Coming Back to First Position: Learning to Love My Body Again

Copy of Coming Back to First Position

Her body moves gracefully across the room, small ballet slippers dotting the floor with lightness and strength. Her arms are open and reaching, eyes bright with ambition; to dreams, to aspirations, to visions of growing up and taking space in the world.

The music comes to a stop and she smiles at the audience, standing proudly of who she is and what she has done.

She slowly bows and returns to first position.

Home position in her body is warm and comfortable. It’s a body that she knows and loves.

She feels weightless.

I thought of her yesterday, moments after I made the mistake of stepping on the scale, seeing a number I didn’t expect, and feeling suctioned into a whirlpool of self-loathing.

I survived the emotional riptide, not fighting and not submitting, and stayed with my struggling self until the tide went down and I went on with my day.

I keep thinking of her.

Back in my early 20s, I started therapy to address the combative relationship I had with my body. One week I brought in a photo to show my therapist. It was me as that six-year-old ballerina, my pre-war self, thoughts unadulterated by judgment.

“She’s gotta be in here somewhere,” I told my therapist, part question and part prayer.

I was living with a pile of shame; I tried to climb over it, often felt buried by it, and was terrified to sift through it. That’s why I was here, I told my therapist. I was tired of the heaviness I felt in my body no matter how much I weighed. I couldn’t keep living like this and needed to get to the bottom of this pile.

I was there to recover but also to uncover; how did that little ballerina get so obscured?

My ballerina self became buried under many messages of inadequacy and failure, visceral feelings of being repulsed by myself and my body– and my body and self were interchangeable. If my body wasn’t good then I wasn’t good, and if I felt bad, my body felt like a bad place too.

I still don’t know when exactly I absorbed that my weight is my worth and that bigness means nothingness. But it felt as true as the sun rising in the east.

My ballerina self felt gone but not forgotten, a reminder that there was a time in my life before numbers started to matter. Before the scale became a god and what others thought of my body became prophecy: That they somehow knew what I could have in life based on my body, and having a bigger body meant I couldn’t find love.

And that I definitely wasn’t worthy of my own love.

Today, after many years of treatment and healing, I do believe and feel I am worthy of love from myself and others.

But I still taunt myself sometimes and get on the scale. It’s like reaching out to the toxic ex for old times’ sake; you know how this thing ends but there’s still a little voice that says ‘let’s do it.’ This time I was reminded that no matter how far I’ve come, the scale can always become my god again, decreeing that the most important fact about me is what I weigh. Not only isn’t that true, it imprisons me from joy.

Tonight after dinner I was dancing with my children and was doing ballet with my daughter. She’s around the same age as my ballerina self. I watched her revel in her youthfulness, the innocence of unbridled ambition.

Then something came over me. As my legs carried me, I closed my eyes and was transported to a different time in life, a different time in me. For a few moments, I was that little ballerina again, confident and content, beaming with pride that I carry weight in the world.

When the music came to an end there was no one left in the room.

I smiled and slowly bowed, returning to first position.

But this time the only audience was me, and that is the applause that matters most.

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