“I started vocational training at the age of 12. My first two years were generally happy, and I felt confident in myself and my abilities. I was a little bigger than some of the girls in my year as I was an early developer and naturally muscular.
At 15 I contracted an illness that put me off dance for around four months. As I returned to dance I overheard a comment about my thighs. Along with other destructive criticism I was receiving from various teachers, I used this as motivation to restrict my diet. I became emaciated and lost my strength. However, many of the dance staff were very positive about my body, telling me I looked “beautiful.”
My parents insisted I put on weight over a holiday and I did so carefully and slowly. I returned to training still looking very thin, but a little bigger and a little healthier than before. I was still receiving praise from my director, but was told to “tone up” areas which had put on weight. I took this very literally and implemented more weight based training into my regime. A later meeting reinforced that he wanted me to go back to the shape I was in the previous year.
A series of traumatic events caused me a lot of stress over the following years, and it was insinuated that I was lazy for following a physio’s advice and resting an injury. I was dismissed when I attempted to open up about my vulnerable mental state. I became very stressed and pushed through a lot of pain to the point where I almost ruptured a tendon, whilst subsequently developing an unhealthy relationship with food – bingeing and starving. I wasn’t performing as well as I usually would and my self esteem was at an all time low.
I managed to get my eating under control, however the stress caused health problems and I was put onto medication which made me gain weight. I was told that I was too womanly, that my “big” legs would prevent me from getting jobs and caused my injuries. A specialist in dance science measured my fat percentage in my body and it was considered “perfect for a dancer”. I felt utterly confused by the mixed messages.
I went through multiple depressive episodes in my final year of training. It was clear from my physical state that I wasn’t coping – I no longer took pride in my appearance, I looked exhausted and lethargic and my skin was in bad condition.
The school claimed to be progressive and caring. The reality was very different. I was collateral damage.”