I teach ballet at a professional ballet school in which we have a highly competitive training program. Today we discussed one student who has stopped eating but is living in our residence so is technically under our care. She is telling one story to her mum, another to her ballet teachers and yet another to the residence guardians. Every day she finds a new excuse to not eat: she is not hungry, she is sick, she is tired, she doesn’t like the food on offer…..
The list is endless. It is what people with ED do – make up reasons not to eat or to avoid situations involving food. I know because I do it every day. It broke my heart listening to the other teachers discuss her.
“Anorexics are so manipulative.”
“People with eating disorders are pathological liars.”
“She is just so difficult.”
“Look at her! Her ribs are sticking out and she can barely make it through class because she is so weak. How can she not understand that her body needs fuel?”
“She should be put on probation.”
I stood there trying to explain her behaviour to them. The truth is that ED does not make this girl is not a bad person – she is suffering, she is pain, she is desperately in need of help. I am the only ED sufferer on staff but no one knows to what extent. They also don’t know that I am currently in the middle of my epic relapse (although a few of my colleagues have made comments about my diminishing weight). It makes me sad that they think they know how to deal with this girl (she is 16), when all their strategies make me cringe. These strategies will just make her a better liar. They will make her find other ways to cut calories – purging, laxatives, over exercising – anything to compensate for being forced to eat and for losing that control.
I stand there feeling torn between knowing what this student is suffering and knowing what is right for her to get on the path to recovery. I can hardly out myself to all my colleagues just to shut them up and get them to listen to me. I want to stand there and scream, “I know because I am anorexic/bulimic/effed up!” But, I don’t.
I tell them that I will l take charge of the situation. I volunteer to call her mother and have the meetings with her. I want to be there because if anyone knows what this girl needs, sadly, it would be me. I feel an overwhelming responsibility to all my dancers to make sure that they never turn out like me. I want them to be healthy, whole and happy. They deserve nothing less, these precious beings.