Proud2Bme | Healing Through Movement: My Body's Narrative

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Healing Through Movement: My Body's Narrative

By Kimberly Neil--Most people have a way they choose to express themselves. Writing, performing, playing a team sport, hitting the gym, getting emotionally invested in TV shows, books, or music – there are so many healthy options.

Dance has always been my favorite way to find balance, especially when things are hard. Writing is a close second, but there is something special about being able to use an emotion that might be difficult to explain and apply that energy to movement.

Ironically enough, my experience with developing an eating disorder was primarily triggered by being so invested in dance. I think the most challenging aspect of being a dancer and having an eating disorder is the conflict between wanting to embrace being a perfectionist and having to face corrections and criticism without letting those corrections turn into an overpowering source of negativity.

Last semester I was finally able to start dancing again after almost two years. Before starting college, my eating disorder in combination with an injury made me realize that regardless of how committed I was to continuing to train as a pre-professional dancer, the likelihood of becoming a professional ballet dancer wasn’t that realistic of a goal.  I thought that I would rather quit dance than face that reality, which made me even more dependent on my eating disorder as a way to deflect my feelings.

When I transferred to a new college, I realized that those years away from the dance studio hadn’t cured my disorder. I thought I would be more motivated to give recovery my all if I could feel that level of happiness that only happens in the studio and on stage. There’s a cliché saying: “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” In this case, that turned out to be 100% correct. Being back in the studio made me feel OK for a while, but then the negativity of my disorder became overpowering.

A little over a month into my first semester at this amazing new college with dance classes that I absolutely loved, I found myself checking in to an inpatient unit in a hospital on the other side of the state. My disorder reached a point where I no longer felt like I was in control because even though I wanted to dance, I couldn’t ignore serious health complications any longer. After leaving inpatient, dance was no longer an option, and that was potentially one of the darkest places I’ve ever been in mentally.

While I can’t say that I’ve found a magic cure, I was able to get back in the studio this semester. Some days are harder than others, and struggle with balancing a body that isn’t 100% healthy while working to recover and make the most of what I have left of college. Whenever I feel like my eating disorder is my entire identity, I try to remind myself that I was a dancer first.

Movement is what I have, and it’s what I want to share most with the world. I think this semester has given me a chance to be creative and share little pieces of my story with others, and one of the ways this has happened is having the freedom to dance and write for one of my classes, which means I get to turn something academic into something personal.

Opening up about my experience is almost always empowering, but it can also feel impossible to talk or write about it when a grade is involved. Two specific subjects I was really inspired by are stigma surrounding mental illness and the way society can influence or intensify an eating disorder.  (Stigma is the relationship between a person and something they cannot fully separate themselves from, but it is also the way they are treated by others because of this relationship.) So, I decided to take these two topics and use movement to communicate what I feel like words can’t communicate.

When I dance about this stuff, it’s for anyone that can relate. Having a voice doesn’t always require speaking or writing. I hope both of these combinations show that, and more importantly, I hope someone else feels inspired to share their story creatively as well. 

About this blogger: Kimberly is a rising junior at Mount Holyoke College, a woman's liberal arts college in South Hadley, MA. She is currently studying Anthropology but planning to switch to a self-designed major. Her interests include ballet, performing, choreographing, writing, binge watching documentaries on Netflix, and taking too many pictures with friends. She plans to pursue grad school (hopefully overseas!) and research mental illness, specifically eating disorders. She also hopes to one day work to change laws around mental health in the United States and promote the idea that women around the world should have autonomy over their bodies. 

Also by Kimberly:

"Kylie Jenner Lips" and People of Color

People of Color and Mental Illness: An In-Depth Interview with Dior Vargas

#BLACKOUT: Black Self-Love on Social Media

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