My Big Self
Jamie KahnWhen I was about eleven, I decided that I wanted to start taking ballet. Iíd danced when I was younger but stopped when I was about seven because I lost interest, as kids often do. My hometown had one main dance studio that everyone knew resembled a cult in that if you didnít start young and stick with them for life, youíd be condemned to embarrassment if you tried to join a class. I wanted to dance though, and it was a price I thought I was willing to pay.
On the first day of class, I realized what I was in for. Wondering if Iíd come at the wrong time or day, I asked the woman who appeared to be the teacher bashfully, ďIs this beginner ballet?Ē and she simply nodded with a smile. I was an elephant. Everyone in the class had to have been about eight years old, maybe nine if Iím being generous. I felt big and clunky and out of place. In retrospect, eight and eleven may not seem too far apart, but when kids are growing faster each year like weeds in the back garden, the difference between my classmates and myself was stark and humiliating.
I feel like we constantly watch movies and read books about how hard it is to be the runt of the litter. We see the small, scrawny, mousey character rise to greatness despite their underdog-ness. I wish I could say that was a truth I lived. There are millions of ways to romanticize a girl who feels too small. But one thatís too big? We seldom hear her gripes. I also wish I was able to complain about being oh so long and lanky in the way everybody can tell that Iíd grow up and become a graceful, willowy fashion model type. The only story here worth telling is the truth. I was tall, chubby, and round in all the wrong places. I spent my adolescence hiding in baggy sweatshirts and letting my hair hang to cover my chipmunk cheeks and double chin. I was ashamed of myself, even around my own peers. Just imagine how I felt around these tiny eight year olds who couldnít even see puberty on the horizon. For me, it was fast approaching, making me uglier by the day.
For that year, I hid as close to the back corner of the room as I could. I worked hard in class though, telling myself that if I did enough exercise I could at least lose weight (to no avail). I was a decent dancer, but I still felt beyond uncomfortable with the thought of performing in a recital beside my dainty classmates. As the recital date in June quickly approached, I became more and more distressed. I was nearly twice the weight of the other girls. I felt like it was a mark of my ugliness to be seen with them, and a mark of my poor skills that I was in a class with kids so much younger than myself in the first place. I wondered what the audience would think of me.
I performed, just as ashamed as I had been in class all year. After seeing the recital, my parents thought itíd be a good idea to make sure I was in a class with kids my own age. I knew they meant my own size. I transferred to a different ballet studio where I was twelve and in a class with only other twelve year olds, but I never did shake the feeling that escorted me to class since the first day at the other place. I walked into the classroom and saw twelve year olds, thatís true. But more than that, I saw thin, beautiful twelve year olds.
I wish I could say I learned that taking up space was no sin, or that I learned to love my body, or that any of this was the fault of the first dance studio that shoved me into the embarrassment of a little-kids class. Truthfully, it took me years to learn that a young girl should never be sorry for her stomach rolls or her pudgy arms or even for her towering height. I spent the rest of middle school and high school dancing the same way I danced from the start, apologetically.
The story does end happily, but not until much later, Iím afraid. Iím still learning to be kind to myself, and itís an uphill battle. Well into adulthood, my memories of being my past selfĖ my big selfĖ are nightmarish. But Iím trying to love them as best I can. Itís all I can do.
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