have a rep to uphold, you know).  But the thing is, I really enjoy exercising--any kind of it, actually.  It makes me feel good.  Oh, and on the other hand, I am not shy when it comes to eating.  If someone is offering a slice of, say, cake, then I will usually not say no.  Unless it's tiramisu. Or anything to do with bananas...

  And you want to hear something exciting?  Well, Jackie Warner, the star of the reality show, Work Out (I think that is what it is called, anyway) is going to be giving our cast a private work-out at her gym next wednesday.  I am psyched.  I will be sure to let you know how it goes.  I have no idea if they are filming it or not, but secretly I hope they do.  


Peaj said...

Wow, Jess. I never knew it had been like that. I appreciate your vulnerability with us.

I remember talking once to someone who had trouble maintaining a healthy weight. They told me that they felt so righteous when they were hungry.

I'm glad you're better. And I'm with you on the cake thing - it was one of my struggles when I was doing a low carb diet.

Jenna said...

OMG i love jackie warner! work out is one of the best reality shows! me and jase want you to get a pic with her.

p.s. glad you're eating again.

Jason said...

I sleep on my stomach but I never was known for skipping dinners :-)

By the way, just like a Latshaw...

10 years after you conquered the problem you FINALLY confess to having it. LOL.

Eating is such a tricky thing, sometimes I wish you could just eat from pre-assigned bags and know that was all you should eat for the day.

Jessica Latshaw said...

Yeah, but who packs the bags? What if there are beans in them? Or bananas?

I think the bag idea would be a little too Chairman Mao-esque for me...

But, I know what you mean:-)

Kathiek said...

There are in existence programs that do something like that...Nutra-System and Jenny Craig, if I am not mistaken, but I am sure you know that already. Having never partaken of them I cannot vouch for the taste of their food, but I have heard that some taste good, some taste like cardboard. I've struggled with my weight for years, and have often considered extreme methods of weight loss, but a fear of irrevocable damage has kept me from trying them. It's probably a healthy fear. Have you read/heard about Alli? (2 words...anal leakage...ugh!)

Anonymous said...

you are so brave to talk about a serious subject like that and end with such a positive message for other girls out there. There are so many people with silent secret struggles, and your empathy will be appreciated by many.

jason j said...

Thanks for sharing.

Susan posted about that a month ago on our blog.

I recently visited a good friend of mine who teaches dance classes to kids of various ages. She was telling me that some of the girls in her classes as young as 10 years old were already demonstrating some behaviors that reveal a poor self-image. She said she has observed these girls looking in the mirror critically and making comments like, "I am so fat!" The behaviors that my friend has observed have been concerning to her, and she has an analytical mind, so she has put her observational skills and her analysis skills to work and come to the following conclusion; these girls learn their negative body-consciousness behaviors from their mothers. The immediate moral that my friend communicated to me was that I needed to be very mindful of how I talk about myself when I am around Zoe.

Its sad to me that dancing can produce such unhealthy body images for a lot of women. It makes me wonder if it would even be a good idea to let Zoe dance if she wanted to.

Jessica Latshaw said...

Oh my goodness, yes--dancing is a great idea! I would not be the person I am today had my parents not put me in ballet class when I was 8. It has produced in me confidence, determination, discipline, humility, teachability, courage, a desire to be healthy and fit, a better understanding of music--which has helped my singing and song writing, and even social skills (since I was home-schooled--it's one of the places I learned to interact with others.).

Sure, there could be some negative things that come of dancing--but that is not because of the pure form of dance. That is because our own humanity gets mixed in--it's us that distorts things, not the God-created art of dance. Any career could potentially have negative side-effects and I think it would be sad to avoid it just because there might be something bad that comes of it. Especially when, on the other hand, what if it is something you love and excel at? What if it's something that God put inside you?

You guys need to make your own decisions, of course, but I am so grateful my parents saw something in me that made them give me dance lessons. And to add one more thing to the list of great things it has given me--a very exciting and challenging career, for which I am so grateful!!!