That's Not Me Anymore
Our sense of identity can be a funny thing. Everyone has asked at some point, “Who am I?”
If you were asked how you define yourself, what would you say?
Personally, I used to be a student, and now I’m a writer. Most often I identify simply as a redhead, a woman, or by my traditional belief system.
But for many years, the answer was exclusively and unequivocally dancer.
As a little girl, I was incredibly shy in social situations and in an attempt to cure me of that affliction my parents enrolled me in classes at a local dance academy. I loved it right off the bat and lived in my leotard. Soon I was dancing almost twenty hours a week. I learned the meaning of "no pain, no gain" at a young age, but I was unquestionably happy and secure in who I was as a dancer.
But then I grew up and reached an awkward height, all skin and bones. My teacher would point out my physical flaws to the rest of the company and encourage them to laugh at me. It was so stressful that my hair started to fall out in chunks.
I went from the sure knowledge that I was delicate and precious to feeling like a freak of nature.
For the first time, the thing that I was most sure of — that I had a gift, that I was graceful, that I was worthy – came into question. Was I still a dancer if I didn’t look like the other dancers? I went from the sure knowledge that I was delicate and precious to feeling like a freak of nature.
Switching studios seemed like the best option when my parents and I assessed the emotional damage I was enduring with a verbally abusive instructor. But if you’ve ever switched schools or workplaces, you know how difficult it can be to start over somewhere even if you’ve got the skills to succeed. It took a long time to adjust to a smaller studio and a teacher who was more lax.
The girls in my new classes had all developed their curves and I was still flat as a board and taller than the rest of the girls, so, my new teacher gave me the male roles in recitals. There was a clear hierarchy and I knew I fit somewhere around the bottom of the pyramid. Over time, I became comfortable, and once again started to feel more secure in myself.
One day against my better judgment, I let a friend teach me to skateboard and I shattered my ankle. After a couple operations and a year of physiotherapy, I returned to dance to learn that I was so far behind my classmates that catching up didn’t seem likely. I was told in a moment of candor from my instructor that I would hold my friends back if I tried to compete again.
I was lost. I had little choice but to quit dance after 14 painful but fulfilling years. My heart and my hopes were broken, and I was left wondering who I was and how to pick up those pieces.
After that, I was a lot like a chameleon, seeking even more to gain the approval of those around me, and to fit into any group I encountered. I tried to hide my flaws, physical and internal; anything to be accepted and appreciated. I felt I had thrown away the love dancing had earned me by growing too tall, too boy-ish, or too sensitive.
I would daydream about someone seeing my flaws and loving me anyway, but I never believed it was possible. It took time for me to find that my identity is found in something that goes beyond my skills or appearance.
Maybe you identify as a great beauty or a do-it-yourselfer, an athlete or a parent, a scholar or a salesperson: those things will change. We all want to know that we are worth something, to be acknowledged as being something important that won’t change with the weather.
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