Sunday, April 7, 2019

Body Image

I often debate whether or not I should be writing such personal posts but lately I have been opening up more and more about some of personal battles.  I hope in sharing my personal stories that it will help others realize they are not alone and that there is hope and a healthier way. 

I have always struggled with body image issues.  These issues have led to a lack of self-confidence and a variety of eating disorders.  I have starved myself for days in hopes of gaining a competitive edge or getting under the maximum weight for a part I was auditioning for.  These eating disorders started back in high school.  As you may know from some of my other post high school was a very challenging time for me like many of us. 

I have tried almost every fad diet, crash diet, cleanse, miracle weight loss pills, etc.  The interesting thing is that none of them worked.  It wasn’t long ago after being called fat by a choreographer that I turned to bulimia.  The thing about bulimia is that is disgusting and a waste of money.  You spend all this money gorging on food only to go and purge it.  Not only is it a waste of money but it damaged my teeth and I had to spend a lot of money fixing my teeth. 

I understand that many of you may not understand why I have body image issues.  I do work hard to stay in shape for many reasons.  The are many health benefits to staying in shape especially for those who are HIV positive like myself.  It is also a great way to reduce stress, clear your mind, boost energy levels, and many many more benefits. 

To give you small picture of what dancers face at auditions and within their careers here are a few of the situations that I have been in….

In high school I attended a modeling scout event were agents went to find new modeling talent.  One of the agency approached me and said they wanted me to get photos with a particular photographer and then they would decide if they wanted to sign me.  So I book an appointment with the photographer and paid him the $150 fee per roll (yes roll of old school film).  Once I received the slides and negatives back I went back to the agency and they told me I was too fat.  

When in Jubilee we had to re-audition for the show every six months and part of the audition was standing on a yellow line on the stage in your g-string.  Then you would have to make a quarter turn when told until the casting team had time to inspect your whole body.  They would also send out notices to the cast about “perfection in performance and perfection in appearance.” 

One day I received a call from the casting director for JAR and he was offering me a spot on a cruise ship.  Since I had not been to an audition with them and I was referred to them from one of their other dancers he asked me about how I looked and the conversation went something like this…

Him – “How tall are you?”
Me – “6 foot”
Him – “How much do you weigh?”
Me – “195”
Him – “and how tall are you?”
Me – “6 foot”
Him – “and how much do you weigh?”
Me – “195”

This went on 6 more times and I could hear his interest fading and my job slipping away with each round.  I finally said I just had my body fat percentage tested at the gym and he said “oh great, what is it?” and I let him know I was 10% body fat and that set in the deal.  Off I went to my first cruise ship.

On cruise ships we were also assigned “show weights” and were weighed in on a weekly basis to ensure we stayed in shape. 

During rehearsals for my last cruise ship I stepped out of the studio to use the bathroom and when I walked back in a minute later the choreographer asked me to pick up my shirt.  I was a bit taken back and she asked me again to pick up my shirt because everyone else did I was in the bathroom.  I lifted my shirt and she poked my stomach with her finger and said, “eh it’s okay.”  A few weeks later we were on the ship and it was her last night with us, so we all went to a have a drink with her.  Earlier that day we rehearsed for about 4 hours, did two shows, and I went to the gym for an hour and half.  As I walked into the bar, she looked at me and another cast mate and said, “aren’t you two looking fat!”  She is the reason I turned to bulimia to stay within my allotted show weight. 

The most important part of my story is how I have overcome these challenges.  The truth is there are times I still struggle with body image and eating disorders.  It is hard at times and since I have been more open about my struggles, I have people who help keep me on the right path.  The biggest piece is the financial impact of bulimia.  The amount of money you spend binging on food only to purge it and then the damage it does to your teeth!  I spent around $10,000 fixing my teeth!  How ridiculous is that!

If you have body image issues, eating disorders, or any other mental health issue please get help and know you are not alone.  There are many people who love you and will help get on a healthier path but you have to let people know you need help!

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