Life After Mia (and Ana, Too) Entry #1

It used to be such a big secret – I didn’t speak about it for so many years. But once I started talking, I couldn’t stop. I must have a sign on my head, a Mia tattoo, an Ana stamp, because now women and girls and even men find me and open up, too. It’s like we were in a war together, but fought in different battles and need to share. It feels good to remember, like picking a scab. Me too, Me too, Me too.  We have so much to say, we could talk Mia and Ana for hours. “I’m so lucky I recovered when I did,” I always admit at some point because it’s true. By recovered I mean, I quit the bad behaviors. And I was still young enough for my body to heal. Today it was the instructor at Pop Physique. We sat on the floor after class. She’s much younger than I am and only a few years past her worst lows. “You’ll be okay,” I reassured her. (Our common bond came up last week when I mentioned that my daughter had quit dancing. I can tell from her feet and legs and the way she holds her arms that she was a dancer, too. (That’s a whole other secret society)) She was worried about being a mother – what if she has a girl, like I do? Will she pass it on? “It’s hard,” I said. “You can’t diet in front of them ever. You have to eat what they eat. You have to like, eat the bun. And you can’t have a scale or ever say, ‘Do I look fat in these jeans?’And you can’t tell them not to have another cookie, even though they shouldn’t have another cookie. It’s hard.”

When you’re in it, of course, there are those few partners you team up with – driving each other, exchanging tricks like drug addicts. They were not my allies – they were the enemy – and we were twice as lethal combined. I had one in particular – she was the evilest freinemy I’ve ever had. She taught me things I wish I’d never known. We were dancers together, but she was better. A year older. On scholarship before I was. “You’ll never be a dancer,” she would say mid-binge. They told her to lose weight, but then she lost so much, she grew fur. And her bones broke. (mine did, too) So they sent her back to Minnesota. I was relieved, but I wasn’t free. Not for awhile. She wrote me years later to apologize for those cruel insults she’d used to keep me tethered. But it was too late, I’d already quit.

I can spot winter girls in the throws if it: the chipmunk cheeks, the orange palms, the way they turn sideways and disappear. Sometimes it’s just the way she chews, or how she picks at her food, or it’s the way she walks, burning extra calories, counting steps. I’m too scared to talk to them. I want to. I want to say: I see you. I want to say: you have to stop now, or you will die. But I don’t. I can’t really, who am I to get involved? I imagine myself slipping her a card with a hotline on it or a really good doctor’s number. Sometimes mothers ask me about their daughters and I share and warn and commiserate. It’s been years, but I can talk Mia and Ana for hours.

Writing Beautiful Girl so many years later was like digging up a time capsule. There are details in the book – which is fiction, but includes a lot of my truths – that I’d never spoken. And then there they were, on the page, staring back at me. Now they are published, available for anyone to read. It takes place in the months after I’d sought help. It’s the beginning of my life after Mia. My doctor told me when I was in treatment that I must get something out of the eating disorder, something really powerful, or I would be able to stop. I wasn’t even skinny at that point, so what was it? It was gross and I hated it, so why? Mia was like having a whole secret life – a bad one – but still, it was mine and it was an excuse to not participate, it was a constant out. If my head was full of binging and counting – there wasn’t room left to think. I didn’t have to feel the real pain of life because I had a giant monster chasing me. Always.

Maybe when we recovered Mias and Anas connect with confessions and stories and me toos, we’re really just confirming that the monster was there and that it was real. It chased us. But we got away. We got away.

#beautiful girl#eating disoder recovery#mia#ana

When a Dancer Quits

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I know it’s best that my daughter quits ballet. Anyone who’s read my book, Beautiful Girl, knows I know it’s best. When she was born, I swore she would never even see a picture of ballet. She would hit a ball. She would run fast. She would swim. But by age two she asked: “Mommy, when will I go to ballet?” “Let’s hit tennis balls,” I said. Then: “Mommy, when will I be on a stage?” I took her to a small toddler class in a neighbor’s backyard garage, hoping to get it out of her system. “No Mommy,” she said, “Real ballet, with a mirror and a barre.” At one of those gym birthday parties where toddlers roll around in grimy ball-pits and hurl themselves off mats and ledges like what’s now actually named parkour, she rode a zip line across the room. Her feet were perfectly pointed. She was three. “If the Russians saw this, they would take her away,” I said.

Anyway, she begged and I caved and then before we both knew it, we were in deep. For me, after turning my back on the art I adored for so many years, something was rekindled. I love the music. I loved the movement. I love ballet. Even though I know it almost killed me, before it went dark – even when it was dark, but not too dark, I had so much passion. I wanted to to be hungry and poor and in pain. If it meant being on a stage, I wanted to live in a one room apartment and sew pointe shoes and smoke cigarettes, if it meant I could dance.  My daughter loved it, too, for many years, especially the big Nutcracker performance. She has long legs with hyper-extended knees and beautiful arched feet. She had a great presence on stage.  She’s delightful to watch.  I remember thinking that if she got to dance the part of Masha (or Clara or Maria, depending on the production), then that was enough. That would be with her her whole life. The Christmas before last, she got that honor and filled the stage. She has that forever.

I even started taking classes again, after a million years, and worked back to a level that at least showed a glimmer of how I’d once danced. I loved it because I didn’t care if I looked stupid or old – I was amazed that I didn’t. I still dream of a split-second time-machine that would show me how I really looked when I was too thin, because so many years later, I was mostly surprised that when I looked in the mirror, I looked okay, good even. It was weird, but also a tremendous relief. Until it wasn’t. I was glad to be back, but then there were days I didn’t want to go – because of what I’d eaten the day before. That’s the truth. (And my back hurt from forcing my leg up too high in arabesque)

My daughter started asking to skip class at least once a week last year and I knew. Ballet is not for girls that want to skip. It’s not for girls who won’t go if their friends aren’t there. Homework never gets in the way. It’s too hard if you don’t want it so bad that nothing gets in the way. It’s too hard and too competitive and too expensive. She never came home and stretched – she didn’t want it that bad. She competed in YAGP and placed – which sounds creepy and is kind of, but I was very impressed she could go out on that stage all alone and dance for five judges and smile. That took balls.

But now she’s 13. She quit before anyone could tell her to lose even 1 pound. The girls around her were starving themselves. Her best friend was getting weighed before class; 2 other’s dropped 20lbs in a month – and so my daughter wanted out. Which is a great great thing. I’m happy for her. She loves herself the way she is and doesn’t want to miss out on life and would rather be a YouTube star than a ballet dancer. She’d rather be a doctor than a ballet dancer. She’d rather be a regular 13-year-old girl who snowboards. She’d rather be a 13-year-old girl and can have a cookie without feeling bad or guilty or fat.

When I quit, I was much further along. Almost 17, on scholarship, attending a part-time professional high school. I couldn’t go on. My eating disorder was crushing me. I had fractures and mono – I was a mess. I told my pediatrician I was having a heart attack. He said, “Is there something bothering you?” And I said: “I can’t go back to ballet.” Whenever anyone asked why I quit (never ever using that shameful word!) I said: “I wanted to eat dinner.” That wasn’t the whole story, but it was a big part of it. I should be thrilled my daughter has walked away happy and relatively unharmed. And I am. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a part of me that loved to watch her dance, that there’s a part of me that will miss sewing her shoes, which was a ritual I’d once loved. I won’t get to take her to the ballet – quitting requires total abstinence.  But it’s not about me, it’s about her and she wants to eat dinner, too.

#beautiful girl