perfectionism

Stupidity is Life’s Great Motivator

No one likes to feel stupid.  And something can only be stupid if you recognize you shouldn’t be doing it.  And man, we love to do stupid things anyway, don’t we?!  I prefer not to count the times I knowingly behaved like an idiot to bask in the addictive temporary high.  (Insert here numerous accounts of fleeting dead-end romances with your typical bad-boy, charging a pair of shoes well out of my budget but looked simply divine, and saying yes to an extra job that threw my schedule into a nightmare without any quantifiable gains).  Now how can one, who supposedly has a satisfactory level of intelligence, stop behaving like a brainless dummy?

Acceptance.  Appears simple-minded and self-lovey to the strong-willed hard-worker.   Appears to mean settling, giving up.

Oh the contrary!  Lord knows, “giving up” is not in my syntax.  Yet, continuously transforming myself for the better is some sort of obsessive hobby of mine.  Writing lists of goals and scratching them off brings me utter bliss and an empowering sense of accomplishment that keeps me perpetually paper seeking with pen in hand.   

In hearing about methods of transformation and true change steering from stupidity, acceptance is the “it” word.  From therapist Jenny Taitz, in her book, End Emotional Eating to Mike Tyson, in the NYTimes, the theme of acceptance lies as the root of true transformation. Taitz writes, “…”It’s about allowing yourself to experience negative emotions if they arise while you are moving towards what matters to you. Many unwanted experiences, including thoughts and feelings, can’t be controlled, but you can still commit to actions that keep you living in line with your personal values.”  And as I digest her words, I find Mike Tyson proclaiming a similar truth.  “When I would relapse in the past, I would keep getting high until I was in a car accident or got arrested.  But this time, after drinking for two or three days, I came back.  I didn’t wait for an intervention.  I just got right back on the wagon.  After years of therapy, I had learned not to beat up on myself.  I remembered that relapse is part of the recovery.”

While I have no problem identity closer with lovely, kind, intelligent Jenny, I never thought I had much in common with pit bull Mr. Tyson, yet his humble comment makes me reconsider.

As a dancer, beating up on myself, once seemed like a badge of honor.  It implied I was one who worked hard and sacrificed for my craft to become one step closer to sweet, idolized perfection. Naturally, when this abusive mindset crept into my life as an eating disorder, I was addicted to the sense of control.  I felt accomplished, because I no longer emotionally binged ate (a.k.a. acted stupid) through my stress and tumultuous emotions surrounding my college career.

Yet years later, at a healthy weight and a less obsessive mind-set, I continued to emotionally eat.  The same root problem existed – food as an emotional buffer.  I’d be stressed.  I’d be exhausted.  I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to procrastinate.  Instead of dealing in a manner that alleviated or enhanced my emotion, I’d dive straight for Stacy’s whole wheat pita chips.  Then in a shame spiral, I’d privately throw out the bag of chips that I ate in one sitting so my roommate would never discover my piggish ways – buying and finishing the bag in 24 hours.  I wanted to eat “like a lady,” and fuel in a wholesome way, to coincide with the healthy lifestyle I claimed to honor.

It’s only when I started to recognize and identify my emotions and then accept them (and I’ll add, choose to love myself enough to give myself the upmost care – sans sabotage), that I felt like a complete idiot with my hand diving in a bag of chips.  It started to make no sense.  I knew I was not hungry.  I was actually upset.  And I still would be, with or without the chips.  It became really hard to feel like an idiot and go along with choice idiotic behavior anyway.  I opted to address the emotion, the root issue at hand, rather than place blame on myself and try to stop binge eating cold turkey. All of a sudden, as I sat on the couch and looked at my salty hand feeding my mouth like a foreign demon child who didn’t know any better, and quite frankly never got the invite to sit next to me on the couch in the first place – I felt stupid. And, feeling stupid is an awesome motivator.

To be motivated by stupidity, acknowledgment and then acceptance must follow.  We must listen and notice our habitual patterns and accept our emotions with grace. If Mike Tyson is no longer biting ears, hitting the bottle, and shooting up drugs, and can come to the same wave-length as scholarly, clear-minded therapist Jenny Taitz, we all have some room to turn our stupid behaviors into smart ones (and perhaps these two spectrums aren’t much different from one another).  It may take quieting our inner ruthless bad-ass in exchange for patience and a gentler internal dialogue, but this just may result in “much less-stupider” decisions in our future.

