My Relationship with my Body

So here’s the thing: I’ve grown a lot thicker since even eighth grade. What’s surprised me is my own attitude about it.

I don’t think I can just be “accepting” of my own body. Unfortunately, ballet is not a sport—it’s an art form, and art is created and curated for visual pleasure. We as a society haven’t reached the point where skinny and plump are interchangably beautiful, probably for the very real reason that obesity is unhealthy, and it’s survival instinct to be attracted to fit people in order to replicate healthy genes. My point is that no one goes to watch a fat ballerina dance. It’s visually unpleasing. Essentially, my body is my tool for my craft in the same way a pianist’s piano is, for instance, or an artist’s canvas and paints. Your art is limited in some respects by the quality of your main tool. And the quality of a ballerina’s body is comprised of height, flexibility, strength, and thinness. I used to have decent amounts of each. What happened to the last?

I’ve always thanked ballet for the things it’s taught me: a meticulous attention to detail, discipline and self-motivation, that “good enough” are the two most harmful words in the English language. If you know me, you see the evidence of these attitudes all over the way I push myself, interact with people, conduct leadership, etc. If you really know me, you know that I’ve been struggling with balancing perfectionism with acceptance of myself—where’s the happy medium? Where’s the point where I can drive myself to improve but love myself all the same?

The only word I have for my body right now is hate, because the balance is way tipped over to perfectionism. Trust me, I notice the way my thighs bulge out when I wear my shorts that no longer fit. I notice the stretch of my leggings, I notice the width of my ribs. Most of all, I notice the shape of my body when I’m standing at the barre, staring specifically at the shape of my legs—am I turning out from the hip?—and sucking in my stomach, scrutinizing every detail of my body. Fat. You’re fat. Ballet has taught me to reach constantly for perfection, and it kills me that I’m thick, especially when I used to be so thin.

Fat. You’re fat. Yesterday I stared at my body in the mirror and all I could feel was pure disgust. I tell myself that I’m fat, call myself disgusting, because the biggest tragedy is that I’m pretty sure that the cause of my controlling attitude toward my body is my total and complete lack of control. First of all, I attribute some of it to the fact that genetically, I seem to bulk up when I exercise. Meaning, while most of my ballet friends still have stick-skinny thighs, mine get bigger and ‘fatter’ as I practice more and more ballet. I’m a little bitter about that, but it’s manageable. This is the killer: second, I have an unhealthy relationship with food. Period. I eat for pleasure, not for sustenance, out of boredom rather than need. Isn’t that gluttony? It’s a habit developed out of years. My Isabella nature is that I can’t tolerate unthankfulness, unappreciativeness, etc. and I also listen to authority. Let me explain.

My mom told me that when I was little, she would pile food on my plate and tell me to eat, to keep eating, added more and more food, and I obediently ate and ate, until I threw up.

She was scared I didn’t have enough, because her own childhood self didn’t. And that’s the very understandable attitude that she’s always taken towards our mealtimes. “I don’t want to hear you refuse food,” she says. And I’ve always finished my plate, no matter how sick it makes me feel, because I know my grandparents have put hours of work into each meal. And I’ve always yelled at Andrew for leaving half his food untouched—”I’m not hungry though!”—because if he wants to show his appreciation, he’d better eat every last grain of rice. And my older brother even used to call me anorexic. That bothered me to the core, and I ate more and more to prove to him that I wasn’t. “Eat more, Bella. Mom, Dad, Bella isn’t eating enough.”

Let. Me. Control. What. I. eat.

Control, I guess you could call me someone who craves control. And this all should be ok: after all, I’ve talked to my parents and starting a year ago they agreed to let me make my own eating choices. But my past has informed my present. I eat a lot and I overeat. That’s the choice I make over and over again. And physically trying to prevent myself… let’s just say that that’s been my struggle.

That’s my struggle: I want so much to lose fat, to become skinny and pretty again, but my attitude towards food is so ingrained that it makes it all a bitter battle. I’m fighting for control and I’m losing.

If you know me and I know you, you’re probably going to want to comment something like, “You’re beautiful just the way you are.” The ballet-hardened perfectionist inside me would beg to differ. I actually need to be skinny in order to produce beautiful ballet. It’s my own inability to overcome my own attitude towards food that bothers me so much, my own lack of control. I’m sure that calling myself fat isn’t the most healthy option for spurring me towards real change. And trust me, I’m not going to go anorexic. I just wish that this were one of those things that I could surrender and be okay with. That I had the luxury of accepting my own body and calling myself beautiful—that I could relax my standards or obliterate them entirely. But for now, I’m sure there’s a healthy diet plan that I can feasibly get on, prepare my own meals, convince my mom that I’m not killing myself, start losing fat. I don’t think I’ll be physically able to do any of this until I find a semblance of balance. Perfectionism vs. acceptance.

Today, I went to the doctor’s office and I weighed in at 130 pounds. I never dreamed of being that heavy—124 was already hellish, and I was planning on losing 10 pounds then. Even typing that number, I’m cringing. Let’s make that 115, Isabella. By Nutcracker season. I’m sure that’s ok. You’re fat and ugly, Isabella. I’m sure that’s not. Hate as a tool vs. love as a tool. Which is more effective?


Isabella Zou – 7/29/17,

remembering Alexei.


3 thoughts on “My Relationship with my Body

  1. Hey Isabella,

    Your story is very heartfelt and in a way I can relate to it. I have learnt and am still learning that I should “let go”; Let go and find a balance in just, living. Ballet is a hard art form that does consider your body’s appearance but it is the way you dance that captures the audience’s attention. You are more than you appear to be. When you let go of control it will eventually fall into place. You just got to believe that you can achieve it. I hope this comment connects with you. You are not alone in this attitude, there are definitely many girls, dancers or not who are uncomfortable in their bodies. I hope you find peace in yourself. Much love, May xx


    • Hi May,
      Thank you so much for your kind and heartfelt comment! The fact that you took time to write that means so much to me. I really have been working on letting go in many respects of my life lately. I’m trying very hard to let that attitude bleed into ballet—it hasn’t quite happened yet, because ballet is in many ways all about pushing yourself rather than letting go. But your reminder that I’m not alone hits home, since I always forget that the people who seem perfect on the outside are also struggling. Thank again for your thoughts ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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