SHARE MY STORY: WITH TAYLOR FERREIRA
Updated: Dec 10, 2021
A Breakdown of the First “Share My Story” Interview
For the first installment of the “Share My Story” series, Amy Kathleen Lee, the founder of Dancing with ED, spoke with former ballet dancer, Taylor Ferreira. Taylor is a current student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and is studying nutrition in hopes of becoming a Registered Dietitian.
Here is a breakdown of their conversation about eating disorder recovery, the impact of sharing your story, and the importance of validation within the process of healing. The full interview can be found on the Dancing with Ed Instagram page (@dancingwithed.inc).
Amy: When did you start dancing? Taylor: I started dancing around age 8. There were actually five studios in my town at the time, and I somehow managed to dance at all of them without making anyone angry. I started at a studio that was known for being the place where people danced “just for fun”. Once I learned the basics, I knew I wanted to go somewhere more serious, so I switched to a start-up studio that got big really fast. They were more of a competition based school, and I realized that I was more interested in learning ballet technique and getting pointe shoes, so I eventually found my place at Ligioso ballet while dabbling in other styles through my high school dance team and the studio next door. I am still really close to Mrs. Ligioso, my former instructor. She taught us the Cecchetti method, helped us through the exams, we did YAGP for several years, and put on some really great shows. She provided us a second home–a safe space where we could express ourselves and achieve our goals without judgement. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have been able to afford dancing as much as I did at all. She gave me pointe shoes in exchange for working in her studio and dancewear store, and she even provided scholarships for her students so that we could afford tuition. Eventually she moved and closed the studio, and all of her remaining students transferred to the other ballet school in town. It was really fun to be challenged by the dancers from the other studio, and they were really accepting towards us. Overall, I had wonderful experiences in the dance world, and it is still a part of who I am even if my turns say otherwise.
Amy: When did you first realize you had an ED? Taylor: Honestly, I never allowed myself to acknowledge my disordered eating patterns until about a year and a half ago when I started college and I began to learn more about the nuances of these conditions in my classes and through my own personal research. My sort of epiphany moment was when I learned the term “orthorexia” from a textbook, and was like “oh my goodness that sounds like me.” I would say that my freshmen and sophomore years of high school were the worst of it, but I never admitted to others or myself that I was working with an eating disorder, and there are several reasons, that I’ve now deciphered, that contributed.
I didn’t know much about eating disorders other than the brief, and frankly terrible, education we get on them in high school health courses, so I thought that my shorter, stockier build didn’t fit the mold of someone with an ED.
I really thought that I was being “healthy”, and the diet/health industry confirmed and fed those beliefs. I also thought that everyone was as obsessed about food as I was, and life just naturally consisted of eternal thinking about the next meal.
I thought I didn’t fit the criteria because my condition wasn’t “bad enough”. Up until pretty recently, I have always compared my problems to other people’s pain. I thought, oh I am not suffering nearly as much as insert person or group here, therefore my problem is not worthy of validation or attention. So I bottled up whatever it was, thinking this was a noble, selfless thing to do. I put on my stoic face or pasted on my smile and got back to work. I did not want to burden anyone, sound like I was complaining or being dramatic, and I didn’t believe that acknowledging feelings was a practical use of my time.
I didn’t want to put a title to it because I was afraid that would make the issue–real. I did not want to be considered as someone with an eating disorder, and I did not want to start seeing myself that way with the fear that I would claim it as part of my identity, that I would like the dramatism and attention of it so much that I wouldn’t want to let it go. I was afraid that acknowledging it would require me to talk about it (which was terrifying, I never shared anything private back then). Also, and this is probably the root of it, I didn’t want to name the issue, because I didn’t want anyone to make me fix it.
So here is what I have learned from lots of self-reflection:
There is so much to learn about eating disorders that is not covered in basic high school education, and even within my own college education. I am currently studying nutrition to become a Registered Dietitian, and my knowledge on eating disorders (which is still limited) has come mostly from my own research and not from my courses, many of which are still deeply rooted in diet culture.
Eating Disorders are extremely diverse and anyone can develop one. This means any body shape, any weight, any gender, age, ethnicity, you name it. There is no one “look” to someone with an ED.
Even if someone is physically healthy, they can still be dealing with an ED. If your relationship with food is affecting your mental health to a point that it is interfering with your daily life, your happiness, relationships, goals, etc, it is worth addressing.