(PS – If you are interested in Jenny Taitz’s book, End Emotional Eating click here.)

Become Radiant.

We are so good at measuring ourselves up against expectations, striving for control, and insisting on being on the inside.  We strive to get that promotion, hear back from that date, have a child before 35, own our own apartment with a particular address, have our children accepted into the best schools, prepare and eat only the healthiest of meals, have the clearest of skin, look amazing in that LBD for Sussie’s wedding, and obviously have all the best moves when that music starts to jive.  As dancers, it’s owning the most supreme of arches in our feet, the highest extensions in our legs, a most creative, contributive mind in the midst of a new process, a limitless sense of ballon, swift learning capabilities, the most rotated hip sockets, and assessing whether we have the perfect balance of strength and the desirable aesthetic of hyperextension.

Hello, everything that doesn’t actually matter.

Whenever we operate under these terms, we are inevitably either winning or losing the rat race.  When we believe we measure up we are floating on top of it all, but damn, when we believe we missed the mark the downward spiral is U.G.L.Y.

Rosamund Stone Zander and her husband Benjamin Zander co-authored a book, “The Art of Possibility,” (genius and an easy read if you ask me!) which unmasks the calculating persona we often hold and suggests living from our more central selves.  Rosamund eludes, “the calculating self exists in the world of scarcity and deficiency while the central self operates under conditions of wholeness and sufficiency” (83).

When we start to become aware of our calculating ways, the things that wreak of insecurity and of not having it all, we can start to operate with our central selves where we know that we live in a world of possibilities; we already possess everything we could ever need if we just choose to see the world through a more abundant, optimistically constructive, and (truthfully) more accurate lens.

In terms of dance, which I tend to see all of life be reflected, I can liken the calculating v. central self to the beloved it factor.  We all know the it factor – when we experience a performing artist – someone on stage who, for some reason or another, for reasons that seem impossible to define, we can’t take our eyes off of them.  They exude this special quality, this clarity, this pureness that is utterly irresistible.  The it factor is present when that person is being their most central self.  They are not performing from a place of not enough – not enough technical prowess, artistic competence, not enough stamina.  Or of wanting to be on the inside – wanting to be loved by the audience, their directors, the critics.  Or of measuring their perceived success – against their last performance, against their fellow dancers, against the company that graced the stage before them.  They are operating from a place of complete abundance and possibility.  There is nothing in that moment they can’t conquer, relish, and indulge in.  Even if a moment doesn’t go as planned, that newness brings a fresh possibility, an added flare to their performance, and an extra zing of excitement to their gut.  All of which captivatingly transcends to us as beholders.

Sometimes I love not knowing all the dance moves.  I take myself off the hook, a.ka. zero expectations (already a strike against the offensive calculating self).

During this past Parsons Summer Intensive, I was taking Elena d’Amario’s modern class, on the second day – so a large part of the combination was already taught and I was left playing catch up.  Crapola.  I was taking class with all the students from the intensive, who while they believed the pressure was on them to perform to their best, we believed as company members that it was our job to be as fabulous as expected, implying dancing at a high level of competence and retaining material without a glitch.  This was completely impossible in this situation.  Dancing a whole song, in which I only properly learned the second half, I was inevitably going to make mistakes.  But I didn’t care.  I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect and I knew I was only going to have the chance to do the combination that afternoon, and I was more than happy with those facts.  I had the best time performing my heart out, doing the moves I knew the best I could and either making up the parts I didn’t know (yes, making stuff up that feels right can be oh-so-fun) or doing the moves on the end of the beat as the rest of the group played to the top of the notes to jolt my memory.  I wasn’t concerned that my boss, colleagues, and students were watching me have a flaw-filled performance – because damn, I was having a good time.  In full disclosure, and fortunate for this moment, I had the privilege of being a part of the company for 5 years and did not feel the need to prove my worth and talent (hello calculating self).  Unfortunately, this was not always my mindset – although it should have been.  I worked for years, concerned about how David (my boss) and my colleagues perceived my movements and those moments only short-changed my experiences and my dancing.

