The Pressure to Have a "Dancer's Body" Led Me to an Eating Disorder

By Dakoda Carlson, REFINE contributor

I grew up dancing. I was heavily involved in the art to the point where I was competing and attending eight classes, three times per week. It consumed my life and I had close friendships with all my classmates. However, It took a toll mentally, and even more physically, when I was around thirteen.

When I was thirteen, I had already been a dancer for eleven years. Despite that, I also struggled with low self-confidence for over eight years. I knew my teachers, I knew my friends, I knew the dance world. It was then that I became aware of what dance physically demands. The expectation of a “dance body” is long legs, a skinny waist, a tiny butt, and a toned stomach, none of which I possessed. I understood that If I wanted to make this my career, I needed to make changes. Little by little, I started to eat healthier and work out on the side, along with dancing three times a week. I put all my effort into this new lifestyle I created for myself. After a month, I didn’t see the results I wanted to, so I would binge on every unhealthy thing I could find, and then immediately regret it. Something sparked in my mind at that moment: I remembered the Gossip Girl episode where they touch on Blair forcing herself to throw up. I was desperate, so I decided to try it for myself.

Carlson at the height of her eating disorder. | DAKODA CARLSON / REFINE MAGAZINE

Carlson at the height of her eating disorder. | DAKODA CARLSON / REFINE MAGAZINE

Fast forward two years later, and I had a routine. Wake up, eat, work out, eat, throw up, go to dance, eat dinner, throw up. I told myself that this was the only way I would ever look enough like a ballerina to fit the part, and the only way I’d be considered “pretty”. I noticed that I started to become weaker, which as a dancer is not something you like to hear. I liked to think that during that time I actually got stronger and made my abs more defined, but everything was very unbalanced. I thought I was losing weight and gaining muscle––my ultimate goal in the end. But all it was doing was creating problems for myself. The end of that year, I quit dance. My parents came to the conclusion that It wasn’t doing me any good for other reasons (they had no knowledge of my disorder).

A year later, 2016. I decided to work at a camp with two of my very good friends. Around this time my bulimia had “slowed down” in a sense. I didn’t do it quite frequently, but I continued to pursue it. I pulled myself back a bit more because I quit dance. But I didn’t just stop cold turkey; it doesn’t work like that. I was still dealing with immense insecurity––I just so happened to cut out one of the contributing factors. One night in our cabin, when the sun went down and all that was shining was our christmas lights wrapped around the beams above our heads, my dear friend and I were sitting on the top bunk of my bed and we got to talking. I let everything out. When it started, why it started, and that she was the only person that now knew. I remember looking at the disbelief on  her face and hearing what she said. ‘How, how can someone this beautiful have this much insecurity?” I sat with that, because to me, I wasn’t beautiful, I didn’t see what she saw. “You have to tell your parents. If you don’t, I will”. She pushed me which in the end, was one of the kindest thing she could’ve done.

One weekend when I came home, my mom, my dad and I were in the car. I was driving, and I figured that was the perfect time to tell them. They were my best friends; it was hard for me to believe that I hadn't told them sooner. They immediately asked me all the questions––especially harping on the hospital question. “Has it gotten back where you need to be admitted?”. At this time, I only did it three times since the year started. I was aware, and I was also aware that I didn’t need the hospital visit. My parents and I talked about it and decided that in the end.

Fast forward to my 17th birthday. I was healthy. I defeated my demon and was starting anew. It was then that I realized the change that happened to my body. I didn’t accept the fact that I was bulimic because In my eyes, I never got as tiny as some people who have also gone through it. But I did realize I was happier. I was still struggling with insecurity but each day was getting better.

Carlson now, who considers herself in recovery. | DAKODA CARLSON / REFINE MAGAZINE

Carlson now, who considers herself in recovery. | DAKODA CARLSON / REFINE MAGAZINE

By the end of 2018, I was fully healed. I felt proud of myself and proud that I accepted my appearance. I gained the confidence I lacked for the previous 18 years. I surrounded myself with friends who were supportive and overall amazing. I publicly posted about my journey and disorder that summer; it was almost the last step I had to take to fully close that door, another form of closure you might say.

To this day, I still occasionally struggle with my appearance, but I will never go back down that road. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows, but now I know what I need. Self confidence is a journey, and I’m forever grateful that I was able to learn that along the way.

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