Our Past & Present Bodies
This is one of my high school senior photos. I never danced professionally, but I loved ballet and intended to minor in dance at college. This photo reminds me of something that’s been hard for me to admit to myself: for years, I preferred how my body looked when I was sick and malnourished because then I looked like a “real dancer.” When this photo was taken, I could nearly encircle my upper arm with my thumb and forefinger, and my thighs didn’t touch.
Growing up, I had the “ideal” ballerina body which, unfortunately, means slightly emaciated. I was malnourished due to my history of anorexia (I recovered when I was 12) and my autoimmune disease Ulcerative Colitis. I didn’t get my period until I was 16 because my body was so malnourished.
When I finally healed myself at 19 through nutrition, my body began to fill out with healthy curves. And I initially—as in, for years afterwards—struggled with the belief that I looked better when I was sick.
Last year, I came down with the flu and lost a lot of weight. I looked in the mirror and saw my old body. Some of my old mental conditioning crept in and I found myself thinking, “I may be sick but at least I look good.” I wish I could tell you I have a perfectly well-adjusted body image now. But sometimes I still struggle. At least now I recognize it’s old cultural programming attempting to undermine my self-worth.
I’ve done a lot of mindset-shifting to love my healthier body. It served as a wakeup call when I realized I actually thought my sick body was more beautiful than my healthy body. Unfortunately, this is what our culture tells us to prefer! Our media glorifies images of women who have achieved “ideal thinness” through disordered eating and at the expense of hormonal imbalance (periods stop when we over-exercise or malnourish ourselves).
We have to recognize the ways our culture & media leads women to sacrifice health for “beauty.” Because health is always more beautiful. Always.