Dancing to a Different Reflection
From Radiance Spring 1998
Dance Dimension's recital was well into its second hour when Ginny's mind began to wander. She had lost count of the ballerinas, gymnasts, and tap dancers who had graced the stage since her four-year-old daughter, Lindsay, had performed. So she decided to amuse herself by reading the names on the program. Ginny was almost finished with the roster for the tenth act when her mother leaned over and whispered in her ear.
"Look at that chubby ballerina," she said in her most disapproving tone. Her mother's caustic remark made Ginny quickly look up from her program. She focused once again on the stage, where ten 9-year-olds were lined up, each one dressed in pale pink. It didn't take long for Ginny to figure out which ballerina her mother was talking about.
The "chubby" ballerina didn't look much different from the other nine-year-olds on the stage. She was dressed in the same pink leotard, with a ring of tulle encircling her waist. Her blonde hair was gathered into a bun, and a pink ribbon, similar to the other girls' ribbons, was tied around it. The only difference between her and the other ballerinas was her size. Her legs were heavy under her white tights, and the leotard she wore highlighted her round body.
This unusual ballerina was indeed "chubby." Ginny cringed as she thought of that word. She could still remember the humiliation of looking through the Sears catalog with her mother, trying to find an outfit they both liked in the "chubby" section. "Look," her mother would exclaim, "the vertical stripes on this jumper would make you look so much slimmer." Ginny would agree with her mother and order the vertical stripes, even though she really wanted the dress with the red polka dots that she had seen in the "regular" girls' section. Even now that she was grown up and had a daughter of her own, she still wore only vertical stripes. Horizontal stripes had never touched Ginny's ample body.
"She's a brave little girl," Ginny whispered to her mother, as they watched this special ballerina prance across the stage. She was a natural performer. She smiled as she showcased her talent, reveling in the attention. She twirled and stepped gracefully in time to the music, obviously not worried about how she looked in the tutu. Ginny admired the self-confidence that this girl obviously possessed.
I wish I could have been like that when I was young, Ginny thought to herself. As a preteen, Ginny had hidden in her room, listening to music, reading fashion magazines, and dreaming of the day when she would be thin like the models she saw pictured. When a favorite song would come on the radio, Ginny would get up and twirl around in front of her full-length mirror, pretending that she was a famous dancer. But Ginny hadn't dared to take dance lessons. She was too afraid of what the other girls would say if they saw her in the form-fitting outfit dancers were required to wear. Ginny now realized that if she hadn't been so afraid of what others would think of her large size, she could have had more fun. She could have learned to dance.
Ginny didn't dare to share this personal regret with her size 8 mother. Like many large women, Ginny avoided discussing fat acceptance with anyone who bragged that she had gained only five pounds since her wedding forty years ago. And, besides, she knew any discussion they had about weight would be about losing it, not accepting it.
As an adult, Ginny thought she had learned to like her natural weight, but now she realized that she still hid her shape from the outside world as much as possible. Ginny recalled with shame the hours she had spent in department stores looking for the least revealing tentlike garment to hide her ample figure. Heaven forbid that her dress should fit like a glove!
How she envied the young ballerina's bravery, nine years old and twirling on the stage for all the world to see. And Ginny still wore black because it was slimming, although red was her favorite color. As Ginny watched her gracefully glide across the stage, she wondered if the girl was too young to realize that people could be cruel to the weight-challenged, or if she was just too happy dancing to care. Ginny watched her laugh with joy as she twirled, showing a hunger for life. This special ballerina was a beautiful dancer.
The music stopped and the audience began to applaud. Tears came to Ginny's eyes as the little girl smiled and took her bow along with the others. As Ginny watched her skip off the stage in triumph, she realized what she had to do. She leaned over to her mother and said, "Tomorrow I'm going to buy a leotard."
"What in the world for?" her mother gasped. "Someone of your size would look dreadful in a leotard. Where would you wear it?"
"To dance class, Mom," Ginny answered. "I'll never be nine again, and I'll never be thin, but I can be a dancer." �
KELLIE MINCER ROSENFELD is a writer living in New Jersey with her husband and two children. She is currently working on her first novel, a love story featuring a plus-size heroine.
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