Sometimes ballet looks glamorous with beautiful tutus, pointe shoes and numerous leotards however often the large majority of people involved in ballet turn a blind eye to a serious issue which affects too many dancers regardless of age, eating disorders and Mental Health issues are faced by too many, beating the stigma and breaking down the barriers of mental health issues which often comes to the surface in ballet through eating disorders. The focus on size, shape and weight can put extreme pressures on dancers. Some dance environments can lead young people into destructive eating habits which may have long-term and even fatal consequences.
Ballet brings upon many pressures and challenges for any young dancer, the pressure of looking a certain way, meeting a preconceived look of a dancer and unnecessary pressures placed upon themselves to exceed at ballet at the expense of other crucial issues such as mental and physical well-being. Ballet can be incredibly competitive with so many dancers all striving for the same goal, the competitiveness can lead to some ugly actions.
Watching a young talented dancer whose passion for ballet consumed her from an early age is captivating but obstacles and demons challenge us all. Jessica Restivo from the USA is a dancer who lived and breathed ballet from a young age. However recently she faced a challenge that tested her mental and physical strength and well-being.
An eating disorder consumed Jessica over the past few years which came to ahead recently and only recently she took the courageous step of taking her fight public. Overwhelming support from people far and wide comforted her like a warm blanket and the support was unexpected according to Jessica. Her strength and courage is incredible and definitely needs championing.
This is her story.
Happy new year! I am excited to see what this year brings. This year has been a rollercoaster. Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t been dancing and have disappeared for multiple months and I owe you all an explanation.
I have had a severe eating disorder for the past four years. I thought that I would share my story to motivate others who are struggling to seek help and talk about this monstrous illness. I kept it a secret for a long-time, but I want to end the stigma and talk about it because eating disorders are a huge problem. I began 2018 at 80 pounds – almost dead. I was scared to even drink water and was severely dehydrated and malnourished. In January I hit my lowest weight and cried constantly.
I was dying, and I was terrified of food and obsessed with my weight. I had a body that I hated but was stuck in my eating disorder. The beginning of February I went into the hospital and was put on an IV and almost died. I ate everything they gave me but only ate to get out of hospital and planned to restrict when I got out. I got out of the hospital and restricted eating a lot of high volume-low calorie foods and lost weight quickly and was obsessed with counting every calorie.
I had started self-harm and was severely depressed. When my team realized I was self-harming after three weeks out of the hospital I was readmitted to the hospital for suicide watch. I was being tube fed in the hospital and I refused food. I began to refuse the supplements and they pinned me down and I got a feeding tube. Those two weeks in the hospital were hell I cried and cried I hated eating and was out of control.. Then a bed at Eating Recovery Center inpatient facility opened up and I was off to Texas for eating disorder treatment in March.
As soon as I started treatment, I stopped calorie counting and was fed daily through a tube along with the calories that I ate. I met some amazing people there and was recovering and slowly getting better. I ate and hated myself for it. I weight restored thirty pounds and hated my body. Then in June I was transferred to PHP and slowly began to relapse into anorexia. By the end of the week I had relapsed. No one noticed.
Then I returned home, and I returned to behaviours. I hid my weight loss for months. Then I started 11th grade my first time in real school ever in September. As soon as school started, I spent lunch in the library studying. Then in October my team figured out my tricks and were ready to send me back to inpatient because of my vitals and bloodwork were bad. I decided I wanted to stay in school and raised my intake and gained over November and December. I had decided I wanted to stay in school and graduate High School and was determined to recover. I ate lunch with my Mom every day for the rest of the first semester to assure I was eating. I was excelling in school however I had no friends and was not social at all.
2018 has had its ups and downs but I have made it through another year and this next year holds so many exciting things such as finding colleges, yummy foods, finishing my first year in High School, and being happy. I hope to keep growing as a person and continue my recovery! I have so much to look forward to and am excited for my future!
Ballet needs to break face this issue head on and accept that in 2019, it cannot keep pushing the same image as years gone by, the art will loose too many young talented dancers due to the pressures these dancers face. Mental Health awareness is the new fight we all need to combat, take the time to ask someone if they are okay. Give a comforting hug and let people know you are there for them. No dancer should have to go through what Jessica has been through but we all know too well that there are many dancers facing a similar challenge to differing degrees.