I know I shouldn't -- but I do. That is, I go on the scale every morning. I am the graduate of enough weight loss programs to know that weight fluctuates on a daily basis and weighing oneself once a week is quite sufficient, but I can't help myself. To make matters worse, my primitive scale is a far cry from the doctor's scale I had in my childhood home. The scale I visit each morning has a digital display and it is temperamental. I have to bend down to see the display (I put in my contact lenses after I weigh myself) and as I move, so do the numbers.
I grew up with a doctor's scale and a mother who was a 100-pound loser and gainer. Her weight was like a yo-yo and she, too was addicted to the scale. Although I did not fluctuate as much as she did, I had weight issues that stemmed from another source -- my intensive professional ballet training as a child.
I entered George Balanchine's School of American Ballet at age 8. It was my dream to be accepted there, since it was the premier ballet school in NY. At the audition, the teachers inspected each girl's body, lifted each leg and had us do a combination. I was ecstatic when I was accepted. At that time I was petite, always the smallest one in my elementary school classes, and not in the least self-conscious. Several times a week I would slip on a leotard, tights and ballet slippers and go to class. My Russian teachers called me "Masha" from day one and I gave up correcting them and was known as "Masha" for the next 7 years.
I exhibited a fair amount of talent as evidenced by my placement in the front row. I loved to dance and I loved my classes. The studio was in Manhattan and I lived in Flushing, Queens, so my mother drove me there several times a week -- over an hour away. My mother became pregnant with another child when I was 11 and she told me that if I wanted to continue to dance, I would have to take the subway. That meant walking half a mile to the subway station and taking three trains and walking to the studio on 83rd and Broadway. I did it because I loved to dance.
But something else was happening as I pursued my dancing career. I was growing up and the ballet school administrators decided I was fat -- not normal "fat," but "ballet dancer fat." In other words, not super skinny, as was the ideal. I was petite and never developed a Balanchine body. I watched with envy as some of my classmates -- Coleen Neary, Gelsey Kirkland and Linda Hamilton -- grew into tall, sinewy girl/women with long necks and forever legs. They also developed strange eating habits and I observed my fellow dancers subsiding entire summers on italian ices and diet soda, while taking several dance classes a day. While I always ate real meals, I also developed terrible guilty feelings about it.
Even in high school I was the smallest girl in the class. I had developed dancer's muscles in my legs and frankly didn't have any excess fat. The ballet school administrators called my mother repeatedly to tell her that I needed to lose weight. I realized that no amount of weight loss would make me grow or change my body shape to a Balanchine body.
The ballet school's message did invade me though and I developed a distorted self-image -- I thought I was fat. I remember asking my dad if I looked fat in an outfit. He remarked that a size 4 could not possibly be fat. I think of his response often.
All my life I have been fighting the Russian ballet demon message that was implanted in my head during my childhood. I am still petite, and I still haven't passed the minimum weight to donate blood. The numbers on the scale are just that -- numbers on a scale, but as they fluctuate, so does my mood. I will not let numbers define me -- I am healthy and active, and that is what I continue to strive for daily.