By Brittany Tiplady
When I was 14, during a summer at the American Ballet Theater School, I was introduced to public body shaming. While standing at the barre, our evil morning teacher pinched my teenage thighs red because they jiggled while I was in tendue. She proudly announced that if any of our thighs jiggled during the rest of the class, we would be deemed too fat to dance that day. The shame! It prickled from my temples, to my diaphragm, making a home in the bowels of my confidence. Tiny, ugly moments. The catalysts for trauma.
Ten years later, at 24 years old, the first thing I still look at in the mirror is the way my thighs jiggle.
The tumultuous relationship I have with my body is directly derived from three very prevalent areas in my life. The infamous, yet powerful, cliche trio: my background as a dancer, my history with shitty men and my love affair with food.
Self-love mantras clog my instagram feed, and I find them nauseating.
How dare this stranger tell me my body is perfect? Have they seen my cellulite?! Have they seen the way my biceps sway when I open my arms? Who are these people to feed me such blind advice!
You probably can’t tell, but my body image issues are a work in progress.
I have been trying to articulate my relationship with the mirror for some time. Reading books like Lena Dunham’s Not that Kind Of Girl and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please helped give me some clarity on how to share my lifelong body battle.
I grew up in the world of performing arts. Ballet was, and always will be, my first love. Being a dedicated dancer taught me discipline and the power of hard work. It gave me life-long friends, and the joy movement can bring to your soul. I am now a ballet teacher, and my job allows me to pass on all of this beauty to a younger generation.
Occasionally, I had teachers who, with an old-school approach, encouraged dieting and offered inappropriate advice for weight loss.
When I was 16, during one rehearsal for the Nutcracker, I was watching a run-through of Waltz of the Flowers from the audience. The director of my youth company shot up from her seat and shouted: “Stop the music!”
“Get off birth control, or get off the stage! You won’t be fitting into that costume much longer.”
I took a mental note: birth control makes you fat.
Andy Warhol said: “I always run into strong women who are looking for weak men to dominate them.”
At 20 years old, I was a 115 pounds and eager to please. My D cup boobs sat on my chest like two headlights made for oogling. My best friend had just taught me how to pencil in my eyebrows. It was a very big time in my life.
In my summer of being 20, I let a man I was dating take photos of me on his motorcycle, only to find out that he had taken the same photo of many other women, that same week. The women he photographed were everything I was not. They were tall and twiggy with legs that would have measured up to my shoulders. Their rib cages bare and bold. These women were full of angles and edges and their bodies on his iPhone mocked my curvy frame.
“You could cut down about 10 pounds, babe.”
And so here comes the more delicious part of this narrative: food! My great love! My knight in a shining drive-thru! The friend that never fails me, and the lover that never leaves me. When I was two, I ate so many carrots my skin quite literally turned orange. This girl can’t say no to some grub.
Cheeseburgers fed my loneliness. My carefully orchestrated McDonald’s order made my friends laugh. Check and check.
And so I ate. I landed myself another winner, a man who mistook my love and generosity for bottomless financial charity. I ate a little more.
Every time I sat down in Sociology class I needed to unbutton my favorite Levis. I ate little more.
My body continued to expand. My thighs created such friction when I walked it could spark a god damn forest fire. What ensued, was a tango with the mirror that Amy Poehler best describes as a conversation with her personal demon. My demon and I say awful things to the mirror. Deplorable and unforgivable things.
I am now in a relationship with a man who values my mind as much as my body. My bed-time lingerie is a seductive set: Little Mermaid underwear and an oversized shirt with a slice of pizza on it. We laugh about it.
The demon pipes down, just for a minute.
I am finding validation in the things that make me feel sexy: starting a magazine, running a half-marathon, learning to cook.
The demon cloaks my perception from time to time, often adorned around my neck like lavish jewelry. But I believe that the battle will always be bloody. I consider the body image struggle a syndrome that permeates amongst any living being.
But I’m getting there.