Self Love and Dance: A story of growing and teaching how to love yourself

TW/CW Eating Disorders

Growing up I was a competitive gymnast. For 10 years starting at age 5, gymnastics was my life. I spent 20 hours a week in the gym, and as years went by, gymnastics became not only my passion but my identity.  "I'm a gymnast" was the first thing I told people about myself. I impressed them with my ability to do splits or walk on my hands, and I showed them my ripped skin with pride. I was nothing if not a gymnast.

When I was fourteen I started ninth grade at a massive high school with 1500 students per grade. I didn't know anyone, and having to run to practice each day after school didn't help with that. As my anxiety for school increased, a new uncertainty for my love of competitive gymnastics also grew. I no longer knew if I wanted to be the gymnast I had made of myself; yet that was all I knew. All of a sudden, I felt completely out of control in both my school and gymnastics lives. I then looked to one thing I knew I could control: my body. I became obsessive over food and exercise habits - I had to take the stairs in school, and I removed the peanut butter from the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches my mom made me. This escalated to removing snacks and cutting down meals. Quickly, this impaired my gymnastics abilities, yet as it did so, I became more and more compulsive with eating. The worse I felt about gymnastics, the more I felt that I was losing my identity, and so I created a new identity through withering down my body. 

By the time I stopped gymnastics in March of 9th grade, it was clear I had an eating disorder. Everything I did, and all thoughts circulating in my brain, were devoted to that identity. I had nothing to live for but being anorexic, which I was diagnosed as 2 months after stopping gymnastics. I hated that I was starving myself, putting myself and my family through so much anguish, but I had nothing else to live for. I felt completely empty, and therefore would keep ignoring the help of my doctors, would keep spilling my meal supplement drinks down the drain, and would continue to lose weight. 

Eventually, however, I recovered. With help from my therapist and nutritionist, I was able to come out of the hole I dug myself into and get back to a healthy weight. However, it was not easy; In fact, it was excruciating. it took letting go of an identity that had become integral to my being. It has taken nearly six years, until now, to feel confident in myself and my body. Shortly after being anorexic, I was terrified of all physical activity because I associated it with torturous exercise weight loss. The thought of running reminded me of my meticulously organized running schedule and gave me a stomach ache. As time passed, that fear lessened, but I never stopped struggling with finding a physical activity that I loved and made me feel good, and that didn't leave me feeling like I was allowing my eating disorder to take over again. 

Six years later I teach cardio dance at Brown. After taking cardio dance classes at home, but falling back into the arduous exercise routine at the college gym, I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands and make an exercise class that people would look forward to and that emphasized fun rather than fitness. I look forward to teaching this dance class every time I hold it. It has been the highlight of my junior year so far. I stand in front of a class and move my body the way it is and I feel amazing. Thinking back to the times when I tried to break down that body, my body, saddens me, but I am truly proud of how far I have come. 

Written by Julia Fisher