And now I challenge non-dancing phenomenal women to embody their inner it factor.  Whether performing or not (and all life is a performance, is it not?! I believe Liza would agree), the it factor can shine when you are walking down the street in sheer utter bliss without a care in the world, feeling at your most free.  (Sometimes it’s with the best song in your ears, the sun shining with the slightest 73 degree breeze strutting Madison Avenue with your favorite outfit on, post-blow out.  But don’t be fooled, it can just as easily happen when you are caught in the rain, ruining your shoes, freezing cold, and left with nothing but your nearly-broken paper bag of groceries).  You become untouchable, unbreakable.  You are approachable and intriguing.  People take note of your glow.  It’s when out of nowhere you make friends with a stranger on the street.  It is when you are talking with someone you just had an argument with and you express yourself honestly, without accusing or disregarding the other’s actions or feelings.  It’s when you lead a meeting or give a speech and you are not concerning yourself with petty thoughts of your wrinkled shirt, patronizing eyes of those waiting on your words that are suppose to be of mind-shattering caliber, or whether or not you turned off your stove.  You are truly impassioned with your words of the moment and you feel so strongly about your message and its potential to enlighten and motivate others.

Stuff can happen in your performance or (if you insist…) day, that you don’t plan for and that can initially bring forth a feeling of “oh-crap,” but it need not.  If you think you need to change something in order to be completely fulfilled, your calculating self is wreaking its havoc as it loves to do.  The oh-so-wise Rosamund, suggests we inquire within ourselves as a means of finding our calculating ways:

What would have to change for me to be completely fulfilled?

Our answers often point to our insecurities and our calculating selves’ ruthless attempts of success, belonging, and control.  So boo-hoo!  If we don’t take ourselves so damn seriously, then those moments aren’t as colossal and therefore, can’t take us down.

So world, if you haven’t already noticed, a slew of women are laughing in the ugly face of control and are unleashing their most fabulous, it-moment selves right and left, so take heed…and don’t be blinded by their inner radiance!

The Weight of 20 Pounds: A Battle Worth Fighting

I wish I could say I wasn’t plagued by the upsetting dancer-with-eating-disorder cliché, but unfortunately life decided to teach me a lesson instead.  (Don’t you just love that?)  My struggle reared its ugly head while in the middle of my college career, but its origins started way before then when I would nitpick more than just my technique in the mirror as a dance-crazed teenager.  Perfection was what I was after, and I thought I found the surest path to get an extra inch closer.  In reality, those shedded inches were traded for self-deprivation, not only of my physical being, but of my inner pride.  Quite the shame.  Here’s my story, to help abate yours or nip it in your perfect size tush before the seed is even planted.

As a type-A girl who strives for perfection I took control over one more element in my life to achieve a skewed version of greater success.  In entire honesty, I never felt I was restraining myself from food.  I never felt I was even trying “that” hard to lose weight.  My goal was to get into good shape before my next semester at college, and to me, good shape didn’t exactly refer to stamina or strength as much as it did to appearing more “dancerly.”  In the summer months prior to my junior year at Marymount Manhattan College, I was enrolled in a summer course in nutrition.  The class opened up my mind to a better, healthier diet, but, go figure, I took those lessons to the extreme.  I started actively reading labels for more wholesome ingredients and became tediously aware of serving sizes.   All positive health improvements, but only when followed with an air of casual knowledge rather than intense absolutes.

Upon my return to Marymount, teachers took note of my more slender figure.  “Christina you look so thin, don’t lose any more weight please.”  Being told I was thin was a compliment to me.  It brought a devilish smile to my face when someone acknowledged my deteriorating figure.  While I didn’t actively change my newfound eating habits, I continued to slowly lose more weight.  In my head I just thought I was maintaining the slender figure I had proudly achieved.  However, instead I was wasting away and achieving the not-so-sexy skin and bones look.  Let’s set the record straight – I was extremely thin, too thin, by anyone’s standards.  Probably around 100 pound on my medium-build, 5’5 frame.  Yet it remained easy for me to see someone with a more severe case of anorexia as sickly; where their bones were all you saw protruding harshly at rigid angles to form a horrid semblance of a natural figure.  Can you cry, “Denial?”  I was convinced there was nothing wrong with my body, that I didn’t have any disorder, and my pitifully constrained dinners were what someone who performed with their body should have been eating.  I wonder, scared to think how far away I was from this extremeness.  Probably not as far off as I thought; my mental delusion was on par for diving into the deep end.

