I was 13 the first time I remembered the number on the scale. In ballet class, a girl named Marie Elizabeth Marcus bragged she weighed less than 100 pounds, and suddenly the 22 pounds between us felt like an elephant footprint on my chest. I was sitting in the middle of the hallway, stretching my legs into the splits on the part of the floor slanted upward to force my hips into a more elastic position, too afraid to ask Marie Elizabeth if she thought my thighs were big. Somewhere there was a girl dumping the food from her lunch box into the trash can. Every time I felt hungry, I would eat a single almond trying to keep my appetite quiet and my body small. If someone had told me this is the way to become a ballerina, I would have stopped eating altogether. Do you remember the first time you ever looked at your body in the mirror? Before I showered, I would stand with my back arched, feeding the illusion of a small waist. The counter in the dressing room was covered in ibuprofen and stray bobby pins. The trash can was full of pre-packed unopened lunches from mothers who thought they were fueling their daughters’ rising ballet careers. Years later, my mother took me to a nutritionist because I didn’t look good in stripes and I needed to learn portion control. Nobody told me refusing to eat dessert is the quickest way to stop being invited to birthday parties. But this was ballet class, and I had a dream. You cannot possibly understand the distortion of the mirror until you’ve tried to use your hands to measure your waist and thighs. Say what you want about health – I took a lunch with Oreos out of the trash and ate them all.
Gillian Ebersole (she/they) is a dancer and writer who explores the embodied experience of queerness in her poetry and choreography. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Loyola Marymount University with a dual degree in Dance and English. Gillian currently works for Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Find her on Instagram @bygillianebersole