I am watching a documentary about ballerinas.
It’s a hard life. A nineteen-year-old with dramatic cheekbones flits across the screen, all swift, clean lines and blade thin limbs. She practices all day long, every day, to be here, preparing to dance the lead in Swan Lake. She doesn’t smile, even afterwards, in an interview with the filmmaker. She is intensely disciplined and she looks so fragile, so cold, that I want someone to wrap her in a quilt.
Like so many little girls, before we learn to be more original and that our necks aren’t nearly long enough, I wanted to be a ballerina.
“But why?” Bear asks me, when I tell him.
I don’t know. I think it had something to do with the outfits. I think it had something to do with the fact that dolls are often ballerina dolls, and people always give you ballet themed things as a little girl. As a little girl, I liked lots of things– especially trains, whales, and ballet. So at least I kept it diverse. And I knew, I always knew, that I was the worst in my ballet class. Utterly unflexible, bigger than everyone else, with perpetually snarled hair and stick-out underwear.
(these girls would probably have refused to talk to me in class. Or be seen with me after. source)
But I choose the ballet documentary because there is still something there. Look how incredibly slender and graceful they are! I want, watching them, to immediately stop eating. To never eat carbs again. For a moment, it seems more important to be that slender than to be anything else. This is the human body pared down to its essentials. Every movement is a work of art, vivid, exposed, exact. They are so beautiful. Everything they wear looks good, even tutus.
There is no way I could rock a tutu.
I have learned that being incredibly thin makes things look better on you. Your body can’t detract or distract from the cloth. The clothing gets to give the impression, and you are simply the backdrop, the blank canvas. There is something so simple about this.
Sometimes I wonder what I might find sexy if I had never seen a model or a ballerina or heard people describing the thinnest women as perfect. Sometimes I wonder what sexiness even means. What beauty means. What it’s made of.
(I just googled “beauty” and on the first page that came up there were lots of pictures of young blond women with airbrushed faces, and also this picture, which I think was just linked to because he’s in a film about a beautiful woman. But still, his was the only image that caught my eye, and it seems fair to put him here source)
Probably too many things to explain easily.
I have these contradictory, conflicting reactions and ideas. I think that if I lose weight, that would be better. That my thick arms are shameful, like a failure that has been branded on my skin. A tattoo of failure. I notice other shameful details. My knees are somehow heavier than they once were. They look sloppy to me now, clumsy, bulky and extraneous. Who has heavy knees? Am I even allowed to?
And at the same time, there is something unavoidably sexy about fat. About plumpness. There is something sensual and basic and inescapable about it. Something faintly delicious. And I catch myself appreciating it without meaning to.
In the documentary, the ballerinas are described as ethereal more than once. They are superstars in their native Russia. They are unattainable beauties. They are otherworldly. But in the historical images, the ballerinas often have shorter limbs and necks. I even spot one with arms that remind me a little of my own. I wonder if tastes always grow more extreme over time. I wonder why we want beautiful women to look so very different from other women. Why it seems so important to select for the exceedingly rare. Why rare means thinner and thinner.
(she’s obviously thin, but she looks nothing like the dancers in the documentary. source)
Bear wanders in. “Still watching this thing?” he grumbles. Then stands, captivated for a minute, as another stunning Russian ballerina winds in tight, expert turns across the stage, her wrists like glass stems, her fingers poised and feathery.
“She is so thin,” he says wonderingly. “How can she keep dancing? Isn’t she weak?”
I don’t understand it really, so I pause the documentary and leap up. “I’m a ballet dancer!” I say, in my silly voice, doing ridiculous drunken spins and leg kicks. He laughs and offers to lift me. We are at the edge of the kitchen, being absurd, I’m pointing my toes and flapping my arms like a deranged swan. I hike up my dress so that I can swing my legs up. They don’t go very high. Not even close to very high.
And as I careen by the mirror, limbs flailing, I see that I am somehow sexy in this moment. I am complicated by the weight on my body. I am not a pared down, simple version of womanhood. I am not a clean white canvas. I am messy. I don’t even know how to dance. I don’t really know how to be sexy, whatever that means.
But I know sometimes, maybe briefly, that I am sexy anyway. That there is something demanding about the way I look. It doesn’t spell out your reaction to you. You might not know how to feel immediately. I don’t know how to feel immediately, looking at myself.
Bear thinks I am a hot ballerina.
I think I am a hot ballerina.
There is nothing etherial about me. And as I dance my galumphing, clumsy, slightly obscene dance across the apartment, I realize two things:
1. I like myself better this way
2. I am not going to watch the rest of the documentary, just in case.
* * *
Did you ever want to be a ballerina?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a really short dress. It highlights my plump thighs.
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