Saturday, May 7, 2011

ballet and body and numbers

Dear Ballet Teacher of '96,

I remember you, I remember then so clearly.

We submissively pulled pepto bismal pink tights over our expanding thighs and took solace in the fact that everyone else looked this silly, this naked, too. The maroon leotard was was ribbed and covered our bottoms but its shelf was no help for girls who were growing, who were becoming women, one awkward stretch at a time.

You were small, you were so small and the mirrors that shot our images across the room and back would not let us forget that.  And as we plied and releved and ront de jambed at the barre we hoped we were becoming stronger, more beautiful, and maybe someday we could go en pointe like the real dancers next door. 

And then one evening, at barre, you told us your number. 
You told us how much you weighed. 

And for girls like us, girls whose bodies were changing, wrapped in unforgiving elastic, set in front of tall mirrors, a number like that did not help. 

Did you know that girls like us lived by numbers?

Did you know that girls like us lied and told our friends we were vegetarians so no one would second guess our order of salad, no dressing, at McDonald's? 

Did you know that girls like us counted everything--the calories, the meals, the portion sizes, each digit on the scale?

Girls like us didn't know then that your petite frame and five-foot-one stature played into your low number. We didn't know that you ate meat and fat and actually enjoyed your food, guilt free. We didn't know we were beautiful, our different builds and sizes, and that health did not have to be defined by 

your frame, 

your body, 

your low, low number. 

I'm guessing you had no idea what girls like us were going through. 

But I do, now. 

And I will never disclose my number. Words like "skinny" and "thin" will not pair with compliments meant to build up another girl. I will use my words about myself, about others, to emphasize the value of the soul, of sparkling eyes, or spunk and spirit. And maybe about funky, delicious shoes. 

But for me, no talk of numbers. 

I've played the game before,

and no one wins.


  1. and no one wins. amen. this post gave me chills.

  2. thank you, Kendal. I love your honesty about ED, too!

  3. It only takes one comment, doesn't it? For my friend Shelley, it was a cutting body critique from a guy at a public pool. For you, a number from an insensitive ballet instructor. I wonder if others can pinpoint the onset of unhealthy eating to a comment such as this. Well said, April.

  4. thanks, Mom. It's amazing how one thoughtless comment can strike someone's soul. I know my teacher had no idea how a number like that could come across, and I hope that boy at the pool was just being immature. It's thoughtless comments, said in the context of this image-obsessed culture, and paired with the enemy's lies that create such a perfect storm of insecurity.

    Thanks for reading! :-)