* TRIGGER WARNING*
In this blog post I am sharing my personal story about weight struggles/crash dieting and negative behaviours regarding body image. If you are personally struggling, this particular post might not be for you right now.
I am looking in the mirror in underwear that has seen better days, turning once to the left, suck in until I can’t breathe followed by turning to the right . . . repeat. ‘ Hideous, bloated, wide, stretched, uncomfortable, fat’ I say to myself and I feel it even more so. As I turn back to face myself in all it’s shameful glory I am instantly taken back to images of me standing in front of a different mirror in my stage school days. Leotard and tights sucking every inch of teenage fat I own, every inch of my body on a stage of its own, showing every lump and bump that theoretically shouldn’t be there on a body of a dancer. I’m taken back to an image of the medical cupboard in the kitchen of my childhood home. . . vitamins, supplements and a concoction of weight loss pills. A new prescription every month that my Mum would try and test. I am taken back to being in numerous bathrooms after a meal trying to make myself sick knowing full well I could never be a person to throw up their food but thinking it’s the only way to give them the dancers body they want to see. I would change my mind instantly as soon as my fingers touched the back of my throat. Laxatives, I had tons of them, Confidence, I had none of it. I remember being told that what my ‘problem’ was is that I emotionally ate because I piled on weight after losing my Mum at sixteen. I remember being told to remain standing amongst a sea of vulnerable girls and boys as it was announced that the people left standing were too fat, I was stood up. I also remember being threatened to be sent home from my first dance contract if I didn’t drop a specific amount of weight in an unachievable amount of time.
I was brought up in a world where Body Image was everything. The way I looked was of such high importance from a ridiculously young age. It was ingrained in me that to be a successful dancer you had to have a successfully slim body. From the age of ten, I was in skimpy costumes which were more or less next to nothing and as my little pot belly stuck out waiting excitedly to take the stage there would always be someone on cue to poke my little tummy as a small reminder with a smile to ‘suck it in’. I would look around at other girls who were all alot smaller than me and wonder why I was just that little bit fluffier than the other children. In a mind of a ten-year-old, a comment like that didn’t weigh heavily on my mind and seemed more of a passing comment, a fleeting thought rather than an insult. I lived a happy childhood and dancing was my passion, I did everything and anything to make sure I lived my dream and I did. But looking back now I am forever scarred, damaged and affected by what my body should look like. My inner demon was my relationship with weight and how that decided my future success.
For as long as I remember, I have forever been in both a physical and mental battle with my Body Image. My weight fluctuated tremendously over the years and I finally achieved the dreamy dancer’s body I worked so hard towards throughout my early twenties. However, I now look back and don’t see any significant happiness radiating from those memories regarding my body, though I am senselessly wishing for that specific body back. If I wasn’t unhappily overweight, I was unhappily underweight and starving. I created a brilliant façade that I was at this perfect weight, looking the best I ever had, a different person almost. But the un-sustainability of it all was wicked. The amount of exercise due to my job as a dancer and on top of that the added fitness within the gym was endless, all whilst fuelling myself with a pathetic bowl of rice with a side of cucumber slices, soup and the odd chocolate bar when I felt I could get away with it. The boozing was heavy and the smoking continuous. Yes, I was thin and my collar bones jutted out like all thinspiration images have us believe is desirable but I was hungry, moody, unstable and unbelievably tired. My body is naturally curvy, I inherited my big bum, boobs and legs and I was going against the natural genetics trying to be something that took strict discipline which no person would enjoy. Only now at the sweet age of twenty-eight am I beginning a journey which I should have embarked on a long time ago which is learning how to associate exercise with mental and body strength rather than ‘weight loss’ which is what I am so used to doing it for and embracing the body I was given.
