When I look in the mirror

Sometimes I grimace. Sometimes I smile. Often I frown, and sometimes I gotAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!! Usually first thing in the morning.  So far so good, so normal I guess.

Yesterday I finished reading Portia de Rossi’s memoir: Unbearable Lightness,  about her struggle with an eating disorder. I have always loved her character in arrested development, and I think she is a lovely person.  I highly, highly recommend it.  It is a beautifully written book and painfully honest.

One thing in particular stuck with me. She was once 89 pounds. 40 kgs. Dangerously underweight. And yet, when she looked in the mirror, she saw fat. She saw rolls of fat on her stomach. She wasn’t hallucinating. She could grab it and everything.  At first, I thought she was insane. But that stuck with me as I read the next sentences, and my mind started to drift. Hang on, Nina. You do this quite often. You look in the mirror and think you need to lose weight, even though you know you don’t. I don’t diet or anything, I just think I should.

Portia did ballet as a child, and she loved it. The only other eating disorder related book I have read is Gelsey Kirkland’s Dancing on My Grave, which is crazy scary.  . Portia does not link ballet with eating disorders, but a lot of people make that connection.

My rational side says that you cannot have an eating disorder and be a ballet dancer. You need to be fit, strong, an athlete. And athletes looks after their bodies.

But I know this is not true. There is a short of Gelsey Kirkland dancing Giselle, and she is absolutely lovely in it. She was smack bang in the middle of her drug use and eating disorder. In her book, she talks about being critically lauded for performances she has no recollection of dancing.

Similarly, Portia de Rossi was surviving at only 300 calories a day (my tomato soup for lunch today has 254 calories) and she still had the energy to follow an extreme workout regime.  This is difficult to comprehend for me.

This morning a couple of work colleagues were discussing their diets. They don’t need to lose weight. But they feel they do. Just like I feel. A while ago I thought that if I could not be a ballerina, I could at least look like one.  Which I realised a few moments later, was a very stupid idea. But my usual response when I look in the mirror is to frown.

What is up with that? Why do we think we don’t look good enough as we are? Why do we think we need to look thinner? Why in God’s world do I look in the mirror and feel inadequate and unpretty?

I don’t have an eating disorder, my colleagues don’t have it either. But I do have an image disorder.

I am not saying this to fish for compliments. I am just being very unoriginal and repeating something that has been said over, and over, and over again: there is a definite pressure for women to look ‘better’, to feel that they need to look better.

Jean Kilbourne is amazing. I read her book Can’t Buy me Love in school. My English teacher Mr. Snider (best teacher ever) added it to our required reading list for that year. She says everything I want to say in a much more eloquent way:

And she is so, so right.

“Women learn from a very early age that we must spend enourmous amount of time, money striving to achieve this look, and feeling ashamed and guilty when we fail. And failure is inevitable. Because the ideal is based on absolute flawlessness.”

I have to repeat this video over, and over again. And it makes me feel better. And I want to stand up against this. I will try to stop feeling bad about the way I look. I will try to educate myself, and change my attitude to my image.  That does not mean I will throw away my make-up and high-heeled shoes. I think it is just as unattainable to look in the mirror first thing in the morning, and feel gorgeous. I mean, when I look in the mirror with no make-up on, the imprint of my pillows, puffy eyes, and swollen sleepy face, the last thing I feel is pretty. (the husband finds me very sexy first thing in the morning. WHO WOULDN’T??). If my self-esteem was based on my first-thing-in-the-morning look, then failure would also be inevitable.  But after I wash my face, and put on some eyeliner, I will try my hardest to at least stop thinking about my weight.

This post is not about ballet at all. I have just been thinking about this all day and wanted it to get out of my chest.  Now let’s all  dance for a  little while 😉

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13 thoughts on “When I look in the mirror

  1. Beautiful post, Nina. I think about my image in the mirror every day – every single day. I can’t not be concerned about my size, my shape, the changes to my face, a new gray hair… and it’s more often than not, detrimental thinking. For me, one of the most important positive steps is recognizing that those thoughts are there and the fact that I do not act upon negative thoughts. And good for you for listening to a wonderful husband who lets you know that he finds you beautiful because it’s it your opinion and his opinion that matter most!?!

    • Thank you Lorry. I just read over the post and noticed all sorts of mistakes, but that’s what happens when you are trying to blog whilst at work 🙂

      I feel exactly the same… And I am trying to change, doing exactly what you said. I am also trying to educate myself about these issues and not let them affect me so much!

