How Salsa Dancing Finally Broke My Dysmorphia and Freed Me From the Diet Industry.

I remember the first diet I started. I’d gotten my period just a few months before and overnight my body changed from being a little girl, to womanly curves. It was so sudden, that my mother joked about not being able to write a note to the principal stating that I’d developed breasts during the night and she needed to take me bra shopping.

I hated all the attention my new curves received from the boys at school, and I began to wear baggy clothing and binge eating in the afternoons to stuff down the emotions.

Very quickly I gained fifteen pounds, and my mother became concerned. One night she made me get on a scale and handed me a weight loss subliminal program. Her intentions came from a place of health and love.

As I stared at that number on the scale, I felt a deep shame towards my body.

I never thought about the fact that I’d also grown an inch. I just I knew what the kids at school were saying about my weight, what my relatives thought, and I wanted to be loved and thought of as pretty again. My whole life people had talked about my blue eyes and long blonde hair, and at that time I felt my looks were my value.

Every day I’d come home from school and listen to the subliminal recording. In my memories, I can still hear the classical music with the strange mumbled voice. I prayed that tape would give me back the love I desired, while secretly fearing the attention that might return from the boys at school if I lost weight.

By summer I was down twenty pounds, exercising for hours each day while I succeeded in living on under 1000 calories. Every morning, I stripped my clothes off and tenderly stepped on the scale, holding onto the door knob and the bathroom sink as if stepping lightly could make the numbers lower.

My mother’s concern changed, and the question became, “Did you eat today?”

I began to lie. I wanted to prove my worth and society said women were supposed to be thin. My journals all talked about losing weight. I learned visualization and put dates on my calendar for weight loss goals. I searched for every diet book on the market.

My dysmorphia became such a part of me, that I’d wake in the morning, strip down and stare at my body in the mirror, disgusted by what I saw. Why couldn’t I be skinny? Why did I have to have such a big bone structure? Why did I have to be curvy?

Kids at school talked about my body, and even though I’d lost the extra weight, the curves hadn’t gone away. The boys gave out numbers for our chests and would go around putting their hands as a measuring device between our breasts. It was mortifying.

Every party, event, family function, I dieted harder, because I knew the comments would be whether I’d gained or lost. My weight, in my mind, solidified as my value.

The problem worsened when I started taking dance lessons as a teenager (my biggest dream) and the instructor told me that I had to lose more weight. I’d gotten down to 108 lbs, but then as I grew two more inches over the next year, I went up to 125 lbs. Everyone asked, why a girl who was so curvy wanted to dance? It was a simple fact that I was the wrong body type.

In adulthood my mindset never changed. I spent everyday thinking about what I looked like — my metabolism destroyed by the diets and under eating while over exercising, my health and vitality swallowed by an industry promising the next fad could be the one that would change my life. I bought into the before and after photos and never stopped dieting.

Then I began to figure skate. My little girl dream come true, and my body confidence grew, but when it came time to compete, I didn’t want to wear the figure skating dresses. I felt too big boned and curvy, and I was worried I’d look fat and hideous. I hid under princess cut designs bought at department stores instead of actual costumes.

Then I began to pursue a list of 101 dreams, and those dreams gave me the confidence to be in this world and be proud of who I was no matter my weight. I still thought I would be happier if I’d just lose ten more pounds, but for the most part I found a happy place.

Until I decided that I wanted to salsa dance. I found a studio where all my little girl dreams of dancing, that I had put away, were possible. The studio had a team that did lifts and tricks and crazy spins, they trained hard, and performed on huge stages. I wanted to be on that team with everything I was.

But the costumes.

I’d have to wear outfits that were backless, tight leotards that would show off my figure, and there would be pictures and videos posted on social media. I started on the student team, stating I wouldn’t perform because I didn’t want to wear the costume.

Our first performance opportunity, I was convinced by my powerful female director to put on the dress. It was covered in fringe but backless, my breasts on display. I put it on and hid in the bathroom until everyone left the studio. When I came out I told my director I felt naked.

“Girl, it’s only going to get tinier and more naked the further you rise in this studio. You look great. Own it!”

The night we performed I was barely able to breathe, and though I loved connecting with the crowd, it took me days to look at the video for fear of seeing the fat roll that fishnet tights create on even the thinnest women. (Seriously can someone make a better design?)

I rose to the next level and started to do the tricks and lifts. The men wanted to lift the tiniest women, who weighed nothing because it was easier. It was brought up that the men should lift weights or train, and that it’s all about everyone doing their part, but it didn’t change the mindset. Most Saturdays, I was left out, constantly I stood, doing nothing while the smaller girls got to try everything. It seemed that my weight would always be a hinderance, and I started returning to my old ways of dieting.

After one run of ketogenic dieting that left me with depression and insomnia from lack of carbohydrates I decided I didn’t want to live in this prison that began when I developed into a woman. I was done. It took up too much of my emotional life.

I started watching the fierce ladies of the salsa dancing world, and all the beautiful shapes and sizes. It wasn’t about being thin or curvy, but how they felt the music and danced. All sizes were celebrated even at the world champion levels.

I continued to follow my passion. I gained confidence with each routine and performance no matter the size of the costume. I was partnered with someone who didn’t talk about my weight but made me feel good about myself. I stopped dieting and broke up with every fitness industry fad out there, and began to utilize this gorgeous, strong, muscular, and curvy body as my tool to live the life I choose — to continue to experience my dreams. I focused on the fuel I needed to do my activities, and stopped starving myself.

Now three years after walking into that studio I perform salsa routines with hard lifts and tricks, while wearing next to nothing. I dance ladies routines as I show off my curves. Now when I compete in figure skating I wear the tight costumes without fear.

Instead of needing to hide, I honor my beautiful strong body that allows me to experience life, and my dreams of skating and dancing have made it strong, healthy, and ageless.

If it weren’t for the pursuit of my dreams, I’d still be abusing myself to make my body conform to an image set by society. Instead, every day I skate and dance, eat yummy food, pour nutrition into my cells and I truly live in my skin fully confident.

Author of The Lake House (S&S), founder E2T Adventures, world traveler, figure skater, white water kayaker, dancer, keynote speaker.

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