A Ballerina’s Story: How I Learned to Love My Body
Early in life, I learned to view my body as a sort of prison. While other little girls spent time playing and living carefree young lives, I struggled my way through ballet class– attempting to forcefully train my body to be graceful, obedient, and beautiful. Through my journey from student to professional, no matter my efforts, no matter how low my weight, or expertly I executed choreography, I never felt it was enough.
At the root of it all, I felt that my body held me back. “If I’d only been born with narrower shoulders, higher arched feet, longer legs,” I dreamed, “I would be better and do better. My life would somehow be easier”, I thought. My soul was that of an artist, choosing dance as the medium within which to come alive, but my very human body never seemed good enough to match the ambitions I held for my dance career.
Over time, I began to resent the body I was born with, feeling limited by the “hand I’d been dealt”. I realized that while I couldn’t control the body I was given at birth, I could control how I operated it– working harder, training longer, and being as skinny as possible in order to be the best dancer I could be.
Eyes firmly on the goal to curate my identity as professional ballerina, I adopted so many ways to control, shape, and demand from my body. I used this discipline to transcend and ignore my basic human needs for rest and food– in true “no pain, no gain” fashion.
These habits served me fairly well, or so I thought, until my first major injury at age 29 forced me to take some time away from the stage in order to heal. Forced to truly partner with my body (instead of dominating and controlling) for the first time in my life, I began a continually unfolding journey of healing and awakening, coming back home to myself.
When I began to understand that my body was something to respect and honor– that I had limits and finite energy that had to be acknowledged—and began acting as such, I realized that my body was an extension of me, my soul made flesh. I realized that my one, greatest responsibility in life was caring for this body every day, because she is my home in this lifetime.
Embodying this realization meant no more excuses, no more blurred boundaries with others, no crappy, convenient, or emotionally-charged food choices. It was time to go beyond the surface level frustrations I held and tap into what really mattered most.
I realized essentially that to hate my body was to, in fact, hate myself. And when I realized just how much I had been unconsciously hating myself all those years, I was heart-broken. I resolved to return to myself– treating myself as a loved one each moment. Creating love, peace, calm and strength from within, first.
Here are a few of the tools I used:
I studied my unique, individual body.
Not the body, but my body, learning which foods, relationships, activities and movement helped me to feel good vs. relying on mass (confusing) opinions about what worked and what didn’t. When I got to the roots of what my particular body wanted and needed to thrive, my relationship to food changed drastically, I started taking more time for myself and releasing relationships and things that no longer served me. Most importantly, I became more confident about my body and within my life.
I stopped torturing my body with exercise I hated and found movement I loved.
As a dancer, I was taught to “suck it up” and push through intense pain on a daily basis. This meant smiling beautifully– tutu and tiara in tow– regardless of whether my feet were bleeding in my pointe shoes, or my muscles ached and burned from exhaustion. Ballet requires fierce determination, training, and skill. Pushing is required. But so is listening to the body and acknowledging the body’s limitations. When I committed to doing things differently—with honor and respect for my body– I realized I seriously disliked most of the ways I’d been keeping myself in shape. As I began to explore different types of movement that felt great to me, I created space to witness, in awe, all that my body was capable of. It took time for me to release these patterns of forcing and pushing, but come to find out, both my body and I do much better with a gentler approach.
I healed my relationship to food and healed my body in the process.
Like many of my clients, I was constantly confused and frustrated in my relationship to food. I never knew what to eat (or what not to eat) and I struggled with consistency and emotionally charged eating. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I also suffered from a lifetime of food allergies that left me feeling bloated, ill and lethargic regularly. By returning food to its rightful role in my life—as fuel, nourishment, and a source of healing instead of comfort, stress-relief, or a mindless sport—I began to witness my body change. My digestion healed, my weight stabilized, my energy increased, and my skin became clear for the first time in my life. By eliminating the foods and eating habits that plagued me, I was able to focus more fully on what I wanted in life. I finally felt healthy and strong and had the energy and vitality to do more than just constantly obsess over food.
I released obligations, relationships and things that no longer served me.
Most women are chronic “over-givers”. Our time, energy, and nurturance often go toward everything and everyone else except ourselves. Recognizing that I needed to make some serious changes in my life starting with my relationship to myself, I knew I had to make my own well-being a priority. Not out of selfishness or laziness, but out of self-love and self-respect. I implemented stronger boundaries on my time, saying no more frequently and made downtime, relaxation and stress management necessary components of each day instead of occasional luxuries to be had when everything else was complete. Subsequently, I released those people, relationships, and commitments that no longer served me or left me feeling drained. I made the activities and relationships I needed to feel incredible in my life mandatory priorities.
I transformed my inner dialogue.
As a dancer, I thought I was happy and healthy because I was thin and active, but my inner world anything but. I was uncomfortable in my skin and felt like something was missing from my life. The more I studied holistic well-being, the more I realized that true health goes much deeper than yoga, quinoa and size 2 jeans. If I was cruel and cold to myself internally, no amount of green juice or Pilates would change that (and I love green juice and Pilates!). I had to change the way I spoke to and related to myself on a fundamental level in order for things to really shift. Once I began to treat myself like a loved one, I flourished in all areas of my life and became more consistent in my habits from a place of devotion vs. rigidity.
I started relating to my body as a “she” not an “it”.
When I began to see my body as a living, breathing, female animal with needs all her own– instead of a disobedient beast that held me back from what I really wanted– it became difficult for me to refer to my body as an inanimate object, an “it”. If I could acknowledge my pets for their innate being-ness with pronouns like “he” or “she”, but not my body, there was a serious disconnect happening. As I changed this one, simple way of referring to myself, I began to see that my body was truly my best friend, supporting and carrying me through each day like a loyal companion who deserved love, honor, and respect.
As my relationship to my body healed, I began to think of my lineage– my mother, my grandmother, and women and children of future generations. How would their lives be different if they were taught to honor and respect their bodies from the beginning? To feed themselves exquisite food as fuel vs. stuff themselves out of boredom, for comfort, or as a way to soothe painful emotions? If women came to love the bodies they call home—these miraculous creatures we’re entrusted with care of—what would that change in our world?
Our bodies are our windows to life. When we are overweight, sick, tired, overwhelmed, stressed, and downright abusive to ourselves, it seriously inhibits the way we show up in the world. Most women are taught that their bodies are flawed. They receive images in media, comments from others and other constant reminders of all the ways in which they don’t add up, but it’s time for us to rewrite this story starting with ourselves.
It is my deepest belief that when a woman loves the body she calls home, she embraces her power to create the life she was born to live. I am living proof of this as are the hundreds of women I’ve worked with in my Nutrition & Lifestyle Coaching practice. I am consistently inspired and amazed when women take these lessons to heart and I’ve seen lives heal and change in major ways as a result of reconnecting to their amazing bodies.
I invite you to love the body you call home.
Photo by daily sunny