This section isn’t intended as a pity party, but I think it’s important to tell the story of how I got here. In order to do that, I need to do something I don’t normally like doing: talking about the past. To me, what’s done is done. It’s much more productive to move forward – but in this case, I’ll take a look back for my readers.
I grew up in an alcoholic family. Dad was the alcoholic. He wasn’t violent, he was just not present. Because of his job, he was never around…and when he was, he was drunk. Believe it or not, I was a pretty quiet and shy kid when I was little (I was saving it up for later, peeps). I was afraid of standing out. I was afraid of getting in trouble. I was just afraid. All the time. By the time I was ten years old, I had been severely bullied by my first and third grade teachers and two of my older siblings. With a father who was never emotionally present, I grew up afraid of men…especially authority figures.
Like a million other little girls, I went to dance class. The studio I attended was owned and run by a man who had a very brief, unremarkable career as a dancer himself before he decided to teach. He was also a complete douche bag.
The man who owned the dance studio where I took lessons was very cocky, very egotistical, and well…basically a dictator. The parents who brought their children to his studio revered him. He had created, quite nicely, his own little kingdom that he presided over. No one ever questioned him about anything. His word was law and he was a god. That was how it was. In retrospect, the parents & students and the owner were actually much more of a dysfunctional family than my own family ever was.
I was ten years old when I met him. From the minute I walked in the door, he made it clear to me that I didn’t measure up. I was to be molded and prodded and pushed until I turned into something acceptable in his eyes. He walked around me and pointed at the areas of my body that were unacceptable while I watched in the mirror in the main rehearsal room. I was a little “fat in the legs”. I had a “belly”. I was ten years old.
Ten years old.
Here I am…the big fat girl:
For the next 10 years, this man was the prevailing male influence in my life. I was not good enough, I was not pretty, I was “husky”…I was man-like. My eyebrows were too big, my body was too big, I bit my fingernails. My forearms had too much hair on them. I was an unacceptable, unlovable mess.
I grew up feeling grateful for what I believed was his guidance and patience with my fat ugliness. I knew that if I could just pray hard enough or be good enough or pretty enough or smart enough in some way that I would magically transform into the beautiful girl that he expected me to be. There were beautiful, slender girls who gracefully glided through their dance classes and I watched them in admiration and wonder…wishing that someday I could be like them: skinny and perfect instead of lugging around like the big fatty I thought I was.
I was certain that my father would be able to quite drinking if I was slender and beautiful. When I say that now it just kills me. I know my Dad’s illness wasn’t my fault now…but I just wish someone had told me that when I was little.
I worked and worked and worked at perfecting myself as a dancer. I would get home from school and ignore my homework in order to practice dance. I thought of nothing else but measuring up to his impossible standards. No one in my family noticed…because I was the quiet one. I never made any waves, I never told my parents how insignificant I believed I was. I never said a word. What is it they say about the squeaky wheel? Well, I never squeaked.
I focused on perfecting my dance technique. By the time I was a teenager, I was quite good – but as happy as I was with how well I felt I was doing, I got very little acknowledgment from him. He continued to be hurtful, pointing out every flaw. He loved to dangle carrots in front of me. “If only you could lose 10 pounds, Dianne…” or “I’d let you try pointe shoes if you’d finally stop eating so much…” It was always something – and it was always in front of others. It was never enough for him to just hurt me – he had to humiliate me as well.
Once a year, he held auditions in the studio in order to place all the students in performance groups. There were only a few spots available at the very top of the studio for the best dancers. It was always a big deal – like the NFL draft but with more politics and bullshit. I knew I was ready for that top group. My Mom knew…all the other parents knew. My friends knew. But I was scared as hell…because I knew our teacher was immensely cruel, especially when everyone was expecting him to be fair. And for some reason, he felt he had to publicly embarrass me in order to make his point.
This was a particularly difficult time in my young life because my parents were going through a divorce…and I had a horrible situation developing with a boy at school. There was no safe place for me at all back then. I woke up every morning expecting the worst nightmares to come true.
Sure enough, the day came to announce the performance groups for the year. He always typed up the list and posted it on the public bulletin board. All the parents and students would rush out to the lobby so that they could see the results. I was no exception…I rushed over there too. And sure enough, my name was on the list of the top five dancers in the school…but it was footnoted exactly like this:
** on the condition that she loses 10 pounds
I was 16 years old. I walked outside, got in my Mom’s car, and cried my eyes out. I sat there berating myself for being so fat and so ugly and so horrible and so stupid that I was unable to be the beautiful, graceful dancer that he wanted me to be. I was humiliated.