When I thought about writing a piece on Body Image, I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted the message to be or what I wanted people to take away from it as I am so new to identifying my struggles with the subject myself, I am merely halfway there to being educated enough to inspire others but I felt that if I was putting myself out there admitting to my personal inner demon then maybe others could resonate and I wouldn’t feel so alone. Since the beginning of the lockdown, it seemed the first thing people lost their shit over was how they were going to work out and I jumped right into the problem solving with them. Wondering how the hell will I get my fitness in? Ordering a Yoga Mat, weights, new gym gear. All whilst this little demon was whispering in my ear reminding me that I was hardly doing any fucking fitness beforehand, so what’s the emergency now? All this new time on our hands and I channelled all my confused pandemic energy into something that everyone else was, a classic example of ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ a serious case of FOMO.
I started to focus on running, calorie counting, watching what I was eating, checking in with the girls about how it was all going and stepping on the scales each morning which I J’DETESTE doing. It was only until halfway through that I could feel this heavy, dreaded feeling within me, a dark shadow when I woke up knowing full well I didn’t want to do this, but I had to. I was beginning to compare, I was beginning to be extremely critical, I was beginning to obsess and be upset when I didn’t see any change from one day to the next or when I was baking Banana Bread (another pandemic pressure) and eating it within the same day, I felt disgusted with myself and would internally beat myself up. I was forcing myself into yet again another self-destructive way of dieting knowing full well it wasn’t going to last because let’s face it, I had been here time and time again. But I NEED to lose weight I thought, I NEED to look like I used to. I wish I could stick to this, and look like them and before I knew it I had brought this disgusting unhealthy relationship with my body to the forefront of my mind giving it all my attention night and day. It wasn’t until after I had shouted abusive words at myself in the mirror one evening and broke down crying that I confronted myself and asked why and who am I doing this for?
I have spent most of my life focused on weight and how I should look for the industry I chose to be a part of and for what others needed to see for me to be able to succeed. I know that I did it for other people because I was dedicated to what I wanted to do. I only wish I had had the right guidance I needed at the time so I could have had a better understanding of nutrition and the Body. The truth was and still is, I love food. I love to eat, drink the odd glass of wine and indulge when I feel I want/need/deserve it, it makes me happy, I left my dancing days behind me a good five years ago now and the only person I need to feel good for is myself.
Social media is shaping our concept of beauty and the way we perceive ourselves. We spend so much time on there whether that be for pleasure or work that we must understand how inextricably linked the two are. That being said I took it upon myself to unfollow anyone on social media that made me compare and judge myself in a negative way when it came to my body and I flooded my Instagram with all the Body Positivity influencers I could find. I cannot tell you the difference it makes to me, going onto social media and seeing a sea full of beautiful, strong real women who ooze strength and look like me and say all the right things to make you feel good about yourself rather than what was before which was intensifying my negative psychological outlook on Body Image. It is encouraging to want to love yourself when you see how easy others make it look. I have only dipped my toe in the water and I already feel a huge difference in the way I look at myself, why I choose to exercise and what I choose to eat. There’s a very long way to go but I feel a relief that I have finally started to tackle my distasteful, shaming behaviour I had towards myself for someone who theoretically no longer existed.
I exercise to feel strong both physically and mentally, so my body and mind are ready to do what it needs to do for the Sasha I am now, not dancer Sasha. I aim to eat consciously knowing what my limits are, pushing for more nutritious options but not beating myself up after I caved and ordered Pizza. I vow to never fall into continuous, harmful ways of yoyo dieting and speaking to myself with the dis-respect I have in the past and I deserve to let go of my body hang-ups, the number on the scales and the photos of Tiny Sasha who in all honesty had a lollipop head. It’s been twenty long, body image pressured years but now it feels like it’s finally come to an end. I know what I have to do for me personally to feel good, be happy when I look at my own reflection and learn to love the skin I am in, as cliche as it all sounds. It’s only now that I realise my weight doesn’t have to define me and determine my success any longer. A strong, healthy , focused, happy mind does.
I am discussing more on these particular topics over on ‘A BREATH OF FRESH VOICES’ Podcast with my amazing friend @soullaax, a chance to hear my voice and also hear about growing up in the dancing industry, weight & crash dieting from another perspective. You can find us over on the links below;