Barre class as a way to excercise for almost two years now. I love that it is a way to turn my brain off, dance a little, and combat the hours I spend each day sitting at a desk hunched over my laptop. In the two years I've been going to Barre, I've never been jolted out of my hourly reverie in the way I was last Sunday.
As I was stretching before class, the typical soft Sunday morning chatter was filling the studio: grumblings about the fresh snow, who had stayed out a little too late the night before, and the best remedies for this infernal cold that has been going around. All of this conversation dropped of a cliff of awkward, chilling silence when a new Barre attendee padded into the room.
To say this woman was ill would be an understatement. Her hands and feet mimicked that of a marionette, too large and heavy to be on such frail and spindly appendages. An ankle was wrapped tightly in athletic tape, nearly double the size of the other ankle. Her sunken cheeks were emphasized by her swollen salivary glands and puffy eyes. When she removed her baggy sweatshirt, the silence in the class turned over on itself...there was a collective need, wish, hope of health and healing for this ghost of a woman.
The entire hour after class began was spent strategically casting my gaze in directions away from this woman. Nobody wants to stare. Nobody wants to be rude. Nobody wants to talk about the ghost in the room.
I started thinking about how terrifyingly easy it was for this woman to get to where she is today. I'm not talking about the starving and the purging and the exercise and the struggle and the pain. I'm talking about the culture of beauty in which she exists. She lives in a society that gives heaps of positive reinforcement to women who are remarkably thin. She lives in a world where, up until about 10 pounds ago, she was considered beautiful.
Nobody starts off thinking they will have an eating disorder. How many women do you know right now who are on some sort of restricted diet? Vegan, wheat-free, high protein? It's a slippery slope. How many women do you know right now that have told you they don't like something about their bodies? It may be easier to try to think of women who aren't on a diet or hate their bodies. I'm sad to say, my list is short.
And after all of this, what are we supposed to DO? Did I go up to this women and ask if she's in treatment? Did I slip her a piece of paper with the National Eating Disorder Hotline on it? Did I even try to smile and connect with this women? Nope. I was as scared of the ghost as my classmates were.
This ghost is wily. It seems like it almost likes it when you point out the obvious. This ghost thrives in this culture we've created for us women.
So you know what I did? I looked at myself in the full-length mirrors in the studio and thanked my body. I thanked every dimple of cellulite, every wobbly piece of skin, and every silvery stretch mark. I thanked my lucky stars that I had important people in my life tell me my worth lies in more than just what you can see. I thanked my good girlfriends for being supportive and loving to their OWN bodies.
I also FORGAVE myself for falling prey to this culture. You know that list we just made? I wasn't on it. I'm guilty of hating certain things about my body and telling others about it, too. What's worse, is that I still have this internal dialogue with myself every so often. It's a constant battle to remember it's our society that's broken, not me.
So I raise my cupcake to this woman from Sunday morning and I wish her hope and health with all I have in my heart. We all know the ghost is there, but my wish is that with time, love, and change, we can collectively make it so it's not welcome anymore.