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 am number 5 in a family of 6 kids. My Dad was an alcoholic and my Mom was the stereotypical codependent/enabler. In an alcoholic family, the focus is never on the kids…it’s on all the chaos and drama that comes with the alcoholic. I’ve long since dealt with any feelings I had toward my parents for the choices they made long ago. I love both my parents dearly and I know in my heart that they did the very best they knew how to do. I was never beaten or molested or anything close to that…and I feel blessed & thankful for my parents.
I was a quiet little girl. With friends, I was silly and funny and everything a little girl is supposed to be. But at home, I was a quiet kid who never spoke up about anything because I didn’t want to make any waves. I never wanted to be the one who caused any drama, so I just minded my p’s and q’s.
When I was little, I went to dance school just like a million other girls. I loved it. I had so much fun when I was dancing. There has never been anything else like it in life for me…I still enjoy it to this day.
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. I was extremely shy around men. I was intimidated by all men. My Dad was a truck driver and was only home a couple days a week at most – and when he was home, he was either drinking or sleeping. I wasn’t used to men at all. They were strangers to me, really. They were large, scary, intimidating creatures that you must obey or face the consequences.
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 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.
From the minute I walked in the door, he made it clear to me that I didn’t measure up. I was nothing more than raw material. Barely a person. 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.
For the next 10 years, the prevailing male influence in my life was this man. 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 dark hair on them. I was an unacceptable 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 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? I never squeaked.
At 15 years old, I won the studio’s highest honor: the Thespis Scholarship. The Thespis Scholarship was basically as many free dance classes as I could take for an entire year. It was Heaven on Earth for me. I took classes from the time I came home from school until 9 and 10 o’clock at night Monday thru Friday and then I had three classes on Saturday morning. Dance, dance, dance!
Needless to say, my technique vastly improved – and quickly – thanks to that scholarship. I kept pushing and pushing myself. I felt myself getting better and I loved it. But as happy as I was with how well I felt I was doing, I got very little acknowledgment from The King. He continued to dangle carrots in front of me. “If only you could lose 10 pounds, Dianne…” or “I’d let you try toe shoes if you’d finally stop eating so much…” It was always something.
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 at the studio. 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 The King 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.
Sure enough, the day came to announce the performance groups for the year. The King 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 seemingly unable to be the beautiful, graceful dancer that The King 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.
Also during this time, my parents were getting a divorce. My mother was not sure we were going to be able to keep our home…and 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 The King got wind of the fact that this boy was stalking me, he told me that I should feel lucky to have the attention because I might not have a lot of opportunities to have a boyfriend.
The situation spun out of control and the boy eventually came to my home with a rifle and terrorized me. Only then did the police and the school step in and help me.
Now…back to my “fat” problem. Let me explain what the actual problem was in regards to the hideousness that The King emphasized about me: we were all going through puberty. The other 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.
That same year, I was the only dancer in the studio who was good enough to be hired as a dancer in the entertainment department at Disneyland. I held that job for four years, having to re-audition for every parade and show that came up. None of The King’s graceful beauties were successful in landing a job there, just me. This did little to vindicate me, however, since I was fully brainwashed and convinced I was not only fat but ugly too.
After 10 years of living under The King’s cruel, merciless dictatorship I’d finally had enough. I was finally 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, 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 The King and all his foolishness.
Well, it’s 24 years after I left the kingdom…and I’ve let myself become the huge fat person he convinced me I was. I only have 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 me when I was supposedly so fat. Body image issues run rampant in little girls and young women in our culture…and 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 The King, get them away from that person as fast as you can.
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