      I am very lucky to have Rob 😉 I will tell him you said he was wonderful! He is 😀

  2. Oh hello!
    Never commented before here, actually I just found your blog.
    This whole body image thing is so heavy on so many people. It has been for me in waaay back in the past too.
    It was not ballet that made me anorexic. It was rythmic gymnastic. We were approaching on competition season so all white flours, sugar, fat was strictly denied from our diets. I already was lightweight but that triggered me. I wanted to be thinnest, I wanted my leg to rise up highest. There were two other girls with ED in my company, all we would talk about was calories, rehearsals, competing and the art of not eating. And then some heated debate how many calories there really are on the skin of an apple! Seriously! We were blithering nuts!
    Ballet always made me feel very body contious,but that stayed all in perspective. I was the only one I was compeating against and for.
    At my lowest of lows I weighed 32 kilos. Par comparison I now weigh ( depending on scale 45- 51 kilos ) and I´m just as tall as back then. I was positively skeletal. I used to eat an orange during a day and run 20- 30 km´s, plus pull through few ballet classes and hours of rythmic gymnastic. To this date I have no idea how I survived alive. In the end I got hospitalized, by body was slowly giving up. I was in and out of coma. I was told that if I pull through, I´ll never be able to get any children, would probs get early menopause and brittle bones.
    When my anorexia started, I was 12- 13 yrs. When I told everybody I had healed ( insert hollow laughter here ) I was 18- 19 yrs. When in reality, I`m home in my body now and feel absolutely no guilt whatsoever eating whatever I want when ever I want. This has been going on for few years now. And I´m not going back. It´s all too easy to get lost in the world of mirrors. But it´s living hell to find a way back. For the majority of my life I`ve not even wanted to.
    I had my kid ( at yo´ face, docs! ) over 6 years ago and saw my body go through something absolutly strange to me. All of a sudden I was a beholder of boobs ( they were monsters. Like two pigs wrestling inside my shirt ) and hips. My body got all soft and motherly. It all has now gone away with basically living healthily. My son has blood sugar issues so we eat every two hours. We are on a diet due to allergies that contain no wheat, oat, dairy, rye, and then some so that leaves us with good, slow carbs and plenty of protein. I eat what I want and I coldn´t be least interested in any calories of this world. When I look at my pictures, sometimes they make me winch. If I was somebody else, I´d tell me to eat a sammich already! Many have. But then they see me eat all this stuff that I do ( like my mother. She bitterly said that she eats only once a day and is overweight. DER! Metabolism needs nutrition in order to work like a mean machine ! ) and that purdy much settles the case then.
    Yet when I look at my gut, when sitting down, I see a roll and I can grab it and that actually makes me feel secure about having this washboard ribs located right where my insane babyboobs used to be.
    So yeah, long babble. But seriously, there is light and a sence of normalcy at the other side of tunnel, regardless of how deep one is or isn´t on the path of ED.
    Besides, can anybody claim that Adele is not undeniably gorgeous lady?!? Because she´s fabulous.

    You do have a lovely blog!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story. I felt so sad, but also so incredibly happy and inspired after reading it. I love how you said that you are now home in your body… and that is something so difficult to achieve! I don’t think I am fully home in my body, but I am working hard to achieve that. To look in the mirror and see some beauty. even just a little bit. I was never anorexic so I can only imagine what you went through. I am so glad you proved all those people wrong and had your lovely son!

      and you also have a lovely blog! Thanks for posting in English too 🙂

  3. Actually, looking back I´m not surpriced that I got sick. I´m more surpriced that I pulled through… considering how truly bad it got.
    But in the end, I think that in order for anybody to feel good in their own skins, one absolutely must be happy first. Content. Because in the end it really doesn´t matter how big or small you are. It´s about what you left behind when you leave this world. What and how did you contribute. I think that in more ways than one my son saved my life. He truly is a blessing in my life. After I stopped obsessing about weight, I started obsessing about working all day and all hours. It all needed to go when something else appeared, something that truly mattered. An another human being and how balanced life I now could create to that new person.
    Being healthy goes deeper than just the surface, its not just skin- deep.

    • Absolutely! What you wrote is so beautiful, and so true. And it is something I try to do every day. To be comfortable in my own skin, and in who I am. I am happy, but working towards contentment! I am so glad I met you in this blogosphere! will read your comment many, many times when I need a lift 🙂 thank you!

  4. i have read thay book by gelsy kirkland, but had never seen a video of her dance.
    wow! she is beautiful…can you imagine what she would have been like if she had been treating her body better!

    • Hi rebekah! Thanks for commenting! I have added your blog to my blogroll now btw 🙂 Actually, that is a point. I never thought about what Gelsey Kirkland could have been like if she had treated her body better…. Isn’t that video slightly sad though? She is so lovely as Giselle, and yet… in real-life her body was in ruins…

      Have you read her second book? I haven’t yet….

  5. Pingback: The woman in my head | Ballerina in my head

  6. Amazing post! I have just finished reading Unbearable Lightness and loved it. I am a ballet student as well and I gotta say I love your blog, it’s amazing!

    • Thank you so much! That’s very kind of you! I read Unbearable Lightness again a few weeks ago. It’s incredible, isn’t it?

      Lovely to meet you 🙂

  7. Just one little tidbit to make your post more accurate. The video you present of Kirkland dancing Giselle was filmed when she was only 23, in 1972 right after she left Ballanchine’s company. So, she was not on drugs and according to her autobiography, also not anorexic.

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