Never once did I ever think to look at him and say “kiss my ass”. Never once did I think the problem was him. This was the world that I had grown up in…and this was normal to me. I was the problem, not him. I was born ugly and fat and horrible…and I was lucky to be considered at all. That was what I believed.
None of the parents at the studio ever spoke up and did anything to stop him – and no one in my family did either. What does that say to a child? It says that it’s okay.
While my parents were divorcing, Mom wasn’t sure we were going to be able to keep our home. Looking back at this time now with the eyes of an adult, I can only imagine how frightened she must have been. She had no idea that a very tense situation was developing between me and a boy at school. This boy had a very unhealthy crush on me. This was long before anyone knew what stalking was, but it was happening to me. Authorities at school ignored the situation, my family blew it off. When my dance teacher got wind of the fact that this boy was stalking me, he pulled me aside and told me that I should feel lucky to have the attention because I might not have a lot of opportunities to have a boyfriend. You know…because of how fat and hairy and ugly I was. He really was a bastard.
The situation spun out of control and the boy eventually came to my home with a gun and tried to get to me. Only then did the police and the school step in and help me. The boy told the police that if he couldn’t have me…no one would. He meant to kill us both.
And the dance teacher? He never apologized. He never said a thing. I guess I should have been grateful for the attention from the gun wielding nut job.
Now…back to my “fat” problem. Let me explain what the actual problem was in regards to the hideousness that my teacher emphasized about me: we were all going through puberty. The other 16 year old girls in my group were built like 10 year old boys: flat chested, scrawny, and no ass. I had boobs and a waist and hips. I was 5′ 7″ tall and weighed 125 pounds…and he was telling me I was fat…husky…and man-ish.
After so many years of living under his cruel, merciless dictatorship I’d finally had enough. I was feeling so bad about myself that I couldn’t bear going to class anymore. I couldn’t stand another minute of looking at him and seeing nothing but disdain staring back at me. So I quit…and I never took another class again. I was 20 years old when I finally had the courage to walk away.
Shortly after that, I started realizing that I was eating my feelings. Not only was I binging on sweets and pizza and french fries (all the things I’d been denied for so long), but I was secretly looking forward to the time when I could be alone with food and eat, eat, eat. I got a thrill from planning my binges. I felt like something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what…and I knew I was in trouble…because now I didn’t have hours and hours of dance class to burn it off.
I found a therapist and started the long road of talking it out so that I could understand what the truth really was. There’s a saying that it takes about 6 months of therapy for every year of screwed up crap you’ve gone through. Well…it took longer than that for me. I found a good therapist who helped me through the bulk of it but after he retired, I kept finding people who wanted me to get in touch with my “inner child” and I ended up not only wasting my time but being brainwashed into thinking that I needed closure in order to move on from all of this.
I let myself become the huge fat person my dance teacher convinced me I was. I only had myself to blame for that. I know now that he was so wrong on so many levels. I know now that he was a very sick, misguided, cold-hearted person…and basically, just an idiot. But it took me a long time to figure that out. I’m thankful beyond measure that I have loving, wonderful people in my life who truly care about me. I have friends and family who support me and love me no matter what…and that’s all I really ever need.
I’ll close this with a picture of a 16 year old fat me. Please pardon the shiny tights and 80’s hair…it was smoke’in hot back then, trust me. I was a size medium, that’s all. I’m not a slim, leggy beauty like Keira Knightly or Gwyneth Paltrow. I never will be. There was never anything wrong with me…but no one ever stepped up and told me. The loudest, most prominent voice from my childhood only ever said one thing: You’re fat, ugly, and unworthy of love.
That is how I gained all this weight. And now I’m not so much losing it as I am learning to live a healthy life. Weight loss will be a happy side effect.
In closing, I just want to say this: body image issues run rampant in little girls and young women in our culture. I encourage everyone who reads this to walk away from the computer right this second and have a heart to heart with your daughters, nieces, sisters, and granddaughters. Let them know they’re special and lovable for what’s on the INSIDE…and if there’s someone in their life like my old dance teacher, please get them away from that person as fast as you can.