“You need to lose your summer weight,” the owner of the ballet studio looked at me, slowly lowering her eyes to my chest. “Oh, and stop eating pasta.”
I was twelve and, unlike most girls my age, I never wanted to develop boobs. As a ballerina, being curvy on top, it was the undesirable body type. Ballerinas were supposed to be long, delicate, and flat. We were to be so light that even a small brush of wind could sweep up away.
So here I stood, all five feet of me, best in my class, with big boobs and being told that my body wasn’t enough. I picked at my dinner that night and went up to bed wondering what I could do to be what I want.
Later that night, I went into the medicine cabinet, found an ACE™ bandage and bound myself so tightly that I couldn’t breathe — but I had morphed myself into what I was told I should look like.
The next day at class, my ballet teacher, a warm, loving, progressive woman, noticed my distorted body. She pushed her hand into my leotard, unraveled my bandage, shook it in front of me and said in her thick Russian accent, “never again, Zoshka. Be the best even with your marsh mellows and they can’t deny you.”
I nodded and that’s what I did. Fast forward six years: I stood at my first fitting for my tutu for the part of the Snow Queen, a coveted role in the production of The Nutcracker. The last girl with the role was tall and slender. I slipped it over my bare torso and it was not fitting me at all.
“Well if you just lost some...” she stared, pushing in my soft spots, the parts of me spilling over.
Part of me crumbled, I had been waiting for this moment for most of my life. But another part of me rose, finding my voice and that empowering conversation I had early on in my career. I hadn’t worked this hard to be told I couldn’t dance this part because of a costume.
I turned to her, smiled and said, “I am sure you can figure out how to work with my body the way it is now.” I stripped down and walked out of the fitting room.
They figured it out.
In that moment I learned many important lessons, like the following:
- Never ever try to fit into any mold (or tutu!) because you will only succeed if you are unapologetically your authentic self.
- Be the person who takes the bandage off for someone else; show people how to love their body unconditionally.
- Throw clothes out if they aren’t fitting right; don’t try to squeeze into old clothes. Your body is supposed to change.
- Set the precedent for future people who may be in your position. Don’t let anyone tell you how to look.
- Start the change, teach people to work with their bodies, not against them. Demand to be seen as you are; don’t change to fit the mold.
Dance has shaped who I am and how I respect my body. I’ve learned to love it for what it does and the dreams I can achieve with it rather than what it looks like.
Zoe Ross-Nash is an Elon University alum about to begin her PsyD in Clinical Psychology at Nova Southeastern University. She writes about eating disorders because it’s a disease that claims the lives of so many but goes unnoticed.