It is week two of your New Year’s Resolution which makes this week’s Challenge so well-timed. Allison of Go Dansker Mom is a former ballerina who is now navigating the world of two boys. But I think that is like saying you were a former Marine, once a dancer always a dancer just like you are always a mom. Both experiences led Allison to today’s Challenge.
When Kerri asked me to write this essay, my responses started to sound like job interview responses:
“What do you think your challenge is?”
“Me? Oh, I just work too hard” or “I just care too much” or “I just love being a team leader.”
And that’s crap.
I realized I could be more honest with this community, and in this space. I honor the mission to give everyone an escape from Pinterest-perfect people and get down to real.
So, here it is then. My real challenge is:
A terrible, horrendous obsession with my body.
This might not be an Earth-shattering realization to those of you who know me. The name of my blog represents the fact that I was a former ballerina who became an English major, then a mom – always a writer.
Professional ballerinas have quite a few stereotypes surrounding them: waddling walks, tight buns, and eating disorders.
I was no exception. When I was younger I played with the beast named Anorexia. I was never hospitalized, it was never an analyzed or clinically diagnosed episode in my life. But I would stare in the mirror for more hours than I was away from it every single day. Before going to bed at night, I knew my own body better than my homework.
My career depended on being the body that the choreographers wanted to use. The choreographers made it very clear, wherever I danced, that they liked the skinniest ones. Desiring to be the best ballerina I could be, I did what it took to be the skinniest one of all.
Years later, and some positive parental influence and intervention, I made it through all of that without any made-for-TV-movie drama. It was a crossroads that could have gone 1 of 2 ways and my parents solidly exercised their veto power in my life and forced me to take the turn that lead to healthy.
But my years of being obsessed with every inch of my body, how it could perform and what it could do, had repercussions. For no matter how far away I think that ballet life is now, I still can’t remove those scars.
In college, at a skinny 120 pounds, I refused to wear a two-piece swimsuit. Imagine!
At the pool during the summer, mindlessly sitting in the shade while watching my boys splash, I assessed the bodies around me.
Before you accuse me of being anti- Girl Power, Dove campaign, “women need to stop being their own worst enemies,” my confession is much more complicated and nuanced. I did not look at the women at the pool in their suits and criticize. The only bodies I noticed at all were the women I wanted to look like. I gazed at them with envy and thought, “Why doesn’t she have cellulite, like I do?” or “I would kill to have a tummy that flat” or “How can her arms be so perfectly sculpted and thin?”
I don’t judge other women for who they are. I judge myself against women I wish I could be. I look at my peers, the other moms at the pool on a weekday afternoon, many of whom take my group fitness classes at our local gym, and yearn to have their wonderful, beautiful, sleek bodies. What I see when I look at them is the pathetic in my own body.
This brutal treatment of my own body means that I have always forced myself to control my weight.
After going through two blissfully healthy, full-term pregnancies as well as breast-feeding, served with a side of the inevitable aging, my body isn’t what it was. Tummy sag is a part of my life as stretchy skin refuses to return to the age of 20.
I know I should be grateful for everything my body has given me, and in theory I am. But theory doesn’t translate to my everyday life.
I fight not to obsess over every single calorie I put in my mouth…including my Vitamin C. I don’t ever operate on a calorie deficiency, and I never go to bed feeling powerfully hungry, as I used to. But I do think about every morsel I consume. Every one.
I use My Fitness Pal to stay on top of things even though at 5’7”, 135 pounds, and an avid gym nut, there is nothing my doctors or I need to actually worry about. But that doesn’t stop me.
Because I run hypotheticals through my head of what would happen if I stopped watching my consumptions and ceased forcing my jog. Because, I think to myself, I never want to lose control of my weight.
Instead of living life, embracing the changed bra size thanks to the miracle of breast-feeding, I burn calories biting my lip and making sure that I am not on some imaginary, ridiculous, all-in-my-mind slippery slope to obesity.
This is all sounds terrible, no? So what keeps me undiagnosed but okay?
My Fitness Pal. Yes, I know I just confessed that it somewhat feeds my obsession but it also makes me aware that I have not gone on a binge and that I am okay. My Fitness Pal balances me out with numbers and data.
My work outs. When I work out, to the point of sweat from my kneecaps, happily expended afterwards, full of endorphins and adrenaline, I feel strong. I feel so very healthy. Ultimately, healthy is what I want now. Running, teaching classes, biking, practicing yoga … it makes me feel alive. I don’t work out to lose weight. I work out because it makes me appreciate how amazing my body is.
During my work outs, my self-perception of my body changes immediately. I am no longer angry and I no longer see an always-growing hip area. Instead, I see my muscles, the muscles that just helped me push my own body weight 2 feet off the floor. I see how flat my stomach looks after it powered through abdominal crunches to a great song. I can feel how healthy my lungs are as they continue to fuel me and bellow. My heart beats in my ears to let me know that, yes, it is here, I am here, and life is good.
I don’t think I will ever get to the point where I can let go and just let my body be. Nearly 40-years of habits are now engrained in me. Old dogs/new tricks…
But I do know that my life is happy. I recognize that being able to move, run, leap, twist, turn, laugh, chase a baseball, and ride a bike with my sons keeps me sane.
I know that I am loved thoroughly by friends, family, children and a husband who could care less if I consume too many calories. They just love my laugh and my spirit.
So yes, my ugly relationship with my body is undiagnosed. But I am okay.
Allison is MORE than okay, she is actually quite fantastic, the writer I hope to be someday and I thank her for joining the My Challenge Series. Allison Carter is a writer, based at Go Dansker Mom (http://godanskermom.com). She lives in Chapel Hill and writes on anything and everything that modern moms think about. Her pieces have appeared on Mamalode, Scary Mommy, What the Flicka?, mom365, Mamapedia, in 3 print anthologies, as well as in various local news outlets.
What’s your challenge is a series that was inspired by a program I created at Abby’s school. I am amazed at how honest and hopeful the challenges have been. Thank you to all who have contributed. To submit your challenge, please e-mail me at email@example.com
Oh Allison, I can relate to this – I have the same obsession. And when I was younger, I plated the same mind games – although my mine didn’t start in the dance studio, but after an innocent comment from a family remember about my cute chubby belly. I think I have thought of it with each and every sit-up I’ve ever done!
Thanks, Allie. It is scary how those things forever affect us, isn’t it? I think I am to the point where I do sit ups for me! Finallg.
Thank you for this perspectives! It was very eye-opening! 🙂
Thank you so much for reading and sharing with me!
You’re so much more than okay, like Kerri says!
I don’t have this obsession but I have two sisters who used to be dancers, and I have absolutely seen it with both of them. Only one had what I think was anorexia and the other is just harshly self-critical sometimes, as many people are. Both are married now and wanting children and aware of health and happiness and just wanting to be able to be active with their future kids. That doesn’t mean it won’t be a hard journey. They’ve never been pregnant.. so I don’t know what it will be like.
I feel for your sisters but you can point them to this and say “seeeeee! It is ok!” Thank you for the love and support.
Great post. I think anyone that lives in the world of fitness teeters on the edge of being consumed with diet and exercise. It’s finding the balance that’s important. You’ve traveled past the ballerina days into a competent adult who knows her limits.
Thanks, Rachel. I agree, knowing limits is SO important. It is a struggle but it feels good to be healthier now!
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