I stopped listening to my body’s gauge of hunger and analyzed my meals as if it was possible for them to be graded.  It was the realization I really ate at least 4 servings of hummus and crackers in a sitting without hesitation, eagerly going back for seconds, that spawned the desire to shift some habits.  Additionally, I would try not to eat too close to bed time;  possibly allowing myself to indulge in some carrots or some other veggie if I was ravenous and felt like I couldn’t make it through the night.  (Couldn’t make it?! All I was doing was sleeping, but I obviously put myself on such an impossible regimen.)  It was valid to strive for diversity and nutrients in my diet, but it was critical to ingest the calories I as a dancer burned during the day to be prepared for the physical work required.  Any time I absent-mindedly stuffed my face with trail mix or some other pathetic “bird-like” semblance of a meal, guilt ensued.   Then I would try to compensate at the next meal, to ease the guilt away.  How sad to be so pre-occupied with the cyclical thoughts of food, eating, and guilt when there were so many other more productive, positive, care-free thoughts to be had.  I was taking my own life away from myself when I thought I was taking control of it.

The most tragic part?  I felt great.  What more do you need to continue with a downward spiral?  I felt on top of my dance game, when I was truly at the bottom.  I no longer had to hop, wiggle, and squat my way into my skinny jeans fresh out of the wash, and the thought of “Do I look fat in this?” was relieved from my concerns because I was aware I was thin, just not aware I was too thin.  This was the kicker; the fact that I knew I was skinny allowed me to take class in a freer state of mind and ride the wave of my deformed, yet positive view of my body.  I would be in my pink tights and proud to stand in an arabesque facing entirely profile to the mirror.  I didn’t have one thought of, “Ugh, that low belly and thigh are a bit unfortunate.”  Perfect!  I was free to think about sailing around effortlessly in a promenade, luxuriating in my épaulement, and smoothly accentuating whatever turnout I could muster with a sense of hard-earned contentment.  To top it off, I didn’t get my period for 9 months.  While I knew in the back of my mind this was bad, I would be lying if I didn’t say it was glorious to be cramp and bloat free. (To be bloated at 100 pounds seems like an impossible feat.)  I wish I could have added crabby to the list, but while I don’t particularly recall feeling temperamental while in this fragile state, I cannot imagine a body without enough fuel fostering a peaceful mind.

This entire time, I thought I was doing good for myself – caring for my instrument and being performance ready.  What made me come to the realization I was off my rocker?  My parents were scared for me and were near tears when they came to see me perform.  They told me they were going to get me help and that I needed to put on weight.  Seeing their urgency about an issue I thought didn’t exist, especially to warrant their extreme reaction, made me reconsider.  I also honestly knew in my gut not getting my period was my body’s way of shutting down and not functioning as a woman’s should.  Gratefully, the intervention was something I was willing to accept.  I did have concern for my optimal health and the repercussions of losing bone density and being at risk of injury, potentially greatly halting my dancing career all together, horribly frightened me.  Almost as much as (heaven forbid!) putting on some weight.

Gradually seeing the poundage creep on to my scrawny frame and maintaining a sense of self-pride was the most challenging aspect of the struggle.  Losing the weight and controlling my appetite was easy.  Five extra pounds, on the other hand, felt like I was wearing a balloon suit while doing pliés at the barré.  One of the hardest things for me was to get accustomed to having boobs again.  And by boobs, I am referring to my lovely A-cup chest.  Having these mounds of excess flesh with a mind of their own attached smack in the front of my body was hard to grapple with while I stuffed them into the same leotard that once housed essentially just my nipples.  A woman with a chest didn’t exactly measure up to this fantastical, adolescent dancer image I conjured and idolized, making my breasts a source of agony and symbolized me being out of shape rather than simply a beautiful woman.

Along my road to recovery, I became heavier than I was before I was sick.  I intuitively felt I would need to go further in the opposite direction, before I could balance myself and feel at my healthiest.  I let this new heavier body, limit my dancing.  It disabled me because I didn’t feel prideful.  It was a distraction that took me out of the work and into the mirror, concerned with the appearance of movement rather than the movement itself.  The honest truth was my mind hadn’t made as much of a shift as I had believed and hoped; I still critically judged my body.

