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  • Writer's pictureAmy Kathleen Lee

Share My Story: with A.S.

I recently interviewed A. who wished to share her story but remain anonymous.

Q. How old were you when you started dancing?

A. I started dancing when I was 4 years old.

Q. Tell us about your experience as a young dancer.

A. I looked forward to going to class when I was young. I enjoyed spending time with my friends even though I was scared of some of the teachers.

Q. When did you start seeing the signs or symptoms of body image issues?

A. I started seeing the signs of my body image issues when I was about 13 years old.

Q.What was going on in your life at the time?

A.The pandemic was just starting and this was the time that I had just started being more present on social media. The toxic standards set it really fast.

Q.Was there a specific moment or “time” when you would say it started?

A.Definitely when I started being active on social media. Since I am a dancer a lot of my insta page was dance and along with that came the really hurtful mindsets like “dancers have to be skinny” or “you can’t be a ballet dancer if you are not skinny”.

Q. Have you struggled with other aspects of mental health? Depression, anxiety?

A.I have struggled greatly with anxiety. These past few months I have been reflecting a lot and I have realized that I have been having anxiety attacks since I was 8 or 9 years old but I had no idea what was actually happening to me so I just ignored it. It got much much worse in middle school. That was the time my self-confidence plummeted and the pressure from school and dance increased so that combination was not at all good for my anxiety. Quarantine had a really good impact on me, the beginning was really rough. I was not doing well at all but I am doing so much better now and haven’t had an anxiety attack in months.

Q. What made you get help?

A. I needed to talk to someone and I never got professional help but my friends have been my support system since before I can remember. When I stopped keeping everything inside and started talking to people it helped me process better.

Q. How did your family react and what was/is their role in your recovery, if any.

A. My family is unaware of my struggles with anxiety. They are not all that supportive of mental health and I have not told my parents about anything to do with my mental health. They always brush off anything that happens saying “Oh it was nothing you were just worried” or “It’s all in your head, there’s nothing wrong with you” and that mindset was toxic and not at all helpful.

Q. Are you currently dancing?

A.Yes I am currently dancing.

Q.What is it like for you to be a ballet dancer with an eating disorder?

A.I am not diagnosed with an eating disorder but I have struggled with and am still struggling with disconnecting the amount of food I eat from how I appear to myself. It is hard because unlike non-dancers with body image issues, we have our teachers constantly making corrections about our body which can be hard to separate from who we are.

Q. Do you think dance caused/contributed to you developing an eating disorder? Why?

A.Yes, I definitely think that dance had a major role in me developing body image issues. I do think that it is something that is normal for most teenagers to go through but dance only enhanced the pressure and self-hatred that I felt when I was going through that period.

Q. Were/are there any specific triggers for you in the dance studio?

A.When teachers gave the corrections like “hold your tummy in” or “stomachs should be tight!” That was really hard for me to hear when I didn’t appreciate my body.

Q. What has helped(s) you cope and work through the hard times?

A. Mainly it has been talking to my friends and as weird as it may seem, going to dance. It was an escape from school pressure, parental pressure, and social pressure because I trusted everyone at the studio. Even though being there was hard some days when the teachers were especially critical, I was always grateful to have a place where I felt safe.

Q. What would you say to someone who is struggling?

A.I would tell them that it is completely okay and normal to feel whatever they are feeling right now and that the storm in their mind that they don’t know how to escape will not last forever. No matter how long it takes, you will recognize your beauty and confidence.

Q. What type of support do you have right now?

A.My dance friends. My school friends can’t relate to the struggles that I am going through and have been through so my dance friends and I mostly confide in each other.

Q. Do you have any advice for other dancers when it comes to their eating disorder recoveries?

A.It takes time, no matter how much validation you receive from the people around you and no matter how good it may feel in the moment, the only way that you can truly appreciate yourself is to recognize that your differences make you beautiful and just as deserving as the people around you. Also, it feels so good when you come out the other side, when you finally start to see yourself in the light that your loved ones have all along, it feels absolutely amazing. It takes time.

Q. If you could say anything to your eating disorder what would you say?

A. You don’t define me.

Q. What have you learned about yourself through this interview experience?

A.It is a lot harder to put into words what I have been through than I thought but I am grateful I had the opportunity to do this and share my story.

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