I learned that bottling up my problems was far from noble or selfless. It had the opposite effect really. It just allowed them to build up to the point that I wasn’t thinking about anyone or anything else other than my own obsession with perfection. The only way that I could become the caring, loving person I wanted to be, was to call out my issue for what it was, an Eating Disorder. I had to validate it, work on it, and then move on, so that I could actually enjoy my life, the wonderful people in it, and of course all of the delicious food without the constant worry.
Amy: What was it like being in the dance environment while having an ed? Taylor: Like I mentioned before, I didn’t really consider myself as having an ED during the time when I was actually dancing. So I’m not really sure what to say about this one. I think my experience was really similar to most dancers–just constant comparison and a desire for perfection that I knew I would never reach. Luckily, my dance teachers were really supportive and never commented on our bodies in a negative way, at least from what I could tell. The pressure was mostly self-generated which I consider to be quite fortunate. I know that many studios can be very toxic and that many dancers have teachers that encourage disordered eating–which needs to stop.
Amy: What would you tell a dancer who is struggling? Taylor: First, a disclaimer.. I am not a mental health professional, I am not even certified to give any nutrition advice yet, but if I trust myself enough to comfort my friends, then I should trust myself to comfort my fellow dancers. So I know that this is a bit of a cliche, but I know I needed to hear this, and I probably did but was too stubborn to allow it to change me until I was older and wiser haha. I would tell them that their struggle is valid and they don’t have to deal with it alone. Life is so much easier when you allow people to love you, help you, and be a part of your life. I would tell them that they are worth so much more than their size, shape, and food on their plate. And that diet culture can take an infinite hike–in new pointe shoes (not gaynors)–because it has hurt so many people. Recovery is a rebellion folks. Loving yourself the way you are is a rebellion, because no one can make a profit off of your self-love.
Amy: Why have you chosen to study nutrition? Taylor: First of all, I absolutely love my major. I can’t imagine studying anything else. I knew I wanted to study nutrition since maybe my freshman year of high school, definitely by my sophomore year. My idea of what nutrition was back then was so different than my understanding now. Then it was all about finding the perfect diet for performance, and now my focus is on working towards balance and sustainability. From a pessimistic point of view, I think it originally fascinated me because all I thought about was food, and it was easy to feel passionate about something that affected my life so much as well as the lives of those around me. Dance made it clear how powerful food can be; it can dictate someone’s health both mental and physical, as well as their success. On the more optimistic side, it allows me to incorporate so many parts of who I am. I am both artistic and practical, I love science, writing, history, art, and anthropology. Nutrition allows me to study just about anything my nerdy heart fancies, all in the context of food, which I really do love, I could talk about it all day. It also has a real potential to help people, which is what I truly want to do with my life.
Amy: What inspired you to volunteer for Dancing with ED? Taylor: I was looking for volunteer opportunities on VolunteerSLO because I had some extra time last quarter and I really wanted to help out somewhere. I saw Dancing with ED on there and instantly thought of how awesome it would be to be able to incorporate both my personal experience with dance as well as the knowledge I am learning for my career in order to help others realize their potential, regain their freedom, and find joy in eating.
A Note on Stories By Taylor Ferreira Inspired by the book: The Truth About Stories by Thomas King
I have only shared this story with a few, some friends, some family, and each time I have told it differently. All of them have been true, and each time I tell it I learn something new. So now my story is yours, it is out in the world. Do with it what you will. You can forget it, share it, dismiss it, apply it. Feel confusion, sadness, guilt, or hope. I have told it because I do not want to hear that you may have lived your life differently, if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.
What Taylor had to say about her interview. “I’ve gotten so many texts from friends and acquaintances of them telling me their stories and how our discussion really helped them feel less alone. I understand why you do what you do because this is the best feeling. This interview felt like the closing chapter to my book of recovery. I am so grateful that Amy offered me the opportunity to share my experiences with all of you, and in doing so, it helped me to come to terms with them. I now feel like I can entirely move on with my life without the shadow of an eating disorder looming in the distance. I hope that my story resonates with someone out there, and maybe even inspires them to come to terms with their experiences as well. If that is you, you are not alone, there is hope for recovery, and your story is worth your attention. Sending love your way, Taylor Ferreira”
And that is why we do what we do. It is testimonies like these that fuel our passion to continue working on projects that sustain our mission and message, you don’t have to dance through this alone.
If this interview inspired you to tell your story, please contact Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on IG, Facebook and Twitter! For all the latest news and information, sign-up for our email list here.