It is this mindset, so prevalent in dancers, that serves as the initiation to take drastic measures to senselessly curb food intake.  So you need to cut the cycle in your thought process.  

While muddling through this mental shift, I had a nauseating number of helpful conversations with my loving and patient mother, but I will never forget her once uttered words I vehemently disagreed with, “This might always be something you struggle with.”  Excuse me? Always?  Absolutely not.  In a beautifully unpredictable world filled with ever evolving minds, nothing remains constant and people never cease to amaze with their capacity to change, adapt, and shift through the obstacles of life.  If my mind has done a 180 degree turn around when it comes to everything from boyfriends, education, Freudian philosophies, tofu, and the Muppets, then there is absolutely no reason why a mental shift around proper eating habits isn’t possible.  So the words “you might never like the way you look,” and “this will always be an issue” is the biggest pile of crap I’ve ever heard.

Now how do you start this shift?

I did see a therapist to help sort through the emotional turmoil and wrap my mind around the seriousness of the issue.  It was helpful to acknowledge all the thoughts and relationships I had growing up that nurtured this twisted mentality.  Honestly however, I didn’t feel our sessions were extremely insightful, and ultimately she encouraged me to fulfill the work I needed to do on myself.  After a few weekly sessions, I let our time together go and kept an introspective gaze on my reoccurring thoughts.

I repeatedly recited to myself, “I have to fuel my body and this is me and it’s beautiful.”   Various self-loving mantras under a protective veil of inner patience would immediately follow any critical and harshly guilty digs to myself.   I reminded myself of the stunning power in a womanly figure and began to believe the asexual, prepubescent look was not all that and a bag of chips (let’s be real, it was no chips!).  The clothes that once sagged on my wilted tushie had a field day with the comeback of my bubble butt.  Me, on the other hand, initially gawked in the mirror, not so proudly and with a tinge of disgust, before my womanly sass and ass eventually became too much fun to not saunter and flaunt in the heyday of my early twenties.

Nevertheless, in the guts of this mental battle, life threw me tests.  A phone call from a director, chatting about an upcoming season asked me if I planned on getting in shape for it.  “You know. Slim down.”  In complete defense mode, I claimed I didn’t need to and wasn’t willing to drop pounds and sacrifice my health.  A proud moment for myself.  The harsh reality – I wasn’t in my best shape.  However, negotiating the thin line between healthy eating habits and obsessive, pre-occupied ones was too sensitive a debate for me to embark upon at the time.

Ahh! The challenge of being a performing artist.

While performing a visual art form, there is a need to be physically fit.  Some companies (not all, and this should play a part when deciding where you work) are known for maintaining a physical aesthetic, and to ignore this fact would be unrealistic.  The physical work done on a daily basis in the studio prepares our bodies for the strength, stamina, and flexibility necessary.  Sometimes the work is enough to maintain a lean and strong physique, and other times as a performer you have to step up your game when an important show is coming up to make sure you feel your best.

Yes, you take class in front of a mirror all day long.  Yes, you are there captiously sharpening your technique to extreme levels of excellence, and those critiques can sneakily enter your perception of your body.  When are you done striving for the perfect figure and instead enjoy the one you’ve been blessed with?   When the meticulous training and body affliction is all you focus on, you are not dancing.  You are merely moving and fretting.  You won’t get in better shape from worrying tediously at every moment.  There has to come a point when the look of the body is disassociated from the movement, and the beauty of the dance take over.

Let go of compulsive premeditation about meals and issue yourself freedom and an open mind to thoughts of significance.  Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.  Eat what makes your body feel good and function at its optimum.  Or don’t, and then fully indulge and enjoy!  Tacking on any guilt with eating something less than nutritious or eating too much of something is absurd.  Food is pleasure and is to be savored.  Being mad at oneself only perpetuates the ugly cycle of emotional eating.  Don’t get upset at yourself.  Laugh at its ridiculous reoccurrence, grant yourself patience without judgement, and let it go – no matter how long this lesson takes. To unleash your fullest capacity as an artist and simply as a happy person, navigating a health relationship with food and your body is a battle worth fighting.